The idea for the world’s most advanced steamboats came from the ambitious owners of the White Star Line, led by Joseph Bruce Ismay. He is one of the two main suspects.
In 1902, Ismay managed to combine British technology and American capital by selling the White Star Line company to the American International Markentile Marine Trust. The plans for creating the greatest floating palace were quite consistent with the megalomania of the trust owner – John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan is the second main suspect in our investigation.
On October 20, 1910, the first superliner, the Olympic, left the slipway, and a year later, the second, even more luxurious, the Titanic. It cost Morgan about 400-hundred million US dollars in modern prices.
Andrews Thomas was the chief designer of the Titanic.
Thomas Andrews devoted more than two years to superliners. He used the best materials and the latest technology during the ship’s construction. Everything had to ensure the safety and comfort of swimming – from automatic doors in watertight bulkheads to simulators in the gym.
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic left the port town of Southampton for New York, nearly colliding with a steamship of the same name. Edward John Smith, whose experience was 25 years, was chosen to be the ship’s captain: the first trip on the Titanic was to be his last voyage before retiring.
A few days before departure, the ship’s holds were hurriedly filled with food and drink, crockery and cutlery, cigars and packs of opium, stacks of linen, ice, and fresh flowers: supplies should have been enough for a week, provided that there were 2208 people on the Titanic. The liner was only half loaded: in April, transatlantic flights were not in high demand, and another strike of coal miners also did not contribute to the rapid sale of tickets.
Nevertheless, hundreds of passengers boarded the Titanic along the wide gangplank on the appointed day – the steward at the entrance entered their names in a special log. It is worth noting that the list was impressive: the cream of the British and American high society gathered on the liner. So, among the passengers of the first class were millionaires John Jacob Astor, Charlotte Cardeza, and Benjamin Guggenheim, the head of the White Star Line, Joseph Ismay, the owner of the fashion house Lucy Duff Gordon, the silent film actress Dorothy Gibson (who was destined not only to survive the disaster but and starring in the movie Titanic Survivor), founder of the Macy’s department store chain Isidore Strauss, famous writer Jacques Fatrell, activist Margaret “Molly” Brown, Wimbledon winner Carl Behr and other wealthy and famous personalities.
With a luxurious dining room with arched windows, grand staircases with exquisite wooden railings, a huge glass dome that lets in daylight, a swimming pool and Turkish baths, a smoking room, and an impressive library – the interior of the ship, somewhat reminiscent of a palace, exceeded all the expectations of aristocrats. The second-class passengers, who had never traveled on such a grand scale, were incredibly impressed.
Interestingly, among the passengers of the third class (the atmosphere of which also exceeded the usual standard), several citizens of the Russian Empire and Old Believers from the Kuban wanted to get to Uruguay in such an extraordinary way. They achieved their goals.
Before Disaster: Iceberg to Starboard
April 14 was the fourth day of the epic journey on the Titanic. The ocean favored the immense ship: clear weather and festive splendor reigning on the ship could hardly develop anxiety and fear. However, the tragic ending was preceded by several fatal misunderstandings.
One of these unfortunate accidents was losing a key to a cabinet with binoculars used by lookouts in the so-called “crow’s nest” – an observation post above the ship’s mars platform. The owner of the key, second officer David Blair, was expelled from the crew shortly before the liner sailed and did not manage to hand it over to his successor, so the observers were left without instruments. Perhaps that is why they did not notice the iceberg on time.
In addition, having received several warnings about icebergs and ice fields from passing steamers, Captain Smith did not immediately pass on the information received to his officers. Instead, he shared a radiogram with Joseph Ismay, who was rumored to have insisted on keeping the Titanic at top speed.
Nevertheless, Captain Smith tried to avoid the ice danger and ordered to keep a course to the southwest. Thus, the liner sailed south of the usual route; however, this decision became fatal for the Titanic: the fact is that for the first time in many years, the Labrador Current also changed its route, deviating south and taking with it several hundred icebergs.
It got noticeably colder at night. Calm set in, and the ripples on the water disappeared. The complete absence of wind is another piece of the puzzle in this picture: it seemed that the collision was a foregone conclusion. At 23:39, the lookout Frederick Fleet spotted the iceberg right on the course (it was he who would become the protagonist of the judicial investigations after the shipwreck) and struck the bell three times. First officer William Murdoch gave several commands to the helmsman to avoid an accident. Still, the liner was too bulky for sudden maneuvers – six holes appeared in the starboard side skin. Thus began the agony of the Titanic.
