Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Lusitania

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LUSITANIA, a British steamship of the Cunard line, 32,000 tons, built on the Clyde in 1908. From 1908 to 1915 she was in the transatlantic service between New York and Liverpool, in which service she made the record time of five days. When the World War broke out in 1914 the “Lusitania” carried in addition to passengers large cargoes for the British Government. On May 1, 1915, she sailed from New York for Liverpool, in spite of the warnings of the German Government, printed in the New York newspapers, that British vessels sailing in the “war zone,” viz., the waters surrounding the British Isles, were liable to be sunk without warning. When the steamship was ten miles off the coast of Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, on May 7, 1915, a torpedo fired by a German submarine struck the vessel and about twenty minutes later she sank with all on board. Eleven hundred and fifty individuals, including many women and children, lost their lives, among which were over a hundred American citizens. The ship and cargo were valued at eleven million dollars. The vessel was not armed and received no warning from the submarine, nor did the German commander attempt to aid in the rescue of the passengers and crew.

President Wilson of the United States on May 13 addressed a note to the German Government demanding a disavowal of the act of the German commander, reparation for the injuries, and a promise to avoid such acts in the future. He further stated that the German Government must not expect the United States “to omit any word or act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens.” In response the German Government evaded the issue by expressing regret for the loss of American lives, but claiming that the “Lusitania” was armed and was a British auxiliary cruiser carrying munitions of war.

The question as to what action should now be taken by the American Government brought out a decided difference of opinion between President Wilson and his Secretary of State, William J. Bryan, which ended in the latter's resignation on June 8, because he could not agree in the strong measure contemplated by President Wilson to protect American lives. The second note of the President to Germany, while still insisting that the act of the German commander was a grievous wrong to the United States, was very pacific in its tone and indicated that the question would be made a subject for negotiation and not a cause of war. After further exchange of notes the German Government on Sept. 1, 1915, finally promised not to sink merchant ships without warning and agreed to provide for the safety of the passengers and crew whenever such ships were sunk. See World War.


Lusitania 1907.jpg
©International Film Service
THE “LUSITANIA” LEAVING HER PIER IN NEW YORK. THE “LUSITANIA” WAS TORPEDOED MAY 7, 1915