Natural and Man-Made Disasters


What are the facts about the Titanic?

As the brainchild of Lord William James Pirrie and J. Bruce Ismay, Titanic was a marriage of British technology and American money: Pirrie was head of Harland & Wolff, a firm known for building the sturdiest and best ships in the British Isles; Ismay was chairman of the White Star Line, owned by American financier J. Pierpont Morgan’s (1837–1913) International Mercantile Marine.

In 1907 Pirrie and Ismay came up with a plan to compete with the top-notch Cunard liners by surpassing them both in size and luxury. The ship they planned, Titanic, was built in Belfast along with her sister ship, Olympic, which Titanic exceeded in gross tonnage but not in length. Titanic was 882 feet long, 92 feet wide, and weighed 46,328 gross tons; 9 steel decks rose as high as an 11-story building. Registered as a British ship and manned by British officers, Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911.

The ship was everything Pirrie and Ismay had planned. Titanic’s size not only allowed more room to accommodate the increasing number of steerage (cheapest-fare) passengers who were immigrating to the United States, but also featured lavish elegance for first-and second-class travelers. Creature comforts included the first shipboard swimming pool, Turkish bath, gymnasium, and squash court. First-class cabins were nothing short of opulent, including coal-burning fireplaces in the sitting rooms and full-size, four-poster beds in the bedrooms. Additionally, there was a loading crane and a compartment for automobiles. The ship’s hospital even featured a modern operating room.

With her steerage full and some of society’s most prominent individuals on board, the RMS Titanic left the docks at Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912; New York Harbor was her final destination. On April 14, the ship was traveling in the exceptionally calm and icy waters of the North Atlantic, near Newfoundland. At 11:40 P.M., Titanic scraped an iceberg, sustaining damage along the starboard (right) side, from the bow to about midship. The Titanic, which immediately began taking on water, sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes in the early morning hours of April 15.

Only 711 of the 2,224 aboard survived; the 1,513 lost included American industrialists and businessmen John Jacob Astor IV, Isidor Straus (of R. H. Macy’s), Benjamin Guggenheim, and Harry Elkins Widener. Survivors—mostly women and children who had been traveling as first-class passengers—were picked up by the Carpathia, which was 58 miles away when it received Titanic’s distress signals. It took three and a half hours for Carpathia to reach the site of the disaster, by which time the Titanic was gone.


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