The Titanic is probably one of the most known ships of all time. We all have heard about the Titanic, we all know what happened to the Titanic, and most of us have seen the movie Titanic.
But what apart from its tragic fate made the Titanic so special?
The myth of being unsinkable, a claim that was heavily marketed by the White Star Line to attract passengers, its dimensions (294,18 yards long, 28,35 yards wide, and 52,310 tons heavy), as well as the high level of luxury and comfort made the Titanic special.
Here are the 3 reasons that made the Titanic so special in more detail!
The dimensions of the Titanic
The dimensions of the Titanic were enormous, even for modern-day standards.
With a length of 294,18 yards and a width of 28,35 yards, the ship was almost as long as 3 football fields and weighed a total of 52,310 tons. The 9 decks made the Titanic as high as an eleven-story building!
When the hull of the Titanic was let off the stack on May 31st, 1911 more than 23 tons of Oil, tallow, and soap were used to get the ship off the stack and into the water.
Apart from its massive hull the Titanic also had 4 massive chimneys, each one wide enough for two trains to pass each other. Since 3 chimneys were sufficient the fourth was only added for visual reasons.
And the dimensions of the anchors and the anchor chains were just as massive as the rest of the ship. When the anchors that weighed 17,08 tons were moved from the factory to the Titanic each of them had to be transported on a carriage that was pulled by 20 horses. By the way, the Titanic had 3 of these massive anchors!
The Hull of the Titanic
In order to build the hull of the Titanic, over 3 million steel and iron rivets were used to connect the 2,000 hull plates. Each of these hull plates weighed up to 3 tons and was 6 ft wide and 30 ft long.
These plates that made up the hull were made of rolled steel and have gotten a fair share of the blame for the catastrophe.
And although the rolled steel that was used for the Titanic is indeed about 10 times more brittle than modern-day steel that is used to build ships, it was still the best steel that could be produced back then.
The cold water made the steel even more brittle which made the steel less resistant and allowed the iceberg to rip an even bigger hole into the hull! That kind of brittle steel would also explain why passengers recalled that the sinking Titanic made cracking noises instead of groaning noises that would be expected. (Source)
Since neither the methods of arc welding nor oxy-fuel welding had matured enough for widespread commercial use the hull of the Titanic, like most iron and steel constructions of the time, was held together by more than 3 million iron or steel rivets weighing a total of 1,200 tons.
These rivets were hammered in by hand. Because wide parts of the construction process, like the hammering of the rivets, had to be done by hand a lot of laborers were needed.
The construction of the Titanic and the simultaneous construction of its sister ship (the Olympic) would occupy all 15,000 workers at the Harland & Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, Ireland. But construction was dangerous! 8 workers died during the building process of the Titanic and several others lost limbs because of the unsafe working conditions.
By the way. These unsafe working conditions were not exclusive to Ireland but were common in all factories during the era of the Industrial Revolution and together with poor living conditions actually led to the growing popularity of socialist and social democratic ideas among the working class.
If you want to learn more about the appeal of Socialism to the working class and how german Chancellor Otto von Bismarck tried to fight Socialist movements during the second half of the 19th century you might want to check out my article here.
The dimensions of the Titanic – an overview
So that put the dimensions of the Titanic to…
- 294,18 yards long
- 28,35 yards wide
- Total weight: 52,310 tons
- Constructed: 31 March 1909 – 31 May 1912
- 3 million rivets, weighing a total of 1,200 tons
- 15,000 workers involved
- 8 workers died during construction
- Boilers produced over 46,000 horsepower
- 4 chimneys, one of them only for decorative reasons
- around 900 crew members, most of them from Southhampton
How fast was the Titanic
Another interesting detail about the Titanic was the 3 propellers that could bring the ship up to 22 knots. But in order to ensure a smooth and comfortable passage, these 3 giant propellors were pitched at an angle that reduced the vibrating of the ship. That made the Titanic a little bit slower but a lot more comfortable.
