General Slocum Fire Second of Three Disasters Resulting in SOLAS

SS General Slocum Fire June 15, 1904
SS General Slocum Fire June 15, 1904
SS General Slocum Fire
SS General Slocum Fire

On Wednesday, June 15, 1904, the SS General Slocum fire was  New York’s worst loss of life in the 20th century, when  1,021 passengers died during a fire at the dock in Manhattan, New York .  For the next couple weeks, hundreds of funeral processions took place in the streets of lower Manhattan.

The General Slocum, owned by the Knickerbocker Steamship Company and captained by Captain William H. Van Schaick, employed 21 crew members to look after as many as 4,700 passengers.

This was the second of three mismanaged, mass casualty passenger ship disasters affecting United States cities in the twentieth century at sea which ultimately resulted in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) legislation. The first version of SOLAS was passed in 1914 in response to the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

First, there was the sinking of the SS Saale Fire (Hoboken, New Jersey) which began with a fire aboard  on June 30, 1900 and the resulting 361 Deaths.  Then,  the General Slocum fire in New York with 1,021 passenger deaths. By the time the Titanic sunk resulting in 1517  deaths during a voyage from Southampton, England to New York, the American public was screaming for laws governing safety at sea.

SOLAS prescribed numbers of lifeboats and other emergency equipment along with safety procedures, including continuous radio watches. The 1914 treaty never entered into force due to the outbreak of the First World War. Further versions were adopted in 1929 and 1948.

See the excellent historical reference video below and read more on Cruise Ship Fires.

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Video: Ship Ablaze, The General Slocum