The Centennial of the R.M.S. Titanic, The Unsinkable Leviathan
by Owen James Burke
One hundred years ago this week, just over two years after her keel had been laid, the 840-foot Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911 as the world’s largest vessel afloat. Her design? Unsinkable, as the legend goes.*
The Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic, weighed 60,000 tons each and cost the commissioners of the project (the Hamburg-American Co.) over 1.5 million pounds each, employing over 12,000 shipbuilders who earned $10 each week. The construction of the two ships has been likened to that of a half-dozen cathedrals. Writers and wishful passengers watched in awe as the ships, built side-by-side, took on shape in the Belfast shipyards of Harland and Wolff. “She was incomplete…but the largest object moved by man.“
The Titanic, designed to carry 600 crew and 5,000 passengers, was declared ‘unsinkable’ by means of its compartmental design, with “…pine steel divided into 30 steel water tight compartments whose massive bulkheads [could] all be closed simultaneously by one lever on the ship’s bridge.”
Until the Titanic came along, the comfort and affluence of life at sea during a transatlantic voyage were at best shaky, cold and damp. From the Grey River Argus, a reporter said, “The speed of these great ships [would] be only 21 knots, so in that respect they [did] not rival the Mauritania and Lusitania. But the Titanic and Olympic [competed] with the Cundards in stability and absence of vibration in whatever sea they [encountered] and in spaciousness and general luxury.”
The great steamship was designed to carry the millionaires of the time, powered by turbine and reciprocating engines and filled with dozens of tons of steel, grand staircases, oak railings, oak paneling, and a magnificently large wrought-iron and glass dome above the first class ballroom. “As to the appointments, passengers may skate, dance, smoke, swim, dive, and practise the arts of physical culture at their will…The situation will be delightful as novel…and the heating arrangements will be such that the café can be occupied throughout the seasons. The construction and decorations of these cafes…will be fashioned to represent the delightful cafes of the Riviera…nothing will be left undone that will assist in making the ilusion complete”, a starry-eyed newspaper reporter wrote for the Wanganui Chronicle. Much more on the boat’s construction (Two volumes worth) can be found here.
The Titanic famously set sail at 12:00 PM (GMT) from Southhampton, England on April 10, 1912.
*Of course, this was not true.