As the public’s initial shock over the magnitude of the Titanic disaster began to fade, indignation took its place. It was almost impossible to grasp the concept, let alone the reality, that more than 1,500 lives had been lost in less than three hours. It was if a battle had been fought and lost, or a small town had been wiped off the face of the earth. Newspaper editors, using charts, photographs, and any other visual aid they could find, tried to give some meaning to the number and to make the enormity of the casualty list comprehensible to the man on the street, but it was no easy task, for there had never been a maritime disaster anything like the loss of the Titanic. Compounding this sense of incredulity was the fact that ocean travel had seemed to be so safe: in forty years only four passengers had lost their lives on the open North Atlantic. Within days of the news breaking about the sinking, government officials, newspaper editors, and the public were all demanding explanations.
The resultant outcry would produce two formal inquiries into the loss of the Titanic, one American, one British. With the passage of time, the American effort has fared far better in the hands of scholars and legal experts. Despite all the pomp and procedural trappings of the British Inquiry, it was not as comprehensive as the American investigation in accounting for what happened to the passengers and crew as the Titanic sank, although in fairness, it has to be said that its warrant didn’t permit the scope of inquiry that the American effort possessed. Ultimately, the American investigation, learned far more about what happened in those desperate hours than did the British Inquiry. On the other hand, in technical matters the British Inquiry inquest far surpassed anything its American counterpart learned, but it was the American inquiry that left the world with the most vivid account of what really happened to the men and women aboard the Titanic.