“What did you see?” “Iceberg, straight ahead!” “Thank you.”

I am going to deviate today from talking about baseball. Instead, I want to say a few words regarding another small hobby of mine: Titanic.

The year is 1906. For most of the nineteenth century, Britain dominated trade and travel in across the Atlantic ocean. Besides in their navy, Britain boosted one of the most impressive merchant fleets in the world. Two streamline companies led the way in terms of speed and comfort: the Cunard and the White Star Line. However, something big was going on in Europe and North America that would alter this forever: the industrial revolution.  The jump in technological triumphs in this era sparked several things. First, the rapid growth in new technology opened a global market not seen before in human history. Merchants in North America had greater reason to travel to Europe and vice versa. Second, with new technology comes greater leisure. This means that more wealthy members of the world started looking to travel to Europe (or the United States).Third, it helped drive a flow of immigrants from poor parts of Europe into America, looking to fill the new factory jobs that were opening up. Finally, the industrial revolution also sparked Nationalistic pride. With new technology, countries became more on equal footing with producing not only cars, factory parts, but even weapons and ships.

Now what does this got to do with the Titanic? It’s reasonable to argue that Titanic is just a byproduct of the industrial revolution. Britain lead the wave across the Atlantic in terms of military fleets and merchant fleets. However, with new machines and new capabilities to make ships, Germany wanted a piece of the action. In the 1890s, German streamline companies started producing vast amount of liners to travel across the Atlantic that were built to be “super-large, super luxurious, and super-fast” (taken from “On a Sea of Glass”). Germany, led by Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to build Germany to overtake the British in naval power, not only in military force, but in merchant ships as well. As you can imagine, the British were not too happy with this. Seeing what was going on Germany, both Cunard and White Star Line stepped up their game as well. Not only were they trying to top what the Germans were doing, but they were trying to top each other off as well. This went back and forth until 1906 when Cunard launched its newest ships: the Lusitania and Mauretania. Both ships set the standard for what was to come. With a length of 787 feet and gross weight of over 30,000 tons, they were the largest ships of the time. Not only were they impressive in size, but in speed and comfort. Instead of housing reciprocating engines, each sported six turbine engines, giving each ship 66,000 horsepower, an unheard of number for the time. All these technological feats of the ships brought in a lot of revenue for Cunard, as passengers wanted to travel on ships that were the best in almost every category. Not wanting to be outdone, White Star Line started to plan its own line of ships which would top these Cunard ships. In 1907, White Star Line asked Harland & Wolff to construct new ships for its fleet, which would surpass the Lusitania and Mauretania in size, speed, and comfort. By 1909, the shipyard was in full swing constructing two ships that were dubbed in the “Olympic class ships”. The first one to be constructed was (fittingly) the Olympic. The second ship built, almost identical to the Olympic in every way, was the Titanic (Harland and Wolff eventually built a third ship in the fleet, the Britannic, which wasn’t constructed until the start of World War I).


Both Titanic and Olympic were the top-tier ships of their time in size, speed, and comfort. This image of Titanic was photographed on Wednesday, April 10, 1912 as she sails between Southampton and Cherbourg.

Both ships outdid the Lusitania and Mauretania in size. They were listed at 882 feet and weighing 45.000 tons. Their estimated service speed was 21 knots, in line with the Cunard ships. But where these ships were well-known for is the amount of space they put in for First Class passengers. Both ships put together amenities, staterooms, and public facilities that were not seen for First Class passengers before. In addition, both ships had a large Third Class section which was seen as the main income for the ships as immigrants would travel in these sections from Europe to North America.

Since constructed first, Olympic had the first maiden voyage of the two ships. This was not only a test for Olympic, but it was a test for Titanic as well. In addition to the outstanding reviews the Olympic got on her maiden voyage, White Star Line paid attention to some criticism that was seen in the ship. One complaint in particular they noticed was that the B-Deck Promenade in First Class wasn’t used that much (the ship already had an A-Deck Promenade so the B-Deck version was seen as redundant). Keeping this criticism in mind, White Star Line didn’t want to make the same mistake with Titanic. They decided to convert Titanic’s version of the B-Deck Promenade into luxurious First Class suites. One such set of suites included “three interconnecting cabins and including two bedrooms, a private bathroom, and a sitting room”. For those who have traveled on cruise ships before, you know that space is a valuable currency in ships which just makes the size of these suites even more outstanding.

