How Passengers Lived their Best Life on the Titanic Before It Went Under
Before the Titanic took a nose dive into the Atlantic, life was considerably charming aboard the cursed ship. Despite the class divide, many passengers enjoyed games, exercise, and lavish cafe’s overlooking the blue sea. What exactly did these passengers do on the “unsinkable” ship? Well, they weren’t forming conga lines.
The infamous ‘unsinkable’ ship
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic disembarked from Southampton to New York on her maiden voyage. The ship carried more than 2,200 passengers and was one of the largest steam liners of her time. Five days into her voyage, however, the ship hit an iceberg and ripped open the hull — which caused it to take in water.
Within two hours, the ship was underwater, taking 1,500 lives with it. Those who survived called the event “horrific” and scarcely made it out with their lives. Before the inevitable sinking of the “unsinkable” ship, life on the Titanic was nothing but pleasurable. Life was actually pretty sweet on board.
The passengers were pretty high society
The ship was home to a diverse number of passengers, all of which were divided by class. There was first, second, and third-class (dependent on how much you spend on your boarding ticket). First-class tickets ranged in the thousands, which was a pretty penny to pay for a comfortable stay on a luxury liner, even for 1912. Suffice it to say, the differences in costs were reflected in passengers’ amenities.
For instance, take Titanic survivor Charlotte Drake Cardeza. She was a yachtswoman, a game hunter, and the daughter of a wealthy textile mill owner. Cardeza reportedly paid a whopping $2,600 for her first-class ticket, which is equivalent to $61,000 dollars today.
The benefits of first-class
So what did a first-class ticket include? The ticket granted Cardeza a three bedroom suite for her, her son, and the maid. She even had her own bathroom and closet. As a first class passenger, someone like Cardeza had access to some of the best services on the ship. Amenities that weren’t available for second and third-class passengers.
The amenities included enjoying a pleasant morning in the ship’s veranda cafe or having tea in the ship’s first-class tea room. The Titanic was touted as one of the most lavish ships on the oceans, and the hype was real. Another passenger onboard recorded his time on the iconic ship, eventually a survivor, he later published a novel about his experiences on the ship.
John B. Thayer lived to tell the tale
Compared to today’s modern cruise lines, White Star Line didn’t have the staple conga lines and all-you-can-eat-buffets. This was something much classier and didn’t involve a screaming toddler in the cabin next door. Instead, they had shuffleboard. Now, it makes sense why the elderly thought the shuffleboard was a fun activity, its as old as sin.
Titanic survivor John B. “Jack” Thayer (no, not that Jack) was 17-years-old when he boarded the Titanic. Unlike his mother, Thayer didn’t survive by boarding a lifeboat, he went down with the ship and plummeted in below freezing waters before he was able to make it to safety. Both he and his mother would survive the ordeal.
John Thayer wrote a book about the entire incident
Thayer accounted for his dining experience on the Titanic, “We went to our staterooms about 6:30 p.m. to dress for dinner. My father and mother were invited out to dinner that night, so I dined alone at our regular table.” What kind of experience would Thayer and his family experience in first-class?
First, let’s just say this isn’t a cafeteria-style affair. First-class passengers really dined in style with dinner and music. A live orchestra played in the background, and the furniture and paneling were carved in intricate and rich details in the wood. The dining room would be just as extravagant as the people who ate there, too.
A five-star menu that could feed a small country
Just like their dining rooms and kitchens, the ship’s food was beyond gourmet. In his own words, John Thayer called the ship “palatial” and the food “delicious.” First-class passengers such as Thayer were served 13 courses. Kitchens would serve pâté de foie gras, peaches in chartreuse jelly and Waldorf pudding (which is just fancy vanilla and fruit pudding using apples, walnuts, and raisins).
Each course would be accompanied by wine and the entire experience could take up to five hours. And that’s just to eat! Other selections involved lamb, raw oysters, veal, sturgeon marrow, roast duck, creamed carrots, and of course, sirloin steaks. Rest assured, first-class wasn’t complete gluttons.
Never skip leg day
After stuffing their gut after a 13-course dinner, surely those gentle-ladies want to keep that waist non-existent and handsome men don’t want their tuxedo fronts curling to their double-chin, so what did they do? Well, dear readers, they went to the gym, of course! Yes, gyms were definitely a thing in the Edwardian period.
In fact, they had stationary bicycles, mechanically-worked saddles, and a stationary rowing “machine.” (Think two roaring oars without the boat and the oar rudder and you get the picture). Both men and women in first-class would come to these gymnasiums, fully clothed, and ready to break a sweat.
