The Titanic Historical Society

TITANIC Past and Present

by Edward S. Kamuda
Additional text and editing by Karen Kamuda, Paul Louden-Brown

What were the origins of this great ocean liner?
Why was Titanic built?
Why was she called unsinkable?
Why did she sink?
Why weren't there enough lifeboats for everyone?
Was third class prevented from getting into lifeboats?
Who was at fault?
What changed after the disaster?

At the turn of the twentieth century Great Britain was pre-eminent; her largest shipping companies, Cunard and White Star, since the earliest days of transatlantic travel, battled for the greatest share of passenger business. By 1902 White Star had been purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan's International Mercantile Marine Company (IMMC) whose dream was to monopolize North Atlantic shipping, eliminating competition and standardize the cost of travel and freight.

Keith Campbell painting of TitanicJoseph Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line was an intelligent businessman. Son of Thomas Ismay, the Line's founder, he negotiated White Star's purchase by the International Mercantile Marine Company. At the age of 41, he was head of one of the largest shipping organizations in the world. Ismay keenly observed the developments of his rival Cunard, and at a dinner party at the home of shipbuilder Lord Pirrie in London, Ismay talked about a new class of liner, one that was larger and finer than the competition.

Considerable significance is given to this evening party where Olympic and Titanic were planned. The fact is, developing these massive liners actually began in 1899 with Oceanic entering service in September, reflecting his father's view that White Star ships would be large vessels of moderate speed and great comfort.

The reason for building these enormous floating palaces is easy to understand. Economy of size meant a steamship line operating two big ships would save more money than three or even four smaller, older vessels. The company profited in time and money benefitting wages, turnaround time, cargo and passenger receipts.

With White Star and other British lines in the hands of the American-owned IMMC, the British Mercantile Marine¹s reputation and national pride were at stake. The Cunard Line was unable to build new ships without financial help. The British Government rewarded the company with a $10 million low interest loan repayable over twenty years provided the company remained in British hands. The loan led to the construction of Lusitania and Mauretania, technological triumphs of the Edwardian era, when they entered service in 1907.

Without Cunard, the IMMC lost the ability to fix prices and eliminate competition, however a price war broke out in the Morgan Combine of shipping lines and by 1908 an emigrant could book passage to America for as little as $10. The situation became so serious that talks were forced among the companies forming the Atlantic Conference which led to the situation Morgan had initially planned price stability. The price war cost the IMMC dearly; Ismay believed the solution to the threat of competition, notably Cunard, was to build larger and finer ships. He decided to replace the older ones operating between Southampton and New York with a new class of ocean giants. The first Olympic, would begin a new era of luxury travel; Titanic was next incorporating various improvements learned from the operation of her sister. A third, as yet unnamed sister which became Britannic would complete an incomparable trio.

The coveted prize sought for the fastest Atlantic crossing, the Blue Riband, held little appeal for White Star; what was important was that each ship would hold the title, "largest liner in the world." Although slower than Mauretania and Lusitania, the "Olympic class" represented the future generation of ocean liners.

At the shipyards of Harland & Wolff at Belfast, Ireland the new liners were protected with a double-bottom and sixteen watertight compartments formed by fifteen bulkheads running across the ship. (A deficiency of those compartments was not closing them off at the top, a major factor in Titanic's sinking.) Watertight doors in the bulkheads could be closed instantly by an electric switch on the bridge. Should any two of the largest compartments become flooded, the liner could remain afloat indefinitely. The system of divided compartments, double-bottom and sheer size led the White Star Line and their builders to boast that Olympic and Titanic were "practically unsinkable" It's interesting to note, the 1908 Souvenir edition of "The Shipbuilder", Mauretania was advertised: "Practically Unsinkable owing to the Watertight Bulkhead Doors being hydraulically controlled by the Stone-Lloyd System" and when Mauretania was first commissioned, she carried only sixteen lifeboats. However the Titanic disaster is what people remember and in the process of editing company literature in newspapers and other publications, the word "practically" was dropped and the myth of "unsinkable" was born.

Famous buildings were compared with their height and length of the new ships. At 882 feet, they were longer than New York's mammoth skyscraper, the Woolworth Building by one hundred and thirty feet. The floating palaces surpassed anything on the North Atlantic in size and luxury. Passenger entertainment and diversion were provided by a squash racquet court, a Turkish bath, a fully equipped gymnasium, a plunge (swimming) pool, a Parisian style café and libraries. There were four electric elevators (three in first and one in second class) and, for the wealthiest passengers there were deluxe suites with a private promenade.

Only the privileged could take advantage of these luxurious accommodations which cost as much as $4,350 in high season (Summer) for the six day crossing. On board ship meals are included in the ticket price; the first class passengers' dining (saloon) room was styled in magnificent Jacobean surroundings. For those who wanted to dine in an exclusive setting where meals were charged extra and served on fine china, silverplate and glassware, the à la carte restaurant in Louis Seize motif, French walnut panelling and richly gilded carvings was for the select few.

In a blaze of publicity Olympic successfully completed her maiden voyage to New York in June 1911. Ismay proudly wrote to Lord Pirrie, "Olympic is a marvel, and has given much unbounded satisfaction." The owners and builders turned their attention to the liner nearing completion at Belfast. When Titanic was completed Ismay would then realize the fulfillment of his dream.

On Wednesday, April 10, 1912, the four buff-colored funnels of the Royal & United States Mail Steamer Titanic glistened in the bright spring morning. Gathered along the quayside was merry crowd of well-wishers bidding farewell to friends and relatives. Among those boarding was nine year old Frank Goldsmith from Strood, Kent, who was leaving England with his parents and some neighbors to live in Detroit Michigan. People standing on the pier gazed in awe at the giant liner towering over them; she was the largest liner in the world.

J. Bruce Ismay embarked at Southampton. This was only his third maiden voyage in one of his Company's ships and naturally he was anxious to compare Titanic's performance with Olympic's the previous year. Also on board to check things out was Thomas Andrews, Managing Director of Harland & Wolff. Accompanying him were twenty members of the shipyard's "guarantee group" four of whom were apprentices.

None of the passengers or bystanders realized the preparations for Titanic's maiden voyage had been laden with difficulties. A national coal strike left the new ship without enough coal for the voyage to New York. Other liners had the same problem but gave up their meager reserves for Titanic. The laborious work of removing coal by hand, from one ship into Titanic's bunkers was a dirty business and it was necessary to clean the new liner from stem to stern.

Despite the extra work, shortly after noon the "all ashore" whistle sounded, and among goodbyes and bon voyages, gangplanks were removed and soon the sleek liner inched her way from the White Star Dock to begin her passage down Southampton Water across the Channel to Cherbourg, then a stop at Queenstown before finally heading to the open sea.

The Titanic Commutator Issues shown here contain articles and real life accounts that relate to this article. Each is available as either a reprint or in-print issue from our Museum Shop.

Titanic Commutator 109

Titanic Commutator - Issue # 109 White Star's primary rivals, were the Cunard Line's Lusitania and Mauretania.
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Titanic Commutator 114

Titanic Commutator - Issue # 114 This cover shows a boiler being hoisted aboard a ship that would become Britannic.
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Titanic Commutator 154

Titanic Commutator - Issue # 154 shows the massive Arrol Gantry at the shipyards of Harland and Wolff where Olympic and Titanic were Built.
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