Most people are familiar with the tragic story of the Titanic - the “unsinkable” ship that collided with an iceberg and ultimately sank in the early 20th century. James Cameron’s 1997 film “Titanic” played a large role in popularizing the story, yet few people actually know what the real ship looked like following its construction in the early 1900s, and after its wreckage was discovered in 1985.
The Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic was officially launched on May 31, 1911, by the White Star Line, a British shipping company. The Titanic was actually built as a response to competing ocean liners, which were breaking White Star Line’s records for speed and size.
Discovering the RMS Titanic Wreck
The wreck of the RMS Titanic was discovered in 1985 by Robert Ballard. Prior to this, there had been a number of unsuccessful discovery expeditions. The Titanic’s discovery resulted from the invention of Argo, a deep-sea submersible video camera that could be remotely controlled.
In 2023, OceanGate, a company that supplies crewed submersibles for tourism, offered the possibility of seeing the wrecked boat for $250,000 per seat. Five men, including OceanGate's CEO Stockton Rush, went aboard the Titan sub for a unique expedition but passed away after they ran out of air. In a twist of fate, it was found that Stockton Rush was married to the great-great-granddaughter of Isidore and Ida Straus, two passengers of the Titanic that didn't survive.
An image taken near the end of the Titanic’s construction captures just how massive both the ship and its propellers were.
The ship was 883-feet-long, which made it taller than any building that existed at the time had the ship been placed upright.
Honeymooners and Titanic
The Titanic carried various passengers, including two newlyweds, Mr. & Mrs. George A. Harder, who were celebrating their honeymoon aboard the ship. The Harders have both survived the shipwreck, rescued in lifeboat 5. After their rescue, the couple was caught in a famous photo taken on the Carpathia by Miss Bernice Palmer.
Palmer sold the rights to the photos for $10. She probably would have charged much more had she known how valuable her photos would become in the years to come.
Construction of the Titanic
When the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic, were built, they were the largest ships ever created and there were no existing slipways to accommodate their construction.
In order to move forward, the shipping company had to first build a giant slipway to support the construction. The slipway was known as the “Great Gantry” and cost about $150,000.
The Stern & Rudder
The rudder is a vertical blade at the stern of a ship that is used to steer the vessel when in motion.
The rudder of the RMS Titanic was massive, weighing over 20,000 pounds.
Titanic at Dock: Moments Before the Maiden Voyage
Compared to all other ships at the dock, the Titanic truly stood out. Yet, moving the gigantic structure from land to sea was an extremely taxing and complicated process.
While the process only lasted for 62 seconds, 23 tons of various lubricants, including train oil, soap, and grease, were required to move the ship from land to water.
Sailing Out of Belfast
The RMS Titanic left Belfast with the help of five tugboats that helped guide the large vessel out of the dock.
This image was taken during a sea trial, which is one of the testing phases that occurs towards the end of a ship’s construction.
RMS Titanic: The Crew
There were about 700 crew members on the Titanic. Edward J. Smith, the man with the white beard in the middle of the front row in the below photo, was the Captain. It was rumored that the Titanic’s maiden voyage was supposed to be his last trip before retirement.
The other men featured in the photo are various officers and engineers, including the Chief Engineer.
The Captain of the Titanic: Edward J. Smith
Edward John Smith was the commanding officer for the White Star Line shipping company, as well as the Captain of the RMS Titanic. There are various accounts of Smith’s last words and actions as well as his death in the disaster, yet all suggest that his final actions were truly heroic.
Some people blamed Captain Smith for the incident, suggesting that he wrongfully sped through the ice at full speed. However, he was posthumously exonerated since the maneuver was a common practice at the time.
Blaming the Captain
Several survivors claimed in their letters that Captain Smith had been drinking directly before the incident.
Here is a letter of one survivor written aboard the rescue ship, Carpathia, which was sold at auction in 2012.
The Infamous Iceberg
The infamous iceberg was the cause of the Titanic’s sinking.
The iceberg breached the side of the giant ship and punctured all five of the watertight rooms that were supposed to keep it afloat.