Book worms only
Life was nothing short of supreme on the Titanic. Before it took a nosedive toward the bottom of the deep, it accommodated its guests with luxuries that any common person would find on land. One of these pleasantries was the ship’s reading room. The turn of the century was clearly divided into the wealthy, working, and lower classes.
Reading for pleasure was a pastime solely reserved for the wealthy. The reading room was furnished with plush furniture and cushioned with plenty of silence. It was like a library, minus the Dewey Decimal System (so they did have a library). Men could relax with a paper in their hands or reading a good Western, and women could sit and enjoy something of the equivalent.
Celebrities who were supposed to be on the Titanic
Sure, Edwardian socialites are relatively unknown in 2019, but you would be surprised to learn about the celebrities who missed potential tragedy. These are passengers who were set to board, ticket in hand, but walked away at the last minute. One name, Milton Snavely Hershey, is still used to this day. That’s right, the chocolate magnate.
Thankfully, he and his wife boarded a different liner a few days before the Titanic set sail. Archives found a $300 check as a deposit for a stateroom. Looks like he dodged a bullet. Another famed few was J.P. Morgan and Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. Each of them took passage in a different vessel and avoiding certain death.
Sun, sea, and…shuffleboard?
Shuffleboard is something you’d imagine old geezers playing in cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt in a sunny state like Florida. But once upon a time, shuffleboard could be compared to how Americans play cornhole today. The game was introduced in the late 1800s and peaked in its popularity by the 1950s.
With such a track record, it’s no wonder that first-class passengers were crazy for the game. Among playing cards, the ship provided a space for passengers to play one of America’s most cliche pastimes. Although there are no pictures depicting Titanic travelers playing the game, the photo above perfectly encapsulates what it playing the game might look like on deck.
Room with an ocean view
Aside from shuffleboard, a reading room, and a swanky dining room, first-class passengers could also afford comfort. One aspect of which was their cabins. Oftentimes, the more prestigious passenger would bring not just themselves or their families, but their maids, and trunks of clothing. There was no such thing as “too much.”
Due to the amount of stuff and staff at their disposal, first-class often had a cabin with more than one bedroom, including a living area and a view. Their cabins were replete with a fireplace, breakfast table, and posh lounge furniture and were decorated in period styles such as French Louis XVI, Georgian, and Queen Anne.
First-class had a private lounge
There are plenty of luxuries first-class could afford (even after paying a hefty admission price). Among the more privileged luxuries involved privacy and relaxation. An example of this is the private lounge aboard the Titanic. A floating paradise is not complete without a lounge space for Britain’s elite. Here, first-class passengers could gossip, sit in silence, or simply, well, lounge.
Servers would provide tea, treats, and anything else that the passengers desired. They even had live music… A small orchestra would play with violinist and a pianist would set the mood with everyone’s favorite classics. So just imagine ladies on the Titanic dressed fashionably as they sipped tea and dished out on societal gossip.
Turkish baths were extremely popular
If you can afford passage on the Titanic, then it’s more than likely that you can afford a spa day at the ship’s Turkish baths. For those of you who have no idea what a Turkish bath is, think of it as a Moroccan-style sauna, where you can relax, and detox from that hefty 13-course meal through the voyage. That’s enough food to make Andre the Giant throw in the towel, but hey, “When in Rome.” Additionally, more, er, unique amenities, including a gymnasium with a punching bag, a rowing machine, exercise bikes, stationary bicycles, an electric camel and an electric horse.
That’s right, a 13-course meal…enough to make Andre the Giant throw in the towel. But if you think that this wonderfully posh amenity is included with your first-class ticket, think again. Admission for entry was either four shillings or a dollar, which would roughly be $25 today. This feature was solely for first-class passengers and another over-the-top example of how swanky the ship was. This was a time where travelers were actually treated as human beings, which is by infrequently the case in modern travel.
The adults weren’t the only ones having fun on Titanic
Looking at images of people on the decks of the Titanic is bittersweet considering what lies in store for them. None is more haunting than knowing that out of the 107 children on the ship, only 50 would survive. For what it was worth, the Titanic was a place where one could let go of their worries.
The adults weren’t the only ones having fun aboard the Titanic. Children who accompanied their parents also had their fair share of fun on deck: playing games, running around, and meeting children from all over the world. The ship was massive and had plenty of space for a children’s playground on the saloon deck. While today’s cruise liners have staff dedicated solely to making sure children have fun, the Titanic was no different.
Life of second-and third-class wasn’t so bad either
So far we’ve taken a good look at what it was like living it up as a first-class passenger, but what about second-and third-class? Where do they stand? Did they stay in their cabins while everyone else enjoyed the ship’s splendor? Nope. In fact, the second class passenger had almost the same privileges as the first class…well, minus the 13-course dinners.
