Ship History: The Titanic
Written by: John Maguire
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank into the northern Atlantic Ocean. The ship carried around 2,240 passengers and workers, and more than 1,500 of them perished in the frigid ocean. This tragic event has inspired countless novels, movies, and love stories, and today, many are still fascinated by the story of the Titanic.
The Building of the RMS Titanic
Prior to building the Titanic, two rival shipping lines were in competition to build the most powerful ship that could efficiently cross the Atlantic Ocean. The White Star Line, the company that built the Titanic, found itself competing against an industry giant, Cunard. In 1907, Cunard had built the Mauretania and the Lusitania. Both of these ships were trailblazers in their own right: The Mauretania was the fastest to cross the Atlantic Ocean, while the Lusitania was the most luxurious of its time. White Star Line's response was to build three giant ships, one of which was the Titanic.
"Unsinkable" Titanic's Fatal Flaws
According to many experts today, the Titanic was doomed right from the beginning because of its design. First, the ship was built with watertight compartments that were meant to prevent sinking, but the compartments were not fully sealed off from one another, so if one filled with water, the water could flow into the next compartment and keep coming in. In addition, the ship was not built to carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board. The Titanic's 16 lifeboats were only enough to save one-third of its passengers and crew if they were completely filled. While this was obviously inadequate, it was actually more than the law required at the time.
Passengers on the Titanic
Aboard the Titanic were a mix of people, from the super-wealthy to those who paid only around $20 to sail in third class. Passengers in first class ranged from the creators and builders of the Titanic to Isidor Straus, the co-owner of Macy's. Those in second class were mainly scholars, tourists, journalists, and employees of those in first class. While both first and second class were built for wealth, third class was built to give a taste of luxury to those who couldn't afford anything higher. The vast majority of passengers were in third class, but the mix of different people aboard proved that the Titanic was a ship built for anyone and everyone.
Titanic Sets Sail
Most Titanic theorists and experts see the ship's departure as as clumsy as the way it was built. A small coal fire was found and gotten under control before the ship left, and it's believed that the fire continued to smolder during the journey, which may have compelled the crew to increase the ship's speed. In addition, the Titanic nearly collided with an American ship as it was departing.
Disaster Strikes Aboard Titanic
After four days of serenity and peace on the sea, the Titanic met its end. On April 14 at around 11:30 p.m., a lookout gave warning that an iceberg was visible ahead. As the ship approached the iceberg, the captain managed to turn it so that the iceberg would only graze the side, leaving all to think that disaster had been averted. What nobody knew was that the iceberg hit the boat from underneath and tore a 300-foot gash into the hull beneath the waterline. Within minutes, water started pouring into the ship's compartments and the bow of the ship began to sink downward, leading the captain to call for the lifeboats.
The capacity the lifeboats could hold was inadequate, and the evacuation was haphazard at first, compounding the problem. Most of the lifeboats were lowered without being filled to capacity, leaving even more people behind to drown. Rules at the time dictated that women and children should board the lifeboats first, but in the chaos, many women and children were also among the victims. While the boat was expected to sink within an hour and a half, it stayed afloat for three hours, leaving room for acts of sacrifice and of cowardice as the passengers attempted to evacuate. Families and loved ones were torn apart by the scarcity of lifeboats and a lack of organization aboard the Titanic.
At about 2:20 a.m., the Titanic sank into the sea. While thousands lost their lives in the tragedy, some would go out as heroes. The Titanic's chief designer, Thomas Andrews, kissed his family goodbye and was last seen in the smoking room. Macy's owner Straus and his wife, Ida, refused to separate from one another and both died together in their cabin. Meanwhile, J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, would help to load the lifeboats before stepping into one himself. Despite the fact that there were no women or children nearby when he did so, he would be vilified for the rest of his life for surviving when so many others died. After the ship went down, Cunard's Carpathia would arrive to collect the survivors, of which there were only 705.
Aftermath of the Titanic Catastrophe
The catastrophe on the Titanic left an impact on humanity that is still felt today. At the time, numerous investigations were held to determine what caused the disaster, and even now, people still have different theories as they try to make sense of it all. While some blame the boat's construction, others blame the Atlantic Ocean and the freezing weather, which may have made the ship's metal parts fail. And plenty of people blame the overconfidence of those who had declared Titanic to be "unsinkable" and had not adequately prepared for the possibility of disaster.
Additional Information on the Titanic
- National Archives Records of Titanic's Demise: Look at materials from the National Archives to learn more about the disaster, including contemporary accounts and photos.
- Why the Titanic Still Fascinates Us: More than a century since the ship sank, people are still fascinated by its story.
- The Rise and Fall of the Titanic: The story of this famous ship is a dramatic tale of confidence, opulence, and tragedy.
- Titanic: 103 Years Later, Passenger Stories Still Haunt Us: The individual stories of those who were on the Titanic captivate people to this day.
- Titanic History and Significance: The most famous shipwreck in history led to improvements in seafaring safety.
- The Titanic: Find a simple retelling of the story of the Titanic on this page.
- Remembering the Titanic: This page has interesting facts about the ship's construction and amenities.
- National Museum of American History: The Titanic: View rare photos of this famous ship and artifacts from it in the Smithsonian's archives.
- 100 Unsinkable Facts About the Titanic: Find interesting facts and statistics about the ship and its fateful voyage here.
- Photos of the Titanic Before and After it Sank: Rarely seen photos from the Carpathia show the aftermath of the Titanic's sinking.
- Four Revelations About the Titanic Disaster: Even today, people are still learning more and developing new theories about the ship's demise.
- Sinking of the Titanic: Videos and Primary Sources: See videos of the ship's construction and of its fate on this page.
- The Impact of the Titanic on Modern Language: Today, the word "titanic" and expressions like "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" are common parts of our vernacular.
- Predictions of the Titanic Sinking: Eerily enough, two books published before the disaster seem to predict it.
- RMS Titanic Passengers: See a list of the ship's passengers here.
- Titanic Passengers List: Encyclopedia Titanica has a full list of passengers along with photos and biographies on this page.
- Titanic Revelations: The Recovery Operation: Many bodies of third-class passengers were thrown back into the sea rather than brought back for a proper burial because those in charge of recovering the bodies were overwhelmed by the scale of the task.
- Did the Moon Help Sink the Titanic? Astronomers have said that a rare lunar event may have made the waters of the North Atlantic more dangerous on that fateful night.
- Why Didn't Passengers Panic on the Titanic? With more than two hours between the evacuation order and the ship's sinking, people had time to calm down and resume the usual social order.
- How Large Was the Iceberg That Sank the Titanic? The Coast Guard has a photo of what is likely to be the iceberg in question.
- The Ship's 281 Passengers: Find biographies of some of the ship's passengers on this page.
- Metallurgy of the Titanic: How the ship's steel and iron were made and assembled might have contributed to its downfall.
- How the Sinking of the Titanic Changed the World: The disaster was felt worldwide, and in its wake, actions were taken to improve safety at sea.
- Senate Titanic Disaster Report: Read about the Senate's investigation of the sinking here.