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RMS Titanic is the most famous passenger ship in the history of ocean travel. She has been the subject of countless books, movies and television documentaries. All this despite the fact that she never completed her maiden voyage.
Titanic was the second ship in White Star Line's Olympic class. The lead ship in the class was RMS Olympic, which had a long and relatively uneventful service life. The third ship in the class was RMS Britanic, which was lost during World War I while acting as a hospital ship for the Allies.
Although White Star was a British line, it was owned by American J.P. Morgan's International Mercantile Marine Corporation, which was trying to monopolize ocean travel. To compete againt Morgan, Cunard Line built the speed queens RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania. Speed was very important as there was no air travel in those days and so having the fastest liners was a big competitive advantage.
Deciding that it could not compete on speed, White Star decided to build the largest and most luxurious ships ever. In addition, the ships incorporated so much new technology that the press dubbed them “unsinkable.”
Like most ocean liners of that era, the Olympic class were three class ships with a strict separation of the classes. First Class was the most luxurious and was targeted at the rich and famous. Second class was for the middle class. Third class was for the immigrant trade - - people leaving Europe to start a new life in America. Although was not luxurious, Third Class was considered much superior to the accommodations that the immigrants were leaving behind. Furthermore, the small private cabins were considered a big step up from the dormitories on other ocean liners.
The Olympics had four funnels. However, only three of them were functional. The reason for having a fourth funnel was that many immigrants believed that more funnels indicated a better ship. Inasmuch as the immigrant trade was quite lucrative, a dummy funnel was added.
Like modern cruise ships, Titanic and her sisters had a number of innovations intended to wow passengers such as a Turkish bath. First class passengers on Titanic could, for an extra fee, enjoy the ship's specialty restaurant Cafe Parsien. You could also stay in touch with friends back home through the wireless service provided by Marconi.
In addition to passengers, Titanic carried cargo including the mail. Consequently, she was entitled to be called a “Royal Mail Ship” and a fix the abbreviation “RMS” to her name.
On April 2, 1912, Titanic conducted her sea trials during which, among other things, her ability to turn was tested as was her ability to come to an abrupt halt. She passed these tests, was declared seaworthy and handed over to White Star.
Titanic's maiden voyage began April 10, 1912 from Southampton, England. As Titanic was leaving her berth, she sent a wave of water through the berth causing the lines securing the liner City of New York to snap. The New York swung out but narrowly missed colliding with Titanic. Had there been a collision, Titanic's sailing would have had to have been delayed.
The ship proceeded east to Cherbourg, France, where she picked up additional passengers. Then it was on to Queenstown in Ireland. Here, she picked up additional passengers. Also, a few passengers who had been on board just to get a taste of this well-publicized ship, disembarked.
The next three days of the voyage were uneventful. As Titanic moved further westward, she received messages from other ships noting the presence of ice in the shipping lanes. These were essentially ignored. Indeed, consistent with contemporary practice, Titanic steam ahead at nearly full speed.
Late on April 14, an iceberg was spotted directly in Titanic's path. The ship tried to turn while at the same time attempting a crash stop. It was too late, however, and Titanic brushed along the side of the iceberg. This caused a dent along the starboard side. Steel plates ruptured thereby allowing sea water to flood into the ship.
Titanic had been built with 16 watertight compartments. The ship could survive with four of these compartments flooded. Unfortunately, the ice berg had opened five compartments. As water entered the ship, her bow became heavier and water poured over the top of the bulkheads that divided the compartments flooding one compartment after another.
Although Titanic had more lifeboats than legally required, there were not enough for everyone. Moreover, the loading of the boats was mismanaged and several sailed away partially empty. Attempts to contact nearby ships proved futile. The Cunard liner Carpathia sailed at full speed to Titanic's aid but Titanic had sunk beneath the waves by that time.
Above and below: Titanic under construction at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast.
No shipyard had ever attempted to build a ship as big as the Olympic class and so Harland & Wolff had to tear down three existing slipways and build new ones for the Olympic. Today, those slipways where Titanic and Olympic were built have been laid out with the outlines of the ships (above).
Above: Titanic almost collided with the liner City of New York while in Southampton.
CLASS: Olympic class
BUILDER: Harland & Wolff
ENTERED SERVICE: 1912
LINE: White Star Line
TONNAGE: 46,329 gross tons
LENGTH: 882 feet
BEAM: 92 feet
DRAFT: 34 feet
(905 first class)
(564 second class)
(1134 third class)
MAXIMUM SPEED: 23 knots
SERVICE SPEED: 21 knots
POWER PLANT: 2 Steam triple expansion engines
PROPULSION: 3 propellers
Above: Titanic departing from Southampton. The ship used the same slip that serves the Ocean Terminal in Southampton. However, Titanic was docked along the opposite side of the slip to where the terminal is now.
Above: Titanic's First Class Passenger Lounge.
Justice Holmes and the Titanic - The lawsuits following the disaster. (Originally published by the Supreme Court Historical Society)
A Cruise To Remember - Article on a cruise to the wreck site on the 100th anniversary of Titanic's sinking.
Titanic Belfast - A review of the Titanic museum in Belfast.
SS Nomadic - Nomadic was built as a tender for Titanic and her sisters. She has been restored and is on exhibit in Belfast.
Above and below: RMS Titanic in Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, Titanic's last port of call.
Profile - Historic ship (White Star Line) - RMS Titanic