The promenade deck was located directly below the top deck. This deck was made for general use, but it included four cabins with private 50-foot promenade decks.
These cabins were called “Parole Suites” and were the most expensive rooms on the ship. The most expensive of these suites cost over $4,000 in 1912, which is about $100,000 today.
Standard Single Bed Cabin
Passengers could have stayed in one of the 350 first-class standard single-bed cabins. There were also 39 private suites available on the ship, and each had a private bathroom in addition to the bedroom.
Some private suites even included wardrobe rooms and were decorated in the luxurious style of the French monarchy.
Cruising On the Water
The RMS Titanic was loaded with almost 6,000 tons of coal for her maiden voyage.
The ship burned about 690 tons of coal per day and crew members worked day and night to shovel coal into boilers to produce steam power.
The Marconi Communications Room
The Marconi Company ran the ship’s communications room.
The operators aboard the Titanic were actually Marconi Company employees and not crewmembers of the ship.
Lowering the Lifeboats
The Titanic had 20 lifeboats on deck that could carry around 1,200 people at maximum capacity.
Although the lifeboat capacity was greater than what was required at the time, it still accounted for less than half of the vessel’s occupancy, which totaled about 2,500 people, including both passengers and crew.
Survivors on Carpathia
More than 700 survivors were rescued by an ocean liner named Carpathia.
The survivors were stranded in the middle of the ocean, suffering from stress and hypothermia. Once taken out of the water, the survivors were given warm clothing by Carpathia’s crew.
Passengers Fleeing on Lifeboats
Many pictures of lifeboats filled with passengers fleeing the sinking ship were captured. However, the sad story behind the photos is that the lifeboats were not actually filled to capacity because crew members worried that the lines would not support the weight of the lifeboats at full capacity.
As a result, many of the lifeboats were launched below capacity. The first lifeboat that was launched held less than half of its capacity, and another left with only 12 passengers on board.
Passengers Being Rescued by Carpathia
Passengers aboard the ocean liner, Carpathia, were able to capture pictures of Titanic survivors being rescued from the lifeboats.
The Carpathia was the ship that responded to the Titanic’s emergency signal and came to rescue the survivors. Out of the ship’s 2,500 passengers, only about 700 people managed to be rescued.
Sparsely Filled Lifeboat
The passengers who made it onto the lifeboats spent about two hours in the freezing cold before the Carpathia arrived.
As already mentioned, many of the lifeboats were sparsely filled and there was plenty of room for more passengers.
Lifeboats at Pier 54
After the passengers were brought to safety at Pier 54 in New York City, all the lifeboats were left empty.
This pier actually belonged to White Star Lines, the shipping company that built the Titanic.
Gym & Other Amenities
The Titanic was well equipped with many luxurious amenities, such as a swimming pool, a squash court, a Turkish bath, and a gym.
Along with its sister ship, the Olympic, the Titanic was the first ocean liner to feature a gym onboard.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the iceberg that caused the Titanic’s demise? It remained floating where it was, largely unscathed, except for a few black marks left behind from the paint on the Titanic.
Many believe that if the Titanic had collided with the iceberg head-on, rather than hitting its side, it would not have sunk.
The Grand Staircase
One of the most marvelous parts of the Titanic was its grand staircase, which was replicated and popularized in James Cameron’s movie about the ship. The Olympic, Titanic’s sister ship, had practically the same one.
The only existing pictures of the staircases are from the Olympic. There are no known pictures of the Titanic’s actual staircase.
The “Great Gantry” at the Shipyard
The Titanic was built on the giant “Great Gantry” slipway.
The location of its construction was at the Harland & Wolff Shipyard and over 11,000 workers were required to complete the project.
Who Was the Real Rose?
Madeleine Talmage Astor was the wife of John Jacob Astor IV, a wealthy business mogul.
It is believed by some that she was the inspiration for the real Rose from the movie, Titanic. However, it has never been suggested that she actually had an affair with Emilio Portaluppi.