Meanwhile, Edward John Smith was absent from the bridge.
A few minutes after midnight, radio operators signaled distress, and the ship crew prepared to launch twenty lifeboats, which were designed for only 1,178 people. First-class passengers did not feel the impact of the iceberg and were in no hurry to escape. On top of that, they had no idea how the evacuation was supposed to go: on that – the last – morning, the training on the use of boats was canceled. Only 180 people left the ship in the first hour: the boats sailed away half empty since the Titanic crew was not even aware of their maximum capacity.
At that moment, third-class passengers made their way to the upper decks with difficulty: the guards, who did not assume a mortal danger, refused to unlock the bars that separated them from the first and second-class rooms.
Seven ships responded to the SOS signal: among them were the twin brother Olympic and the Cunard Line ship Carpathia, which headed towards the sinking Titanic at top speed. But the steamer “Californian” ignored the white rockets fired from the liner: the only radio operator on the ship was fast asleep.
After 1:30, the Titanic began to list noticeably on its bow – panic began on board. Trying to let the women and children go ahead, the ship’s crew launched overcrowded boats. The fifth officer, Harold Lowe, fired three warning shots into the air to push back the frightened, unruly crowd.
All this time, until the last command of Captain Smith, relieving the crew members of any duties, the boilermen and mechanics maintained the pressure of the steam; the stewards calmed the passengers; radio operators continued to give distress calls; the musicians played the hymn “Nearer, Lord, to Thee.” Courage and self-sacrifice coexisted with cynicism and cowardice: everyone had to make a major decision in his life.
After 2:05, the last boat was launched. Then the ocean overtook the deck and the captain’s bridge – one and a half thousand people rushed to the stern.
“Crowds of people were still kept at the stern, but the end was near. Slowly and almost majestically, the gigantic stern began to lift, revealing propellers, until it stood perfectly upright. She stayed like that for a few seconds, then, as if exhausted, she slid down, under the icy water of the Atlantic. . .” – this is how the second assistant to captain Charles Lightoller described the last minutes of the Titanic.
Consequences: A Big Splash
The collapse of the Titanic, which claimed the lives of 1517 people, heralded the end of an era of human arrogance: the “indestructible” monument of ingenuity did not withstand the onslaught of the elements, ruthless and irrational. It is no coincidence that this tragic event is the starting point of the British television epic “Downton Abbey,” dedicated to the main narrative of the twentieth century. A harbinger of global catastrophes, Titanic reflected the key issues of the Edwardian era – from social stratification and discrimination to a dubious belief in the invincibility of progress and a bright future under control.
So, in the 1980s, the American traveler Grimm made several attempts to reach the Titanic – all of them were unsuccessful, and Grimm eventually abandoned this venture. But the young oceanologist Robert Ballard and the French oceanographer Jean-Louis Michel were more fortunate: they discovered the Titanic in 1985. Since then, more than one expedition has visited here searching for clear, detailed shots and “material evidence” – household items and luxury items that became unwitting witnesses to his death. Thanks to a group of American researchers, in 2010, a detailed map of the wreck of the Titanic appeared – a sort of guide to the sunken wreckage of the ship, allowing you to see its disparate world as a whole.
Director James Cameron also dived into the remains of the Titanic: the film he shot in 1997 became a cult event in the history of cinema. Modern special effects, acting, frightening realism, a suitable soundtrack, and monumental design – why the Oscar-winning “Titanic” conquered millions of viewers is still a topic for discussion by film critics. So, for example, according to Anton Dolin, the reason for the stunning popularity of this picture is that “the collapse of the cinematic Titanic clearly expressed the collective fear of the Apocalypse, which somehow gripped the world on the eve of the change of millennia. ” And in this sense, Cameron’s masterpiece seems to repeat the “pattern” of the early twentieth century.
By the way, the reproduction of the story about the Titanic haunts not only directors, composers, and writers but also businessmen. So, the Australian billionaire Clive Palmer plans to create an exact copy of the transatlantic liner. In 2022, the Titanic II will follow the same route as its predecessor more than a hundred years ago. The cruise company created for this project is called the “Blue Star line.” Whether this is a good idea, time will tell. The future superliner will have to compete with impressive museums and themed hotels and the collective memory of a tragedy that is still not forgotten.