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The Titanic Disaster of 1912

The Titanic Disaster of 1912

On Sunday, April 14. 1912, at 11:40 P.M. ship's time (10:45 p.m. New York time), the British steamship Titanic, of the White Star Line, struck an iceberg in lat. 41.46 N. and long. 50.14 w. (about 50O miles south of Newfoundland and 1,600 miles east of New York), and sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later, with a loss of about 1,500 lives.

The Titanic was on her maiden trip across the Atlantic Ocean, and was in command of Capt. E. J. Smith. The night was clear and starlit, but it is claimed that the iceberg was so nearly the color of the water that it was not observed until only a quarter of a mile distant.

By a quick turn to port a head-on collision was avoided ; but the starboard side of the ship scraped along the sharp submerged ridge of the berg for a large part of her length, and her hold rapidly filled with water.

The shock is described as slight, and at first some of the officers, as well as most of the passengers, did not believe the accident serious. In half an hour, however.

Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats lowered, to receive the women and children. There was little confusion. The general confidence that the giant vessel was unsinkable caused the first boats to depart without their full complement.

The later ones were overcrowded. Wireless distress signals were sent from the Titanic, beginning about ten minutes after the collision, and continuing until the water had reached the wireless room.

Messages were received by the Carpathia of the Cunard Line (en route to the Mediterranean), the Virginian of the Allan Line, the Olympic and the Baltic of the White Star Line, and other vessels.

The Carpathia (58 miles distant), the Frankfurt, the Baltic, the Virginian, and the Californian headed under full steam for the scene of the disaster.

The Titanic began to settle at the head soon after the collision; and those who got off in the boats saw the lights extinguished on one deck after another as the water crept up.

When the bow was completely submerged, the stern rose high in the air throwing off  hundreds from its crowded decks, and then swiftly disappeared. Several witnesses assert that there were explosions just before the end and that the vessel parted amidships.

One of the lifeboats, returning to the spot where the ship sank, picked up a number of men clinging to rafts or wreckage.

The Carpathia reached the scene of the wreck about four o'clock on the morning of April 15, and four hours later had picked up the occupants of the fifteen lifeboats. 

She then turned back to New York with her load of survivors. The other vessels speeding to the rescue, hearing from the Carpathia that they were too late to be of service, proceeded on their courses.

News of the disaster reached New York on Monday night, April 15; and during the next three days, lists of the rescued were furnished by wireless communication.

The U.S. cruisers Chester and Salem were ordered by President Taft to convoy the Carpathia, but the latter changed her course to avoid the danger of icebergs.

The Carpathia reached her dock at New York at 9.35 on Thursday evening, April 18— the usual immigration and customs inspections having been waived.

The steerage passengers were cared for by a special relief committee, together with various other relief agencies; and public subscriptions were started by the mayors of London and New York.

The number on board the Titanic, when she cleared the port of Southampton on April 10, was officially reported as 2,208. Of these, the first cabin passengers totaled 325; the second cabin, 285; the steerage, 708; and the crew, 890.

Of the number rescued, 202 were from the first cabin, 115 from the second cabin. 178 from the steerage, besides 4 officers and 206 of the crew. The number lost is estimated at 1,503.

Of the 705 saved, the great majority were women; while of the men who survived, more than half belonged to the crews that manned the lifeboats.

Among the prominent persons who perished were Col. John Jacob Astor, head of the American branch of the Astor family; Major Archibald Butt, personal aide to President Taft; Jacques Futrelle. Author; Benjamin Guggenheim, member of the well- known Guggenheim family; Charles M. Hays, president of the Canadian Grand Trunk Pacific Railway; Henry B. Harris, theatrical manager; Frank D. Millet, artist; Washington A. Roebling, 2d. of the noted family of bridge builders; William T. Stead, the London editor; Isidor Straus, millionaire merchant and philanthropist, and Mrs. Straus, who refused to accept a rescue in which her husband could not share; John B. Thayer, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad; George D. Widener and Harry B. Widener, of Philadelphia. Captain Smith and First Officer Murdock went down with their ship.

Among those who were saved were the wives of many of the notable men who perished, including Mesdames John Jacob Astor, Jacques Futrelle, Charles M. Hays, Henry B. Harris, John B. Thayer, and George D. Widener. Others among the rescued were Col. Archibald Gracie, Countess de Rothes. Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and Lady Gordon, J. Bruce Ismay, and Henry S. Harper and Mrs. Harper.

The cable ship Mackay-Bennett, chartered by the White Star Line to cruise in the neighborhood of the wreck and search for bodies, arrived at Halifax on April 30, with 190 bodies on board, including those of Colonel Astor and Isidor Straus. In all, 300 dead were found, of which 116, chiefly members of the crew, were buried at sea.

