Today in History on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sinks into the icy waters of the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage, killing 1,517 people. The United Kingdom’s White Star Line built the Titanic to be the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. The ship was nearly 900 feet long and more than 100 feet high. The Titanic could reach speeds of 30 knots and was thought to be the world’s fastest ship. With its individualized watertight compartments, it was seen as virtually unsinkable. On its first voyage, from Southampton, England, to New York with stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, the Titanic was carrying 2,206 people, including a crew of 898. On April 14, 1912, four days into the crossing and about 375 miles south of Newfoundland, she hit an iceberg at 11:40 pm (ship’s time). The glancing collision caused Titanic’s hull plates to buckle inwards in a number of locations on her starboard side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea. Over the next two and a half hours, the ship gradually filled with water and sank. Passengers and some crew members were evacuated in lifeboats, many of which were launched only partly filled. Just before 2:20 am on the morning of April 15, 1912 the Titanic broke up and sank bow-first with over a thousand people still on board. Those in the water but not on the lifeboats died within minutes from hypothermia caused by immersion in the freezing ocean. The 705 survivors that were aboard the lifeboats were picked up by the RMS Carpathia a few hours later. In 1985, after many attempts over many years, divers were finally able to locate the wreckage of the Titanic on the floor of the North Atlantic. The wreck of the Titanic remains on the seabed, gradually disintegrating at a depth of 12,415 feet.
The Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith went down with the ship. His wife Eleanor Smith issued the following statement after the sinking of Titanic: ”To my poor fellow-sufferers: My heart overflows with grief for you all and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us. May God be with us and comfort us all”.
Titanic Trivia/Fun Facts
Construction on Titanic began on March 31, 1909 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Construction was completed in May 1911.
The designers of Titanic never, despite opinion to the contrary, claimed Titanic was “unsinkable.” They did claim that because of its construction, the ship was “virtually unsinkable” but the word “virtually” was left out in much of the reporting.
300 men worked in shifts around the clock to shovel coal into boilers. This ensured the engines ran at top speed. Coal consumption per day, 825 tons.
Out of a crew of 900, only eighteen were women. This was said to be rooted in a longstanding superstition that women brought bad luck to ships. Seventeen of the stewardesses made it on lifeboats and survived the disaster.
Colonel John Jacob Astor IV was the wealthiest passenger on board, with an estimated wealth of $87 million. He did not survive the sinking.
The iceberg was spotted at 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912 and struck the ship’s starboard side.
Titanic had fifteen bulkheads (a series of vertical partitions in the bottom of the ship), each of which had watertight doors. Only twelve of the doors (a little over a third of the doors) could be closed automatically from the bridge, however; the others had to be closed by hand. When the ship collided with the iceberg, some of the manually-operated doors were left open. In addition, the bulkheads were only ten feet above the waterline, so when the ship began to sink, water poured over the top of the bulkheads into the next, etc. This rendered the watertight bulkheads ineffective.
The closest ship to respond to Titanic’s distress call was Carpathia, which was 58 miles (four hours) away.
Titanic sank at 2:20 am on the morning of April 15, 1912. Carpathia began rescuing survivors from lifeboats at 4:10 am. She rescued the last of the passengers at 8:30, then left for New York at 8:50.
If all the lifeboats were filled to capacity, 1,178 people would have survived instead of 706.
The ship has a maximum allowed capacity of 3,547, but lifeboat space for only 1,178 people. Of the 2,223 on board the ship when it sank, 1,517 died. The majority of deaths were caused by hypothermia.
Two dogs were among the Titanic survivors.
The Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith went down with the ship.
The wreckage of Titanic was undiscovered until September 1, 1985, when it was discovered by a joint French-American expedition.
Strange But True
In 1898, before Titanic had ever been designed, a retired merchant marine wrote “Futility” or “The Wreck of the Titan”. The book was about a ship that hit an iceberg and sank as it was attempting to cross the Atlantic faster than any ship had and is said to contain chilling similarities to the real-live disaster that happened fourteen years later.
British spiritualist, William T. Stead, wrote a tale similar to “Futility” (mentioned above) called “How the Mail Steamer went down in the Mid Atlantic, by a survivor”. The story appeared in the March, 1886 issue of Pall Mall Gazette. In this story, Stead tells of a large steamship that sinks after colliding with another ship. Many lives are lost due to lack of lifeboats. Stead wrote that, “This is exactly what might take place and what will take place, if the liners are sent to sea short of boats”. Stead was travelling to the United States at the request of President Taft to address a peace conference at Carnegie Hall on April 20, 1912. Stead sat calmly in the library reading a book as the North Atlantic sea water came rushing in as the ship he was traveling on sank. That ship was the Titanic. Stead did not survive.
William T. Stead also authored the novel “From the Old World to the New”. In this book, he describes the sinking of a ship in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. To add to the irony, the captain of the ship which picked up the survivors, was Edward J. Smith — the eventual captain of Titanic.
*The strange but true stories and trivia/fun facts were found at Titanicstory.com and Thepioneerwoman.com.
**Wikipedia has a very thorough article on the RMS Titanic, from the making of the ship to information about passengers to the sinking of the Titanic to the aftermath of the disaster and everything in between. If you are interested in learning more you should check it out.