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What was The Titanic?

Lessons gained from the Titanic's demise, including ones that make lifeboats more effective, have been used to make modern cruise liners safer.
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  • Written By: Aniza Pourtauborde
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 27 June 2014
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The Titanic was well known as the largest and most luxurious passenger liner in the world in the early 20th century. Designed by Thomas Andrews from Harland and Wolff and funded by J. P. Morgan and the International Mercantile Marine Co., the Titanic was popularly dubbed by press and advertisers as 'unsinkable'. It was no wonder then that news of her collision with an iceberg and inevitable sinking in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 sent shock waves throughout the globe.

Unsinkable construction

Construction on the Titanic began on 31 March 1909 at the Belfast shipyard belonging to Harland and Wolff. By the time she was completed and outfitted three years later, she had a length of 882.5 feet (269 m), a width of 92.5 feet (28.2 m) at its widest part, and a carrying capacity of almost 47,000 tons, 66,000 tons when fully laden. The Titanic was run by powerful four-cylinder inverted engines and one low-powered turbine that controlled three propellers. With 159 coal furnaces and 29 boilers, she topped out at a speed of 23 knots, or 26.7 miles per hour (43 km/h).

In addition, the Titanic had a hull with 16 watertight compartments. The liner could remain afloat with the first or last four compartments flooded, or any two compartments flooded, or 11 possible combinations of three compartments flooded. Any other situation would sink the liner. This remarkable feat of engineering technology at the time was impressive, earning the Titanic its reputation as unsinkable.

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A further 'reassuring' point was that the Titanic carried 20 lifeboats on board, which was more than the legal requirement. When examined closely though, the lifeboats were sufficient for slightly more than 50% of the people on board. White Star Line's decision on the number of lifeboats was propelled by legal support as well as standard emergency procedures, whereby lifeboats would drop passengers off to safety and then return to save others. Hence, providing lifeboat capacity for more than half the souls on board seemed adequate.

With such sturdy construction, the Titanic confidently departed on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City, USA on 10 April 1912. There were a total of 1,324 passengers from First, Second, and Third (Steerage) Class, as well as 899 crew members on this first transatlantic voyage.

Iceberg collision

Four days into the voyage, on Sunday afternoon, 14 April 1912, Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic received many iceberg warnings from other ships making the transatlantic journey, such as the Caronia, Baltic, Amerika, California, and Mesaba. Each of these Morse-coded messages was translated and noted by the radio operators, and later passed on to the relevant officers in charge. Despite these warnings, the Titanic continued full-speed ahead on its chosen course, where a field of icebergs lay ahead.

The temperature dropped as the liner pursued its course. The sea was calm and peaceful, and the night sky clear. No one suspected the impending doom that awaited the Titanic.

At 11:40 p.m., lookout officers Reginald Lee and Frederick Fleet glimpsed an iceberg ahead of them. Fleet signaled the warning bell and telephoned the bridge officer to inform him of the iceberg. First Officer Murdoch immediately ordered the engines stopped and the liner turned hard left, but it was already too late. The iceberg grazed the Titanic's right side below the water level, and ice cold water quickly began to fill up the watertight compartments.

The sinking of the Titanic

Sea water filled five compartments, one compartment more than the Titanic could handle to remain afloat. After a thorough assessment of the situation by Captain Smith and ship designer Thomas Andrews, it became certain that the Titanic would sink within a few hours. It was after midnight when ship officers sent out distress signals to other nearby ships. Lifeboats were lowered and filled with passengers as quickly as possible.

In spite of this grave situation, most of the lifeboats were not filled to their maximum capacity. In a lifeboat built for 65 people, only 28 were seen to board some of the boats. Therefore, even though the Titanic's lifeboats could have saved 1,178 people, only 706 survived in the end. 1,517 passengers and crew members perished at sea that night, drowning or dying of hypothermia in the 28° Fahrenheit (-2.2° Celsius) waters. At approximately 2:20 a.m. on Monday, 15 April 1912, less than three hours after the collision, the grand Titanic broke into two separate parts and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, where it remains until today.

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Discuss this Article

amypollick
Post 7

@anon251828: This is one of those domino-effect situations. The ship had not slowed down enough after entering the iceberg field, which meant it couldn't be steered as quickly. Plus, something that large (and the Titanic was a *big* boat) doesn't turn, or stop, on a dime. It takes distance and time. Icebergs are also much larger underwater than above. And, she kept sailing, rather than remaining stationary, which would have kept the water from pouring in so quickly.

Next, recent research on samples of steel taken from the Titanic's hull show the steel was brittle, and received more damage than a glancing blow should have caused. All these factors contributed to the disaster.

anon251828
Post 6

How could just grazing an iceberg sink the Titanic?

GardenTurtle
Post 4

@googie98: Isidor and Ida Straus was an elderly couple on the Titanic. Mr. and Mrs. Straus were seen standing near lifeboat 8 with Mrs. Straus’s maid, Ellen Bird. The officers in charge of the lifeboats were going to allow the elderly couple to board. Mr. Straus refused to board, because there were still women and children on the ship.

Mr. Straus wanted his wife to board the lifeboat, but she didn’t want to leave her husband. She was quoted as saying “We have lived together for many years “and “Where you go, I go”. They were last seen sitting together quietly on deck chairs on Titanic’s boat deck.

googie98
Post 3

What was one of the most touching stories on the Titanic?

CarrotIsland
Post 2

@dill1971: There was a woman named Margaret Brown, but most called her Molly Brown. Wealthy people onboard the Titanic often referred to her as “new money”, because she was not born into wealth.

Molly moved to Leadville, CO, where she met and married a man named James Joseph Brown. Molly and James came into wealth when J.J.’s engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of substantial ore steam at the Little Jonny mine.

Molly was the only female to row a lifeboat to safety, as the Titanic sank. Since the lifeboats weren’t full she insisted on turning the boat around and search for survivors. Many people were against going back, but she was persistent. She became a heroine in her efforts to get lifeboat 6 to turn around and search for survivors in the freezing waters. She was often referred after that, as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”.

dill1971
Post 1

Who were some famous people on the Titanic?

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