TDIH 1915: Lusitania sunk by German U-Boats

On Friday, May 7, 1915, the German U-Boat U-20 torpedoed the British passenger liner R.M.S. Lusitania, 11 miles off the southern coast of Ireland. The Lusitania had departed New York on May 1 with nearly 2,000 passengers aboard and was headed for Liverpool on its usual route. The ship sank in under 20 minutes, taking with it the lives of approximately 1200 people. Among those who perished were 123 Americans, despite warnings that Americans traveled British liners at their own peril. The sinking of the Lusitania turned public opinion in many countries against Germany and is widely considered to have contributed to the United States’ decision to eventually enter World War I in 1917.

Bishop Milton Wright wrote of the incident in his diary on the day of the sinking as well as  few days afterwards:

Friday, May 7. The great steam passenger ship Lusitania, at 2:00, was torpedoed by submarines and lost in a few minutes with over twelve hundred, crew and passengers!

Saturday, May 8… News of the destruction of the Lusitania fills the papers.

Sunday, May 9. News of the Lusitania disaster comes teeming still in the papers…

Some of the newspaper articles the Bishop probably read, from the Dayton Daily News in May 1915, can be seen below. Click on an image to enlarge it:

Comparison of Lusitania to tall buildings, DDN, May 9, 1915, p3

Comparison of Lusitania to tall buildings, DDN, May 9, 1915, p3 (click to enlarge)

The item at left, from May 9, 1915, page 3, deserves to be highlighted. It shows the Lusitania — which was briefly the largest passenger ship in the world at 790 feet long — next to the tallest building in the world (in 1915), the Wooldworth Building in Manhattan, which was completed in 1913 and reached a height of 775 feet. The DDN also added a local landmark, the United Brethren (or “U.B.”) Publishing Building (now known as the Centre City Building), which at 175 feet tall was the tallest building in Dayton at the time.


The R.M.S. Lusitania had been sailing for the Cunard Line for about 8 years before it was sunk in the notorious disaster. During a few of its many trips between New York and Liverpool from 1907 and 1915, the Lusitania found its way into stories that have since found their way into our Archives.

While in New York on September 29, 1909, the Lusitania and the Statue of Liberty were captured in the background of this photograph from the Wright Brothers Collection:

Spectators and Wright Model A on Governors Island, NY, with Lusitania in the background, 1909 (photo ms1_19_1_19)

Spectators and Wright Model A on Governors Island, NY, with Lusitania in the background, 1909 (photo ms1_19_1_19)

In the foreground of the above photo, spectators, including soldiers, stand near the Wright Model A Flyer and its launch rail. (View photo # ms1_19_1_19 on CORE Scholar.)

Martha McClellan Brown traveled aboard the Lusitania when we she made her final lecture tour to Europe in 1911. There are references to this trip in the Martha McClellan Brown & Rev. William Kennedy Brown Papers (MS-147), as well as the Louise Kennedy Papers (MS-281).

An autograph book in our Local History Ephemera Collection (MS-383) includes some autographs that were collected in a spooky, interesting way aboard the Lusitania.  We wrote about these previously on the blog in “Ghosts of My Friends,” 10/28/2011.


Learn more about the sinking of the Lusitania and the role the disaster (eventually) played in bringing the United States into World War I:

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