On May 13, the Oceanic reported the finding of a collapsible boat of the Titanic, containing the bodies of three men. Public attention was directed by the Titanic disaster to the dangers run by liners in the ice fields, and to the inadequacy of the lifeboat facilities required by law.

A course 270 miles south of the southerly route previously followed was agreed upon by the principal transatlantic lines on April 19. Legislative steps were also taken in Great Britain and the United States to compel steamship companies to provide adequate protection for every person on board their vessels.

Courts of Inquiry

A subcommittee of the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, appointed to investigate the causes of and responsibility for the tragedy, under the presidency of Senator William A. Smith, commenced its sessions in New York on Friday, April 19, and adjourned to Washington on April 22.

The witnesses subpoenaed included J. Bruce Ismay, managing director, and P. A. S. Franklin, vice-president of the White Star Line; the wireless operators of the Titanic and the Carpathia; the four surviving officers, 24 of the crew, and a number of the passengers of the Titanic.

The testimony indicated that several warnings of ice had been received by the Titanic from other vessels—the latest from the Californian at five o'clock on Sunday afternoon; and that the ship was traveling at 21 knots (about 24 miles) an hour when she struck the iceberg.

It was further elicited that the Titanic did not carry sufficient lifeboats; that the boats left the ship only partially filled; and that no general alarm was sounded to warn passengers at the time of the accident. It was also shown that the supposedly watertight compartments were not watertight.

The Senate Committee in its report, presented May 28, blamed Captain Smith for ignoring repeated warnings as to the proximity of ice and blamed the management for its failure to provide proper life-saving apparatus.

It also censured Captain Lord, of the Californian, for failing to go to the assistance of the Titanic. The British Board of Trade was censured for lax regulations and inadequate inspection.

The Committee recommended that boat accommodation be provided for everyone on all seagoing ships and that ships be constructed with absolutely water-tight bulkheads.

A court of inquiry appointed by the British Government to investigate the Titanic disaster opened on May 2, under the presidency of Lord Mersey, the Wreck Commissioner.

Among the witnesses were Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordon, Bruce Ismay, Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Mr. Peskett. Naval architect to the Cunard line, several officers, sailors, and passengers of the Titanic, and the chief officer of the Californian.

The main facts elicited at the American inquiry were confirmed; but the report of the British court, presented on July 30, was less severe in its censure than that of the American committee.

It exonerated Captain Smith; blamed the Board of Trade for failing to revise its rules, and criticized its methods of inspection; and made recommendations as to lifeboats and water-tight bulkheads.

The matter of the neglect of the Californian to render aid was exhaustively investigated at the inquiry, but the report did not pronounce definitely on the culpability of her captain.

Details of the ' Titanic'

The Titanic, the largest ocean steamer ever built, a sister ship to the Olympic, was constructed by Harland A Wolff at Belfast, Ireland, where she was launched in May 1911.

She was 882 feet 9 inches in length, 92 feet 6 inches beam, and 94 feet in depth. Above the casings, the funnels towered 62 feet, making the to tall height from the keel to the top of the funnels 165 feet; and the height of the top of the funnels above the grate bars of the furnaces, 150 feet.

The Titanic carried 16 lifeboats and 4 collapsible boats but was provided with davits and launching gear for 48. The shell plates were of steel, 11 inches in thickness.

There were 11 steel decks, and 15 transverse bulkheads, forming 16 watertight compartments when the bulkhead doors were closed. These doors were arranged to slide downward, and were operated by hydraulic pistons under a pressure of 800 pounds per square inch.

When released by a control on the captain's bridge they closed in 20 seconds. The Titanic had a draught, when loaded, of 34 feet 6 inches. Her registered tonnage was 46,000, and her displacement 66,000 tons—1,000 tons greater than the Olympic.

She was propelled by three screws, the two outer ones driven by compound reciprocating engines, each of 15,000 horsepower, and the central one by a Parsons turbine of 17,000 horsepower.

The cylinders of the reciprocating engines were 54-inch. 84-inch, and two of 97-inch, with a stroke of 75-inches. They were built to run at 77 revolutions per minute, with a boiler pressure of 215 pounds per square inch.

The turbine was run by the exhaust steam from the reciprocating engines and was not reversible. The reversing lever in one movement cut off the supply of steam to the turbines while reversing the reciprocating engines. The steam was supplied by 29 boilers, 24 of which were double-ended.

The interior of the vessel was fitted up as a hotel, with every luxury of modern life. Elevators connected the upper nine stories, which were also reached by spacious balustrade stairways.

There was a theatre; a swimming pool with nine feet of water; a palm garden and restaurant; squash and tennis courts, and a miniature golf links on the topmost deck.