John Jacob Astor IV
John Jacob Astor IV was the wealthiest person to perish in the shipwreck. Back in the early 1900s, he was one of the richest people in the world.
John Astor and his wife boarded the Titanic because Madeleine was pregnant and insisted on giving birth to their child in the U.S.
Titanic Disaster Appears in Newspaper
After the incident, many newspapers started publishing stories related to the Titanic. Some mentioned the people who disappeared, such as Astor.
At the time of John Astor IV’s death, his net worth was $87 million, which is equivalent to about $2.16 billion today. Compared to the richest people in the world now, this would not even place Astor in the top ten!
April 14 Lunch Menu
A picture of a menu from April 14, 1912, shows the gourmet food that was available for lunch aboard the Titanic.
The meals feature a seemingly endless amount of meat, fish, finger foods, and other specialty items.
First-Class Passenger List
The number of first-class passengers was restricted to a few of the highest-ranking crew members and a small number of wealthy families.
The majority of the elite passengers were members of the Astor and Allison families, who also made sure that their maids, nurses, and manservants were in first-class as well.
Families of the Survivors
After hearing about the shipwreck, a large number of relatives and friends of Titanic passengers and crew members went to Pier 54 in New York and waited for the survivors to arrive. Of course, many photographs were taken to record this event.
The smiling people in the photos are likely the ones who knew their friends or family members had survived the disaster and were on their way back to safety.
Unsettling Titanic Facts That Weren't Included in the Movie
Even those without an interest in history are familiar with the story of the Titanic. The supposedly unsinkable ship that met with tragedy on its maiden voyage, hitting an iceberg while traversing the North Atlantic and sinking beneath the waves.
The tragedy inspired the 1997 film, which would go on to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and bringing the story of the ship to a new audience. So how much of the film was true? Here are some facts you might not know.
The Titanic might have had a deadly and disastrous end to its journey, but even from the beginning, the ship had problems. Construction of the ship took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a team of 3,000 builders worked long hours to get things finished in time for launch.
The time pressure and poor safety measure of the time meant that this was a dangerous project to work on, and 8 men died during the build, most of them killed while falling from the giant ship. A memorial plaque was finally erected to the casualties in 2012, but only the names of five of these men were ever known.
From Titanic to Game of Thrones
At the time of construction, no shipbuilder had ever attempted to produce something of this size, and the company needed to create a space to build the giant liner. The enormous hangar now lives on as Titanic Studios, one of the largest film studios in Europe.
A number of high-profile productions have been filmed here, including the City of Ember in 2007. But among the most famous is probably Game of Thrones, which used the studio as a set during seasons 1-4.
In the Titanic film, we see the obvious divide between the rich and poor passengers on the ship, but it can be hard to understand just how opulent the ship’s first-class cabin was. Only the wealthiest of people could afford this top ticket, and once onboard they were treated like royalty.
The amenities were more decadent than what these rich folks would even have had in their own estates, and included Parisian-style cafes, a heated swimming pool. Turkish baths, a gymnasium, and even a dog kennel. While these might seem like regular features to us today, at the time they were unheard of on a cruise ship.
A First View of the Shipwreck
With developments in technology and after countless journeys to discover more details about the legendary Titanic, we finally have a clearer picture (literally) as to what really happened when the ship collided with an iceberg.
In 2010, an extensive mapping of the shipwreck was taken. With the aid of many underwater photos, taken using robots, and sonar imaging, a map was created. This clearer picture allows us to better understand what happened as, for example, the way objects lie on the bottom indicates to us how they got to be that way. The marks on the bottom also tell a story about what happened before the ship sank. Of course, experts will be needed to read this map, but nevertheless, it's a great step in uncovering more truths.
The Contrast With Third-Class
This image of first-class opulence is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Titanic. But while the images of luxury have become the most memorable ones, it’s important to remember that these features were reserved for the very few.
The majority of those on board the ship were in third class and never laid eyes on these high-end features. While the third-class accommodations on board were said to be much better than on other ships, the conditions were hardly comparable, with just two bathtubs between 1,000 passengers.