I haven’t seen the James Cameron “Titanic” movie in full (ugh Jack and Rose) but I have seen parts of it. Correct me if I am wrong, but the cabin which Rose stays in during the voyage looks to be one of these luxurious B-Deck cabins White Star Line decided to implement at the last-minute.

Perhaps it was due to these changes or delays in construction, but Titanic’s original maiden voyage (scheduled for January 1912) was pushed back several months until Wednesday, April 12, 1912 (this was originally going to be start of Titanic’s second transAtlantic   voyage).  Trials were set for Wednesday, April 1 which Titanic passed with flying colors (the trials were actually postponed from April 1 to April 2 due to weather). From there, she sailed from Belfast (the city were she was built) to Southampton, arriving April 4. With only one week left before the start of her maiden voyage, White Star Line scrambled to get the ship in serviceable condition (installing fixtures, most of the china/cutlery wasn’t in the ship yet, stewards/stewardesses had to get acclimated with all the ships corners and hallways, etc). All of this last-minute touch ups were enough “at the last-minute” that several passengers who boarded in Southampton noticed that paint was still drying in some parts of the ship. But White Star Line had reason to celebrate. On April 10, their ship was ready for its Maiden voyage. You have to wonder what was going on through people’s minds that day, as Titanic left Southampton. To them, it was one of the most impressive ships they’ve ever seen and thought of the day they would see her again. As we all know, that never happened.

After picking up more passengers in Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland, Titanic set forth across the Atlantic ocean straight for New York City. On the ship’s third full day at sea, Sunday April 14, at approximately 11:40pm at night, officers Murdoch and Moody were on duty in the Bridge. It was a cold clear moonless night. Watching the sea from the bridge, they noticed a dark shape off in the horizon. Most likely, they didn’t even see what it was. Rather, they saw that a large object was blocking out the star in the background. Having a good idea with what they were dealing with, Murdoch ordered Quartermaster Hichens “Hard a Starboard!” frantically trying to get the ship to veer to the left. At that moment, the phone connecting the bridge to the crow’s nest began to ring. Moody went over and answered the phone and confirming their fears.

Officer Moody – “Yes, what did you see?”

Lookout Fleet (in crow’s nest) – “Iceberg, straight ahead!”

Officer Moody – “Thank you”

Murdoch ordered all engines to stop and prayed that the ship would miss. At the last possible second, the ship began to veer left, only it wasn’t enough. The iceberg scrapped the starboard (right hand side) of the hull, approximately 1/3 of the way. Water began flooding the Cargo Room and Boiler Room 6. The damage, looking innocent enough at the time, proved to be fatal. Chief architect of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews, was onboard for the voyage to oversee how the ship performed, went down to inspect the damage. It was just as he feared. Titanic was going to sink. Over two hours later, around 2:20 am, Titanic sank beneath the sea, taking 1500 people with her (around 700 were saved).

My first interest in the Titanic came when I was about 7 years old. My dad brought home a computer game called Titanic: Adventure out of Time (made in 1996). Set on the Titanic, the game had you searching the ship for clues and items for the story. Such items were seen as to alter history. For example, there was a notebook you were looking for which included the names of Bolshevik radicals in Russia (names such as Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky) and if you recovered the notebook, you would prevent Communism taking over Russia. For its time, TAOOT was very impressive. We would play that game all of the time growing up. In fact, I still play it around the time of April 14 each year. 

This, along with the movie Night to Remember were my main exposure to the Titanic. Over time, my interest waned and I started to pay less attention to it over time. Then a couple of years ago, something happened which renewed my interest. The link above with the sinking animation was done by a group of Titanic enthusiasts as part of a large-scale project to recreate the Titanic in as much detail as possible. Not only do they want the ship to be as accurately detailed as possible, but they want the true stories of the passengers and crew told. The game, called Titanic: Honor and Glory is still in development but the makers have put out two free demos (a new one is coming soon!) and lots of videos, interviews, and podcasts talking not only about the game, but about the Titanic in general. Their passion for the ship rekindled that boy wonder I had for the ship. Since then, I have donated to the game’s cause to help them in their development. If anyone else is interested in this project, please take a look at their website and consider donating to their campaign (it could be as little as $1).


About Mark

A graduate student who finds the time to write about baseball.
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