Similar to first-class passengers, second-class had access to veranda cafes and lounges, yet saw differences in what they ate and their bedroom accommodations. A second-class ticket was worth $60 (roughly $1,400 today) and included two single beds and a small wardrobe. Although the cabins didn’t have their own bathrooms, second-class rooms did have a sink and, sometimes, a small table.
Fine dining, but without the champagne and caviar
First-and second-class passenger activities overlapped, however, there was a distinction between the two. Their dinner menu lacked “finesse,” and was simpler compared to the glazed duck and Pâté found in first-class. Don’t get it wrong, second-class still had their fair share of lavish eating. All that can be said is that not everyone was eating curried chicken and wine jelly at home every night.
This was the Titanic, however. It wasn’t called a “luxury cruise liner” for nothing; even third-class had their fair share of luxury on the ship. But for first-and second-class passengers, the gradation between the classes was subtle and succinct. It seems as though all classes enjoyed the luxuries the ocean liner had to offer, albeit at varying degrees.
Same privileges but with some restricted access
Granted, as second-class passengers, there were some shared luxuries that overlapped with first-class. For instance, second-class had access to libraries and a smoking room. Despite the overlap, however, first-class passengers had more favorable access about the ship. Think of it in terms of airport privileges. For those boarding in economy, you’re most likely subjected to the lobby seating at the airport.
First-class and (sometimes) business class tend to have their spaces. Heck, first-class has its own lounge and complimentary coffee (so the legend says). The point being, first-class had their own lounges, tea-room, and smoking room. Second-class didn’t get the invite.
Third-class had it good
Despite what we’ve seen from James Cameron’s “Titanic,” third-class passengers weren’t as lowly as the characters portrayed. A third-class ticket fetched a pretty penny, costing roughly $40 (the equivalent of roughly $142 to $460 today). Not bad…if you live in 2019. That’s a weekend at Coachella. Those living in and working in 1912, it would be drastically different.
The working class earned roughly $10 a week, and to buy a third-class ticket for the Titanic would take months to save for, and that’s just for one ticket. No wonder Leonardo Dicaprio’s character won his ticket, because, really, he probably couldn’t afford it.
Dinner was an intimate gathering
Unlike first-class, third-class didn’t have an immaculate dining hall dripping with crystal but was instead was set up as a simple dining hall. A row of tables would line up the room and passengers would gather and be served a selection of dishes provided by the galley. Dinner would typically consist of roast beef and gravy, corn, boiled potatoes, and for dessert, plum pudding.
That’s it. Of course that’s based on one uncovered menu, however, the assumption here is that the food reflects the price of the ship’s admission. Which is wholesome and filling. Come on, who would complain over some meat and potatoes? Some of us are lucky enough to put hot dogs in our mac n’ cheese.
It was still considered an immigrant passenger ship
Don’t get us wrong, third-class passengers weren’t exactly rolling in dough, in fact, the majority of third-class passengers were immigrants seeking for a new and better life in America. Out of the 2,400 passengers, 709 were third-class passengers. Majority of which were Irish, Finnish, Swedish, and Belgian. Unlike other ships, Titanic provided food and amenities for their third-class passengers.
Other vessels may enforce that third-class passengers provide their own food throughout the duration of their journey. Most third-class passengers slept well below the ship’s noisiest levels and only has access to two bathrooms. Wow. Can you imagine a week-long journey and having to share a bathroom with more than 700 people? We wouldn’t recommend envisioning that scenario.
Not all was bleak in third-class
Sure, staying in third-class was the equivalent of occupying the family-friendly cabins on your Caribbean cruise, but that’s not to say that the third-class didn’t have a good time. After all, the only time passengers inhabited their room was to sleep. There was much to explore on the Titanic. Gorgeous architecture, beautiful people, and…a gym.
With a ship that was akin to a floating city, why would anyone want to spend it indoors locked in a sad little room? Third-class had some amenities that they could have used to their full advantage. A taste of first-class wasn’t too unrealistic for those living below the engine rooms.
Luxury was in high demand
Unfortunately, Titanic’s maiden voyage was its one and only voyage. When R.M.S Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, portrayals of life and activity is almost near impossible. There is one particular ship that matched Titanic in elegance, grace, and sophistication, however, and that’s the R.M.S Olympic. What in the hull is the R.M.S. Mauretania?
A floating treasure, the R.M.S Maurentania was considered a floating palace. In fact, it was designed by White Star Line’s rival company, Cunard. The two companies were at each other’s throats, competing for the largest, and fastest cruiseliners on the Atlantic and their designs often paralleled. If Cunard designed something awe-inspiring, White Star Line would be right behind them.
