Few ships have made a mark quite like the RMS Titanic.
The dramatic tale of its tragic end has prompted the making of many films, documentaries and dramas. What was the original purpose of this massive ship, and what went wrong on that fateful morning?
Below, we explore the fascinating history of the RMS Titanic and recount one of the greatest maritime stories in modern history.
The Queen of Ships
The RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic’s construction resulted from a production race between two major ocean liner companies. In an effort to create the largest and best ship, J. Bruce Ismay, chief executive of White Star Liners, initiated the building of three enormous steam liners. They were called the Olympic, the Titanic and the Gigantic (later renamed the Britannic). Starting at 882 feet long, these would be the biggest ships on the water at the time.
The Titanic was the second of the three, and construction began in 1909. The ship was powered by twenty-nine boilers, two reciprocating steam engines and a Parsons turbine; the latter turned three propellers to move the massive vessel as fast as twenty-three knots!
Thousands of workers came together for the multi-year project. The result was a luxury liner unlike any the world had ever seen. The four iconic steam funnels at the top of the ship (only three were actually functioning at the time) gave the Titanic a powerful and commanding presence on the sea.
The Titanic was built with sixteen compartments, and all were designed to withstand the influx of water. The goal was to keep the ship afloat, even if some of the compartments were damaged. The designers were so confident of the ship’s ability to weather any crisis that they only onboarded 16 lifeboats to accommodate 3,300 people! This meant that only a third of the passengers and crew would be able to get off the ship in the event of a sinking.
The Maiden Voyage
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic launched from Southampton, and the decks of the world’s “greatest ship” were filled with ecstatic passengers. The passengers were heading across the ocean, cheered on by thousands of friends and family members.
The ship stopped in France and Ireland before turning toward its destination of New York.
On the morning of April 14, the skies were clear and the sea was calm as the Titanic cruised along. The crew did, however, receive some warnings from other ships about the presence of icebergs in the area. Shortly before midnight, an iceberg was seen directly ahead of the ship, and the captain ordered the Titanic to be turned sharply to avoid a head-on hit. Although impact was avoided, the sizable iceberg’s jagged edge tore a gaping hole along the side of the ship.
The crew was not initially aware of the extent of the damage, and having unfounded confidence in the “unsinkability” of the ship, stayed complacent. This caused a dangerous amount of time to pass before the severity of the damage was assessed.
Unfortunately, the water-tight compartments didn’t perform as the designers intended. Six of the compartments had been damaged, and the ship had begun sinking. Additionally, the sinking ship tilted in such a way as to allow water to seep into the other compartments that weren’t damaged.
Disaster on the Icy Sea
After more than an hour of confusion and delay, the captain ordered the lifeboats to be prepared for the bewildered passengers. The first boat was filled to half its capacity and launched, as were the other lifeboats. Many men died because the ship’s designers and crew believed that the Titanic was unsinkable. According to Business Insider, women survived at a rate of 74%, while men survived at a rate of 20%.
Nearly three hours after the initial impact, the ship plunged under the freezing waves, lights still glowing from the windows.
On April 15, 1912, the unthinkable happened, and the Titanic sank. The sinking claimed the lives of over 1,500 passengers.