In the early hours of April 15, 1912, in the North Atlantic Ocean, 2,225 men, women and children found themselves in a nightmare beyond their imaginations. Some 107 hours after Titanic’s first transatlantic crossing began, an iceberg terminated the voyage about 400 miles southeast of Nova Scotia. About 160 minutes later, the world’s wonder ship disappeared into the depths, with the loss of 1,513 lives — two-thirds of all on board.
Titanic’s brief life has engendered hundreds of books and songs, more than a dozen films, countless television documentaries, an opera, a Broadway musical, nearly a dozen Titanic organizations on at least three continents, official investigations and courtroom battles, and safety regulations that make sea travel among the safest transportation modes.
Yet there’s always something to learn about Titanic, her passengers and crew. Here are 10 things you may not know about the world’s most famous ocean liner.
1. An American ship
Though Titanic flew the British ensign, Americans actually owned Titanic. In 1902, financier John Pierpont Morgan had purchased Britain’s Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as the White Star Line, making it the premier company in his huge combine, the International Mercantile Marine Company.
2. No champagne
The classic 1958 Titanic film, "A Night To Remember," begins with a woman breaking a bottle of champagne on Titanic’s bow as she names the vessel. No such event took place when Titanic was launched at the Belfast shipyards of Harland and Wolff, Ltd. on May 31, 1911. The White Star Line did not believe in the practice and none of its vessels were christened.
3. Neither unique nor revolutionary
While many believe there never was another ship like Titanic, there actually were two others. The White Star Line had envisioned a weekly transatlantic service, requiring three vessels. The resulting "Olympic class" consisted of three nearly identical sister ships: Olympic, entering service in October 1910; Titanic, April 1912; and Gigantic, later renamed Britannic, planned for 1915.
Nor was Titanic "revolutionary." Nearly every aspect of her design was a repeat of Olympic, which, in turn, incorporated features tested by earlier White Star ships. Titanic was unique in just one way: During her brief life, she was the world’s largest vessel, exceeding Olympic by about 1,000 tons.
4. Never a contender
A persistent Titanic myth is that she was "out to break the transatlantic record." In September 1909, the Cunard Line’s Mauretania completed a round trip averaging more than 26 knots, a record that stood for 20 years. Titanic briefly attained a maximum speed of nearly 23 knots, traveling from Cherbourg to Queenstown.
5. Not a treasure ship
Despite a passenger list including titans of industry, wealthy families and even a movie actress, Titanic was not filled with priceless jewels. Philadelphia’s Eleanor Widener dropped her celebrated pearl necklace, insured for $100,000, into her pocketbook before boarding her lifeboat. First-class women retrieved their checked jewelry from the purser’s office as evacuation began. A "priceless" jeweled copy of "The Rubaiyat," the Omar Khayyam book of poems, had sold at a London auction for a mere $2,000 — less than half its asking price.
Cargo also was ordinary. The ship’s stowage plan shows the specie room contained only "opium parcels." The rest was typical commercial shipments ranging from shoes to William Carter’s 35-horsepower Renault sports car, oak beams and an early airplane engine.
6. No 300-foot gash
If the iceberg’s damage had been continuous over a 300-foot length, as depicted in many 1912 publications, the ship would have sunk in minutes. At the British inquiry into the disaster, naval architect Edward Wilding calculated that the damaged area totaled 12 square feet, extending intermittently along the starboard side.
7. Locked below?
Every Titanic movie depicts third-class passengers trapped behind floor-to-ceiling gates. Careful examination of available plans of Olympic and Titanic reveals no such gates in passenger areas. U.S. immigration regulations required segregation of third class from first and second. On Titanic, waist-high gates separated classes. Stewards nearby prevented gate-jumping. Eventually, they left to help in the evacuation, leaving gates unguarded, explaining a surge of third-class passengers onto the boat deck after most lifeboats had left. One author plotted more than 20 paths from third-class areas to the boat deck.
8. One wrong turn
As Titanic’s grand staircase ascended to the boat deck, it divided into left and right halves. First-class male passengers who chose the left side were doomed; Second Officer Charles Lightoller strictly enforced the "women and children first" rule on the port side, allowing just one male passenger into a boat to help with rowing. Those who turned to the right at the top of the staircase had a chance to survive; First Officer William Murdoch enforced a policy of "women and children first, but men when there were no women."
9. More boats?
Despite certifying Titanic’s capacity as 3,547 passengers and crew, the British government determined the ship needed lifeboat space for 960.
Titanic actually carried boats for 1,178, exceeding requirements. Even if more boats had been installed, there would not have been time to launch them; Titanic’s last two boats floated off as the ship sank. Of the available 1,178 seats, 465 were sent away empty.
10. Titanic’s present and future
Titanic lies 12,500 feet below the surface in a lightless, hostile environment. Strong undersea currents press strongly against the ship’s sides, damaging already-weakened areas. Perhaps within a generation, the ship’s upper portions largely will have disappeared. Eventually, only the inch-thick steel hull will remain.
More than 6,000 objects have been retrieved from Titanic’s debris field; no artifacts come from the ship’s interior. As decks collapse, what’s left of Titanic’s interior splendor will be sealed off forever.