Trip of a Lifetime
The Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York was a highly publicized event. And while we all know now what tragic turn things took, at the time it would have been anticipated as the trip of a lifetime.
So it would have seemed the perfect way for a couple to spend their honeymoon. And in fact, 13 couples had this idea. Among these were Daniel and Mary Marvin, who had already been honeymooning in Europe and decided to make their journey home onboard the new liner. Mary was lucky enough to escape the sinking on one of the lifeboats, but she never saw her husband again.
A tale of a sinking ship is not a new one, but there was a book published in 1898 that had contained some unsettling similarities to the tale of the Titanic. Penned 14 years before the real-life liner was even built, Futility told the story of a supposedly unsinkable ship that ran into an iceberg on its voyage across the Northern Atlantic.
A few things stick out for being strange coincidences: the fact that the accident took place in April, and the fact that the passengers perished because there hadn’t been enough lifeboats onboard. But the really creepy one: the ship in the book was named Titan.
The World’s Richest
We’ve already established that the first-class tickets for the Titanic were only available to the very rich, but one man on board just happened to be the richest in the world. John Jacob Astor IV had a personal fortune of $150 million, which equates to around $3.5 billion in today’s money.
He was said to have been on the ship to escape scandal, after divorcing his wife to marry a new woman 29 years his junior. Astor perished during the ship’s sinking but his body was one of those recovered. In his pockets was $2,440, which would now be worth approximately $60,000.
Regardless of whether they were dining in style in first-class or eating more basic fare in third class, all 3,300 passengers and crew on board the Titanic needed to be fed. And for this, the kitchen needed an enormous amount of food and drink for the maiden voyage.
Among the supplies were 75,000 pounds of meat, 7,500 pounds of bacon, 36,000 oranges, 1,000 loaves of bread, and 40,000 eggs. And to keep the passengers in good spirits, the haul also included 15,000 bottles of beer, 1,000 bottles of wine, 850 bottles of liquor, and 8,000 cigars.
The Canceled Lifeboat Drill
The ship’s builders had been adamant that the Titanic was unsinkable, which might go some way to explaining why the safety features on board were so inadequate. It’s famously known that there were not enough lifeboats for the number of passengers on board, but on top of this, the crew had only carried out one lifeboat drill, while the ship was still docked.
There had been another drill planned for Sunday, April 14, while the ship was in transit, but Captain Edward John Smith canceled the safety exercise for reasons that remain unknown. It’s just one of the many elements that led this sinking to be such a disaster.
Their Final Meal
With the ship hitting the iceberg in the early hours of April 15, 1912, the last meal for most of the passengers had been their Sunday night dinner. Though they had no idea it would be their final meal on board the ship, for the first-class passengers at least it was a lavish last supper.
This evening repast was a luxurious 10-course affair, with starters of oysters, salmon, and cream of barley soup. For the main course followed filet mignon, lamb, chicken, beef sirloin, roast duck, and foie gras. Desserts included chocolate eclairs and peaches in chartreuse jelly.
A Seemingly Simple Mistake
The iceberg can take a lot of the blame for the sinking of the Titanic, but there were so many seemingly simple mistakes that compounded the collision and created the disaster that went down in history. One of these was the small matter of a set of binoculars.
Around 11:40 pm on a fateful night, the ship’s lookouts were changing shifts. The man leaving his shift forgot to hand over the key to the lockbox containing the binoculars, and so the subsequent lookouts had to go without. Fredrick Fleet did spot the iceberg, famously shouting “Iceberg, right ahead”, but by then it was too late.
Lacking in Lifeboats
As we all know, the biggest error of the whole event was the lack of lifeboats onboard the ship, and it’s hard to understand why this happened. Despite there being enough room on the decks for 64 lifeboats, each of which could hold 65 people, the ship was launched with just 20 lifeboats on board.
This meant there was only room for around a third of those on board, and to make matters worse, the first lifeboat to be lowered wasn’t filled, with only 28 people saved. Women and children were given priority, but among these, first-class passengers were treated more kindly. As a result, 89 women from the third class died, compared to just four from first class.