Fierce competition in the shipping industry and the belief that technology could conquer all led 100 years ago to one of the greatest disasters in seafaring history: the sinking of the Titanic.
On its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York, the steamer rammed into an iceberg late on April 14, 1912, and sank in just over two hours.
Record Size: At its initial launch in 1911, the Titanic was the world’s biggest ship — 269 metres long, 28 metres wide and 53 metres high, with 51,000 horsepower. The construction cost 10 million dollars, the equivalent of 213 million dollars today. Its owner, British shipping company White Star Line, did not invest in an alarm system — the Titanic was considered unsinkable.
Luxury Steamer: Luxurious first-class furnishings were especially important to the owner. Only millionaires of the time could afford the 4,400-dollar suite — around 93,000 dollars today.
Passengers: Since the sinking of the Titanic, passenger counts have varied. The British Parliament in 1912 put the number of passengers on board at 2,224, including 900 crew members. Of that number, 711 people were rescued and 1,513 died.
Lifeboats: The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats, enough for 1,200 people. The number was calculated not according to passenger numbers, but rather according to the boat’s weight. The owner could have reduced that number even more if it had wanted to.
Shortcomings: Sailors on watch had no telescopes — and therefore saw the iceberg too late. Despite warnings from other ships about ice in the region, the captain did not order additional watches. In the evacuation, several officers interpreted the standing order of “women and children first” to mean “only women and children.” Several lifeboats were thus lowered half empty into the water. With no alarm system, the lower decks could not be alerted to the impending disaster, leading to an especially high death toll among third-class passengers.
The Sinking: The Titanic scraped the iceberg at 23.40 April 14, ship’s time, and sank by 02.20 on April 15. The ship’s band continued playing as ordered until the last minute, and all of them died.
The Rescue: The SS Californian was nearest the disaster site, but its captain did not receive the cry for help because his radio officer was off duty and sleeping. The first ship to reach the Titanic survivors was the RMS Carpathia, at about 04.00, by which time passengers who had jumped into the water had frozen to death.
The Wreck: The remains of the Titanic were first sighted on September 1, 1985, at 3,800 metres of depth, about 22 kilometres from the position given by the Titanic in its calls for help.
Last Survivor: Millvina Dean, one of two babies on board the ship, died on May 31, 2009, the last survivor of the Titanic.