Some of the suites of apartments were of the most elegant description, with a private promenade deck extending to the rail, and one commanded a rental of $4,350 for a single trip. The Titanic had accommodations for over 3,000 passengers.

The vessel cost upward of $5,000,000, and her fittings and furnishings nearly $3,000,000 more. She was insured for $3,700,000, of which her owners carried $750,000. The freight carried on the trip was but 1,500 tons. The total money loss of the disaster was estimated at not less than $27,0O0,000.

Lessons of the Disaster

It was clearly shown by the Titanic disaster that, while vessels are now built beyond risk of foundering by wind or sea, there are accidents still liable to occur which require passengers to leave the vessel regardless of the condition of the sea.

The ever-present dangers of this sort are fire, collision with other moving vessels, and with icebergs or derelicts. The larger the vessel, the stronger she is locally, and the greater the weight that can be spared to subdivide with a view to prevent the spread of fire.

Of course, local strength is of great protection in case of collision with a derelict. Assuming, however, that disastrous results will accompany accidents such as this, every precaution must be taken to avoid the accidents; but if they do occur, in spite of proper precautions, the evil of the loss of life must be made as slight as possible.

The one paramount lesson of the Titanic wreck is that many lives could have been saved had there been more boats.

Although the stowing of boats is not a simple problem, at least twelve more could have been carried along the boat deck — six on each side in the space between the forward and after boats as carried.

It is not easy to stow them between decks, owing to the difficulty of swinging them out, and to the fact that the davits will interfere with the lowering of the boats above.

The davits could run out with the boats, and as soon as the latter are free be drawn back out of the way of the boats above. Not only the space, but the manner of supporting, lowering, and disengaging the lifeboats must be considered.

They must be dropped before reaching the water, and in this operation, both ends must let go at the same instant. The problems of getting the passengers into the boats and of the number of seamen available to handle them must also be considered.

What are called the small boats are really great, bulky, heavy craft that must be handled by experts in order to be lowered safely in any sort of sea. Modern deckhands are not so capable of handling boats as the men of the sailing-boat and smaller-ship era.

This does not mean that they are not good men, but that those required for the manning of a great steamship are selected mainly for a different sort of service.

Boats should be already fastened to their davits by falls, as such heavy objects cannot be handled by hand in an emergency. In case boats are stowed all the way across the deck, they might be made much larger than at present, and decked over by an ark-like top.

After passengers had been put into such boats, the opening could be temporarily closed. Then the boat could be lifted by a derrick and dropped clear of the side. Such boats should have motors.

In fact, since it has been found advisable to use motors in the life-saving service on shore, it follows that in the end they will be installed on ship's lifeboats.

There is probably always a larger percentage of passengers, nowadays, who can handle an automobile engine than of the crew who can handle efficiently an oar in a seaway.

Some part of the vessel built as a pontoon in which passengers can be placed, and which can be launched overboard, or which will float off if the vessel is sunk, will meet many of the objections to small boats, which, had there been a sea on, would have saved but few of the Titanic's crew.

In a fog, warning is usually given by the ship's whistle sounding blasts at intervals. The echo from a berg of a ship's whistle can be heard and located with the geophone, and it is certain that some noise can be made which can be echoed from below water, and the berg causing the echo located in direction by the present submarine bell apparatus on all modern vessels. 

For the inventor, a well-known authority on shipbuilding has suggested the development of a small wireless apparatus of greatly different tension from the regular wireless outfit, by which vessels can feel one another out within twenty miles.

Also, a needle that will place itself in line with rays sent out from another vessel—as they radiate in straight lines—and thus be able to indicate exact directions.

A Boynton suit, rented like a deck chair, would enable passengers to stay afloat in comparative safety for some time. With the great height of ships' sides, making a leap into the water dangerous, there should be shutes that could be lowered like gangplanks for safe descent.

The supplying of more boats would not necessarily ensure safety; but under circumstances similar to those of the Titanic disaster it would give some a chance who did not get it, and who are entitled to such chance.

Government can do much for the promotion of all these ends by proper regulation, and so can the insurance companies.

"Titanic Disaster." Nelson's Encyclopaedia: Everybody's Book of Reference. Vol. XII. London-Edinburgh-Dublin: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1912. 87A-88.

Nelson's Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encyclopedia was updated on a regular basis and the ©1907 included more recent entries such as the Titanic Disaster.

Note: We have made minor edits to this text to correct grammatical errors or to improve word choice to clarify the content. We replaced words written using a non-American variant with the American English spelling for consistency. The passive text was often left “as is.” Those who need to quote directly should verify any changes by reviewing the original material.

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