On April 10, 1912, the Titanic, largest ship afloat, left Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York City. The White Star Line had spared no expense in assuring her luxury. A legend even before she sailed, her passengers were a mixture of the world’s wealthiest basking in the elegance of first class accommodations and immigrants packed into steerage. She was touted as the safest ship ever built, so safe that she carried only 20 lifeboats – enough to provide accommodation for only half her 2,200 passengers and crew. This discrepancy rested on the belief that since the ship’s construction made her “unsinkable,” her lifeboats were necessary only to rescue survivors of other sinking ships. Additionally, lifeboats took up valuable deck space.
Four days into her journey, at 11:40 P.M. on the night of April 14, she struck an iceberg. Her fireman compared the sound of the impact to “the tearing of calico, nothing more.” However, the collision was fatal and the icy water soon poured through the ship.
It became obvious that many would not find safety in a lifeboat. Each passenger was issued a life jacket but life expectancy would be short when exposed to water four degrees below freezing. As the forward portion of the ship sank deeper, passengers scrambled to the stern. John Thayer witnessed the sinking from a lifeboat. “We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle.” The great ship slowly slid beneath the waters two hours and forty minutes after the collision
The next morning, the liner Carpathia rescued 705 survivors. One thousand five hundred twenty-two passengers and crew were lost. Subsequent inquiries attributed the high loss of life to an insufficient number of lifeboats and inadequate training in their use.
Building The Titanic
$7,500,000 – the cost of building the RMS Titanic.
2 – the number of workers killed during the build.
20 – horses needed to transport the main anchor.
1. The RMS Titanic was the world’s largest passenger ship when it entered service, measuring 269 metres (882 feet) in length, and the largest man-made moving object on Earth. The largest passenger vessel is now the MS Allure of the Seas, at 362 metres.
2. The ship burned around 600 tonnes of coal a day – hand shovelled into its furnaces by a team of 176 men. Almost 100 tonnes of ash were ejected into the sea each day.
• The world’s largest cruise ships
3. The ship’s interiors were loosely inspired by those at the Ritz hotel in London. Facilities on board included a gym, pool, Turkish bath, a kennel for first class dogs, and a squash court. It even had its own on board newspaper – the Atlantic Daily Bulletin.
4. There were 20,000 bottles of beer on board, 1,500 bottles of wine and 8,000 cigars – all for the use of first-class passengers.
3,547 – the maximum number of people the Titanic could carry.
2,223 – the number of people aboard (passengers and crew).
13 – the number of honeymooning couples on the voyage.
Food On The Titanic
14,000 – the gallons of drinking water used every 24 hours.
40,000 – the number of fresh eggs in the ship’s provisions.
1,000 – the number of bottles of wine taken aboard.
64 – the number of lifeboats the Titanic was equipped to carry.
20 – the number of lifeboats she actually carried.
28 – the number of people on board the first lifeboat out of a capacity of 65 people.
6 – the number of warnings of icebergs the Titanic received before the collision.
160 – the minutes it took the Titanic to sink after hitting the iceberg (2 hours and 40 minutes).
-2 – the temperature of the sea water in centigrade.
31.6 – the total percentage of passengers and crew who survived.
53.4 – the percentage who could have survived, given the number of spaces available on the Titanic lifeboats.
2 – the number of dogs who survived (lapdogs taken aboard lifeboats by their owners).
12,600 – the depth at which the wreck of the Titanic lays, in feet.
18 – the distance that the bow penetrated into the sea bed, in metres.
74 – the number of years it took to find the wreck of the Titanic.
Titanic’s Fatal Flaws
According to some hypotheses, Titanic was doomed from the start by the design so many lauded as state-of-the-art. The Olympic-class ships featured a double bottom and 15 watertight bulkheads equipped with electric watertight doors which could be operated individually or simultaneously by a switch on the bridge. It was these watertight bulkheads that inspired Shipbuilder magazine, in a special issue devoted to the Olympic liners, to deem them “practically unsinkable.” But the watertight compartment design contained a flaw that may have been a critical factor in Titanic’s sinking: While the individual bulkheads were indeed watertight, water could spill from one compartment into another. Several of Titanic’s Cunard-owned contemporaries, by contrast, already boasted innovative safety features devised to avoid this very situation. Had White Star taken a cue from its competitor, it might have saved Titanic from disaster.
The second critical safety lapse that contributed to the loss of so many lives was the number of lifeboats carried on Titanic. Those 16 boats, along with four Engelhardt “collapsibles,” could accommodate 1,178 people. Titanic when full could carry 2,435 passengers, and a crew of approximately 900 brought her capacity to more than 3,300 people. As a result, even if the lifeboats were loaded to full capacity during an emergency evacuation, there were available seats for only one-third of those on board. While unthinkably inadequate by today’s standards, Titanic’s supply of lifeboats actually exceeded the British Board of Trade’s regulations.
Analyzing the Titanic Catastrophe
At least five separate boards of inquiry on both sides of the Atlantic conducted comprehensive hearings on Titanic’s sinking, interviewing dozens of witnesses and consulting with many maritime experts. Every conceivable subject was investigated, from the conduct of the officers and crew to the construction of the ship. While it has always been assumed that the ship sank as a result of the gash that caused the compartments to flood, various other theories have emerged over the decades, including that the ship’s steel plates were too brittle for the near-freezing Atlantic waters, that the impact caused rivets to pop and that the expansion joints failed, among others.
The technological aspects of the catastrophe aside, Titanic’s demise has taken on a deeper, almost mythic, meaning in popular culture. Many view the tragedy as a morality play about the dangers of human hubris: Titanic’s creators believed they had built an “unsinkable” ship that could not be defeated by the laws of nature. This same overconfidence explains the electrifying impact Titanic’s sinking had on the public when she was lost. There was widespread disbelief that the ship could possibly have sunk, and, due to the era’s slow and unreliable means of communication, misinformation abounded. Newspapers initially reported that the ship had collided with an iceberg but remained afloat and was being towed to port with everyone on board. It took many hours for accurate accounts to become available, and even then people had trouble accepting that this paradigm of modern technology could sink on her maiden voyage, taking more than 1,500 souls with her.
The ship historian John Maxtone-Graham has compared Titanic’s story to the Challenger space shuttle disaster of 1986. In that case, the world reeled at the notion that some of the most sophisticated technology ever created could explode into oblivion along with its crew. Both tragedies triggered a sudden and complete collapse in confidence, revealing that we are vulnerable despite our modern presumptions of technological infallibility.