The Titanic was able to cross the Atlantic within 7 days, the Maiden voyage started on April 11th, 1912 Queenstown, southern Ireland, and was expected to end in New York on April 17th, 1912
So if you wanted to cross the Atlantic as fast as possible there were other, faster ships. The Titanic was designed for a little bit slower but still reasonably fast passage with as much luxury and comfort as possible (well, at least for the first-class passengers).
And that brings us to the second reason why the Titanic was such a special ship. And that’s the luxury the first-class passengers could enjoy.
The level of luxury on board the Titanic
Although the Titanic was an extremely luxurious ship there were clear differences between the different levels of accommodation when it came to luxury, comfort, and the social background of the Passengers.
The lowest class on board the Titanic were the boilermen who had to shovel coal into the furnaces that provided the stream power for accelerating the Titanic and the mechanics who also had to do hard manual work to keep the machines functioning.
These men who kept the Titanic functional lived under pretty hard conditions and were making only a little money. To be able to afford a first-class ticket these men would have had to save their wage for several years.
A little higher in the social hierarchy were the passengers of the third class.
Third class passengers on board the Titanic
While the Titanic was a luxurious ship it also had less luxurious cabins for passengers with limited funds.
Most of the passengers of the third class were people from different European nations who wanted to immigrate into the US and who had been attracted by the myth of the Titanic being unsinkable.
For more information about European immigration into the US and why Irish immigrants often settled at the East Coast while the South wasn`t overly popular as a destination you might want to check out my article here.
There I also go into depth about how European immigration influenced the development of the US-Population and how immigration was received by the American public.
The cabins in which the passengers of the third class would live were situated in the front third of the Titanic while the third class dining room and kitchen were situated in the center below the areas of the first-class passengers.
Second class passengers on board the Titanic
Passengers with some money could afford tickets for the second class.
The cabins of the second class were situated in the rear third of the Titanic and were mostly booked by teachers, merchants, and passengers with some degree of wealth.
The passengers of the second class could travel with considerable comfort. Their cabins didn`t really differ from hotel rooms on land. And the dining hall of the second class was also well equipped with linen napkins and silverware.
But that level of comfort paled in comparison with the luxury of the first class.
First-class passengers and the luxury onboard the Titanic
The Titanic was built with the goal in mind to create an ocean liner that was both reasonably fast and extremely luxurious (at least if you could afford a ticket for a first-class passage).
Not only could first-class passengers stroll through a palm garden on the A-deck, but they could also use a squash field, a swimming pool (the Titanic was one of the first Oceanliners to have a built-in swimming pool below deck), and a Turkish bathhouse to relax.
For some exercise, the Titanic was equipped with a gymnastics room where a physical education teacher instructed the passengers on how to use the state of the art equipment including rowing machines.
But the most extravagant feature was the large stairway that led from the deck to the reception room and that was covered by a large glass dome.
The cabins of the first class were spacious and equipped with wood paneling on the walls and marble sinks in the ensuite bathrooms.
I think it becomes pretty clear why the Titanic had a reputation for being luxurious, doesn’t it?
But that luxury came at a price.
Tickets for a passage in a third-class cabin on board the Titanic did cost 36 US dollars (in today’s purchasing power 980$), tickets for the second class cabins did cost 60$ (in today’s buying power 1,630$), and 150$ for the first class (4,070$ in today’s buying power).
The most luxurious cabins on board the Titanic did cost 4,350$ (118,120$ in today’s buying power).
The crew of the Titanic also resembled the focus on luxury. Of the 900 heads strong crew only around 325 workers were handling the Titanic. The other 500, including 325 Stewarts and 18 stewardesses, were responsible for the passengers.
It is also interesting to note that most of the crew was newly recruited in Southhampton. The idea was that the Titanic, like her sister ships Olympic and Britannic, would not have a standing crew but most of the crew would be hired and dismissed for each passage.
