The Tragedy of the 'Titanic': The Unsinkable Ship Goes Down
Grandeur. Elegance. Luxury. A floating palace. These were a few of the descriptions used for the largest passenger steamship in the world when she was built. The Titanic had libraries, squash courts, a heated swimming pool, a Turkish bath, a gymnasium, elevators, barber shops, and four restaurants offering magnificent cuisine. The ship had 840 private rooms for the first-, second- and third-class sections of the boat, and could carry 3,547 passengers and crew.
The Titanic featured the latest in maritime technology and was said to be "unsinkable." The designers claimed that no one would get seasick on the Titanic because of her massive size. There were two huge steam engines, over 100 coal-burning furnaces, several boilers, steam-powered generators, an elaborate electrical system, and Marconi radios that could send messages from the ship.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the April 20, 1912, issue of the Tucson Daily Citizen (Arizona)
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, loaded with 1,400 enthusiastic passengers and 940 officers and crew. Captain Edward J. Smith was in command. During the course of the journey, Captain Smith, aware that icebergs were in the region, altered the course of the Titanic slightly to the south. On the night of April 14, shortly before midnight, the Titanic collided with a gigantic iceberg—although the impact of the collision was hardly felt by many on board. The collision was indeed serious, however, and the ship began filling with water. By midnight the ship inspectors, understanding that the Titanic was doomed, gave the order to start evacuating "women and children first" in the lifeboats, and sent out an international distress call.
Many passengers were apprehensive to leave the Titanic at first, not believing that the ship was actually sinking, and a number of lifeboats left the vessel half-filled. Sinking she was, however, and at 2:30 a.m., April 15, the Titanic went down. Passengers still on board had to jump into the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, while those in the lifeboats watched, helplessly, in shock. More than 1,500 passengers and crew lost their lives, mostly due to hypothermia.
The world’s reaction to the tragedy was jumbled and confused. Initially, the press reported that all the passengers were safe and the Titanic was being towed to safety. Once the awful fate of the ship was known, accusations began flying: the ship was going too fast; the British maritime laws were to blame because of negligent lifeboat requirements; surrounding ships ignored the Titanic’s calls for help; iceberg warnings were ignored by the crew. The United States Senate, ready to assign quick blame, initiated an investigation the day after the survivors arrived in New York. In addition to those seeking to find fault, there were heartbreaking stories of selfless heroism, grueling sacrifice, families saying goodbye to each other while some departed in lifeboats and others remained on board, the ship's ensemble playing music as the Titanic went down, and outright admiration for the procedures taken by the captain and crew after the deadly collision occurred.
The sinking of the Titanic was one of the most devastating peacetime maritime disasters in history. In 1985 the wreck’s location was finally discovered at a depth of 2.5 miles. We will never know exactly what happened and what could have been done to avoid the enormous loss of life, but the Titanic’s fate continues to haunt the public’s imagination.