History of the Titanic
White Star Line, an industry leader, wanted to revolutionize travel by building the finest and biggest luxury passenger ships in the world.
Designing the Titanic.
The RMS Titanic was one of three ships belonging to the Olympic-class of White Star Line vessels. In addition to the Titanic, there was the RMS Olympic and the RMS Britannic. Responding to growing competition, design for the Olympic-class liners began in 1907. The decision was made to focus on luxury and size rather than speed. Joseph Bruce Ismay, managing director of White Star Line, wanted to build a ship larger than any that had come before.
Construction of the Titanic.
Finding a location to begin construction of the Titanic ship was an engineering feat itself. Harland and Wolff, shipbuilders for White Star Line, had substantially revamped an existing shipyard to accommodate construction of the Olympic-class liners. Construction of the Titanic began on March 31, 1909.
The beautiful grand staircase.
It took approximately three years to complete construction of the 882 foot long and 92 foot wide vessel. Work on the ship was difficult and dangerous; eight people were killed and nearly 250 injured. The Titanic was launched May 31, 1911 but was not fully fitted and ready for service until spring of 1912. Displacing 52,310 tons, the RMS Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world.
A Modern Marvel.
Inspired by the technological innovations of the industrial revolution, White Star Line wanted the Titanic to epitomize modern technology, engineering, safety and luxury. It had a grand staircase. The ship featured electric lights, elevators and heaters. Guests could relax in a Turkish bath or spend their time playing tennis, swimming or exercising in the on-board gym.
Despite its disastrous sinking, engineers had designed the Titanic ship with safety as a top priority. The ship featured a double steel hull and 16 separate compartments capable of being sealed off from one another in the event of an emergency. The Titanic was also capable of carrying 64 lifeboats. However, in a fateful decision, White Star Line chose only to carry 16. This, combined with collapsible lifeboats, met the requirements of an outdated law mandating enough lifeboats for only 75 percent of the ship's passenger capacity.
The Maiden Voyage of the RMS Titanic.
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic set out for New York City from Southampton, England. White Star Line highly publicized the Titanic's maiden voyage. They went so far as to call the ship “unsinkable.” The promotion campaign attracted many prominent members of British and American society including nobility and wealthy industrialists. After two stops, one in France and one Ireland. The Titanic began its transatlantic crossing with 2,216 passengers.
The Night of April 14.
The history of the Titanic was forever altered when the ship struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912. Having received iceberg warnings via wireless telegraph, Captain Edward Smith altered the ship's course. However, the radio operators were more concerned with relaying private messages to passengers than passing along updated iceberg warnings to the bridge.
At approximately 11:40 p.m., lookouts spotted an iceberg directly in the path of the ship. Evasive action was taken in an attempt to avoid the collision. A sharp turn to the port side was ordered, and the iceberg struck the ship on the right side damaging the hull. Captain Smith ordered a full stop to assess the damage. Initially, only five compartments were flooded, and the watertight doors had been closed to prevent additional flooding. However, water was able to flow over the top of bulkheads and in through normal openings causing two more compartments to flood. It quickly became obvious the Titanic would sink.
Evacuating the Ship.
The first lifeboat was lowered about an hour after the collision. It had a 65 person capacity; only 19 were aboard. Tragically, many of the lifeboats were launched far under capacity. This is attributable to several factors. Assured by the still working electricity and seeming calm, many passengers didn't think the ship was sinking. In addition, many of the third class passengers became lost or trapped in the ship and didn't make it to the lifeboats. Due to a women and children first rule, many men did not board lifeboats despite there being space.
Radio operators broadcasted distress signals, but the RMS Carpathia, the closest ship, was four hours away. All but two lifeboats were successfully launched. Eventually, the Titanic split and was completely sunk by 2:20 a.m. Roughly four hours after receiving the distress call, the Carpathia arrived and began rescue efforts. More than 1,500 people died.
Discovery of the Wreckage.
The full history of the Titanic would not be known for decades. The wreckage was discovered September 1, 1985 through a combined American and French effort. Researchers learned much of what actually caused the “unsinkable” Titanic's tragic end.
Public interest in the history of Titanic persists to this day. Perhaps the fascination stems from the arrogance of the ship's designers or from the significance of such an impressive ship during a cultural and technological transition. Whatever the case, the history of the Titanic continues to captivate both historians and popular culture a century later.