How expensive was a passage on board the Titanic
- Third class cabine, Adult: 36$ (todays buying power: 980 $)
- Third class cabine, child (under 12 years): 15$ (todays buying power: 410$)
- Second class cabine: 60$ (todays buying power: 1,630$)
- First class cabine: 150$ (todays buying power: 4,070$)
- Most luxorious cabines: 4,350$ (todays buying power: 118,120$)
So after finding out about the enormous dimensions of the Titanic and the luxury it provided for its first-class passengers we also have to look at the last reason why the Titanic was so special.
And that is the myth of being unsinkable.
The myth of being unsinkable
The Titanic was not only marketed as the most luxurious ship but also as the safest ship of its time. That kind of marketing was especially necessary because the Titanic didn`t cause the public interest the shipping company had hoped for.
The reason for that was the sister ship Olympic that had been finished a few months before the Titanic. And while the Titanic was a little bit larger and more luxurious it was not enough to really excite the public for a second time.
So when the myth of the unsinkable Titanic came up the shipping company gladly used the opportunity and tried to advertise the Titanic as the safest ship possible.
It wasn`t the ship designer Thomas Andrew but the media who labeled the Titanic as unsinkable!
A major reason for that tag was several ground-breaking new designs like several watertight compartments that would keep the ship afloat.
There was only one problem:
In an effort to stay within the budget the 16 watertight compartments within the hull weren`t sealed and water could spill over from one compartment to the next.
The ship designer Thomas Andrew had originally divided the hull of the Titanic into 16 watertight compartments. That original design would have kept the ship afloat even if either 4 of the compartments in front or 2 in the center would be flooded.
But to stay within the budget a few corners had to be cut and one of them was the finishing of the watertight compartments and the decision not to seal them up.
That should prove fatal because when the Titanic tried to evade the iceberg its side was basically slashed open and water could flow into the first 5 compartments. But the Titanic was designed in a way to float as long as no more than 4 compartments were filling up with water.
The hole within the hull of the Titanic was small, totaling only around 10,7 square feet. The problem was that the impact of the Iceberg had caused the steel plates that made up the hull and that were connected by rivets to create narrow gaps between the plates that stretched over 98,4 yards of the ship’s length.
And although these gaps might appear small they still allowed a lot of water to pass into the hull.
Every hour after the collision 20,000 tons of water flowed into the Titanic while the pumps could only pump out around 400 tons of water per hour.
At that point in time, the designer of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews, and Captain Edward J. Smith knew that the Titanic only had little time left. And there was another problem.
Since there were no regulations and the budget for the construction of the Titanic was already tight the shipping company had decided to reduce the number of lifeboats from 64 to 32.
And that wasn`t even enough to save half of the 2,200 people on board the Titanic….
Apart from that many passengers misunderstood the seriousness of the situation. There were only 28 people in the lifeboat that was launched first although it could have held 64 persons.
So the tragedy took its course.
Could the Titanic have survived?
According to modern physicists, the Titanic could have survived the crash if the ship would have had a frontal collision. In such a scenario only the first two compartments would have been flooded. But it would have taken 4 flooded compartments to sink the Titanic.
Since the Titanic was designed to stay afloat as long as no more than 4 of the front compartments were filled with water chances would have been pretty good. Although crashing into the iceberg would have probably killed around 300 crewmembers who were in their living quarters in the bow of the ship.
But all that is just hypothetical.
It wasn`t until 4 AM that the Carpathia was able to reach the site. But only 705 of the more than 2,200 people on board survived.
Why did the Titanic sink?
The Titanic sunk because the Iceberg had ripped up the seam of rivets between the steel plates that made up the hull causing a narrow 90 yards long gap (in total a 10 square-feet hole). And while the Titanic was designed to stay afloat even if the first 4 compartments were flooded now every hour 20.000 tons of water flooded into the first 5 compartments.
After the sinking of the Titanic, several new regulations were made to make traveling by ship safer. Some of the regulations concerned the number of lifeboats every ship had to carry, others concerned the design of new boats.
But these measurements are a story for another time.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
R.D Ballard: Die Suche nach der Titanic, Wie das größte Schiff,das je unterging, gefunden wurde (Nürnberg 2005).