William Alden Smith

William Alden Smith (May 12, 1859 – October 11, 1932) was a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan.

Smith was born in Dowagiac, Michigan and attended the common schools. He moved with his parents to Grand Rapids in 1872, where he attended school, sold popcorn, and was a newsboy and messenger boy. He was appointed a page in the Michigan House of Representatives in 1875 (or 1879) at Lansing, Michigan. He studied law in the office of Burch & Montgomery (Marsden C. Burch was a one-time U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan), studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1882. Mr. Smith practiced law alone for some time, but later became associated with Fredrick W. Stevens. This firm afterwards became Smiley, Smith & Stevens. He was general counsel of the Chicago and West Michigan Railway and the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railroad. While in this practice, Mr. Smith became an expert on railroad law and finance. He was assistant secretary of the Michigan State Senate in 1883 and the State Game Warden 1887-1891, reportedly the first salaried state game warden in the nation. He was a member of the Republican State Central Committee from 1888 to 1892.

Smith was elected as a Republican from the Michigan's 5th congressional district to the 54th United States Congress and to the six succeeding Congresses, serving from March 4, 1895, until his resignation, effective February 9, 1907, having been elected to the U.S. Senate. While in the House of Representatives, Smith was chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the State Department in the 56th Congress, the Committee on Pacific Railroads in the 57th and 58th Congresses.

Smith was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate January 15, 1907, for the term beginning March 4, 1907. He was subsequently elected on February 6, 1907, to fill the vacancy in the term ending March 3, 1907, caused by the death of Russell A. Alger. He was reelected in 1913, and served from February 9, 1907, to March 3, 1919. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1918. Smith was chairman of the Committee on Canadian Relations in the 61st Congress, the Committee on Territories in the 62nd Congress, and the Select Committee to Examine Branches of the Civil Service in the 63rd through 65th Congresses.

After the luxury liner "Titanic" sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, with more than 1,500 lives lost, Smith chaired Senate hearings that began at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City the day after the survivors landed. Senators and spectators heard dramatic testimony from the surviving passengers and crew. Smith's subcommittee issued a report on May 28 that led to significant reforms in international maritime safety. Film director James Cameron used the Senate transcripts extensively in researching his 1997 Academy Award-winning film, "Titanic". Smith achieved some notoriety for being more colorful than knowledgeable, even being called "Watertight Smith" by the British press for asking whether watertight compartments, actually meant to keep the ship afloat, were meant to shelter passengers. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=2&res=9904E7D81F31E233A2575AC2A9639C946396D6CF&oref=slogin&oref=slogin New York Times May 29, 1912] ]

Smith constructed the Grand Rapids, Kalkaska & Southeastern railroad in Michigan in 1897 and became owner of the Lowell and Hastings Railroad in 1900. In 1901 he was honored with the degree of Master of Arts by Dartmouth College. He was owner and publisher of the "Grand Rapids Herald" in 1906 and chairman of the board of directors of a transit company operating a line of steamboats from Chicago to various Lake Michigan ports. Smith died in Grand Rapids and is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery there.

The community of Alden, Michigan is named for him. Mr. Smith was married in 1885 to Nana Osterhout of Grand Rapids. They had one son, William Alden Smith, Jr.


* Wade, Wyn Craig, "The Titanic: End of a Dream," Penguin Books, 1986 ISBN 0-14-016691-2
* Wade, Wyn Craig. "The Senator and the Shipwreck." "Michigan History" 63 (November/December 1979): 10-19.
* Kuntz, Tom. "The Titanic Disaster Hearings". Pocket, 1998. ISBN 0-671-02553-8


External links

* [http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/News_Titanic.htm Account of Senate hearings on the sinking of the "Titanic"]
* [http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10366_15383-24664--,00.html Michigan DNR on the first Game Warden]
* [http://www.rootsweb.com/~mikent/white1924/personal/smithwa.html White, Arthur S., "A third volume devoted to Kent County", Dayton, Ohio: National Historical Assoc., 1924, p. 667.]

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