Mauritania set an example for Titanic
White Star Line needed to constantly one-up to Cunard. The competition between the two was one of the reasons Titanic was built (along with its sister ships, the R.M.S Olympic, and R.M.S Britannic). It’s then safe to compare the interior decor of Mauritania to the interior of the Titanic. One of which was it’s smoking lounges. Yes, we’ve mentioned smoking lounges, what…5,000 times?
However, there’s something needed to be clarified about these rooms, smoking was as much as an activity as shuffleboard. Smoking rooms were a place where men could play games, talk politics, and socialize. It was much like a first-class lounge, but without their female counterparts. Above is an example of a first-class smoking room from the R.M.S Mauretania.
Was it mentioned that there was a pool?
Yes, the R.M.S Mauretania might have been a “floating palace,” but there was one feature that the ship lacked in comparison to the Titanic, an Olympic sized swimming pool. Titanic had the biggest pool in any ship at its time, and it was a pleasant commodity that passengers would visit.
After that legendary Turkish bath, many would take a dip in the Titanic’s pool, schmooze, and play. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Whether or not the pool was limited to first-class passengers is a mystery, however, one would like to think that swimming was an all-inclusive feature that first, second, and third-class would have enjoyed. Perhaps they had a calendar?
Libations were a necessity on the ship
What does every good meal need? Aside from dessert, a darn-good libation. You have to wash all that grub down after eating 13 courses, and what better way to pair your lamb or roasted duck with a cocktail from the Titanic’s bar? Excavations discovered cork wedges belonging to bottles of champagne from Moët and Heidsieck & Co.
Basically, some swanky bubbly. And if Champagne is too tame for a Titanic passenger, then go-to drinks were usually a Tom Collins or a Robert Burns. For those of you who are scratching your heads at the names, a Tom Collins is a gin-based drink with sparkling water garnished with a maraschino cherry or orange wedge. As for the Robert Burns: scotch whiskey, vermouth, absinthe, bitters, and a shortbread cookie (because, why not?).
Even dogs had first-class privileges
Does anybody wonder about the animals that were brought on board the Titanic? With the death of more than 1,500 people, we can understand how they might have been overlooked. However, the truth is, the day Titanic set sail for her maiden voyage, it wasn’t just first-class passengers on board that fateful and tragic voyage.
There were also first-class pups aboard. Not only did their masters get first-class treatment, but so did their dogs. The ship had a kennel specifically to house the pampered pooches, each with their own caretaker. Twelve of the dogs were recorded on the ship. Unfortunately, when Titanic went down, only three pups survived (one Pekinese and two Pomeranians). The three dogs were saved by their mistresses, Margaret Hays, Myna Harper, and Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Rothschild.
Famous people sailed on the Titanic
Titanic tooted its horn for being a luxury liner, therefore, it’s only natural that famous people (celebrities of the Edwardian time), would be present on the ship. But don’t think these celebrities equated to movie stars or singers. Instead, these starlets were revered members of society or just really rich people with a public reputation.
One of the most famous people who boarded the ship was millionaire John Jacob Astor. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, his family helped build the famed Waldorf-Astoria. Other celebrities included silent film star, Dorothy Gibson, and Macy’s co-owner Isidore Straus. Unfortunately for Astor and Straus, they didn’t make it off the ship, but Dorothy Gibson was able to find refuge and survive the whole ordeal.
One last luxury hurrah before it turned into a tragedy
Unfortunately, the Titanic’s plans of grandeur were short-lived, coming to a halt on April 15, 1912. Despite receiving ice-berg warnings from other vessels crossing the Northern Atlantic, the Titanic continued at full speed through the ice fields. Its fast trajectory was one mysterious circumstance some scholars question to this date. Why was the ship at full-speed in a congested ice field?
Due to speed and evasion maneuver, the Titanic scraped along the ice and five out of 16 watertight compartments, which ironically, were designed to hold water in case there was a breach in the hull. New evidence suggested the hull was weakened by an ongoing coal fire that was burning in the ship’s bowels.
That fateful night
Unfortunately, there was no way to evade the Titanic from crashing into the iceberg. Some researchers believed that if the iceberg was spotted 30 seconds before it was originally spotted, the ship might have had a better chance of survival. The iceberg was originally spotted 1,500 feet away from the ship.
Although the course of the ship was altered instantaneously, it wasn’t enough time to avoid the ice. In fact, according to The Telegraph, the first officer who first spotted the Titanic hesitated in giving the order to go “hard on starboard.” Why? He genuinely believed that the ship had enough time to steer clear away from the hazard. We all know how that story ended.
A legacy revolved around a tragedy
In a little under three hours, the Titanic was dragged to the bottom of the sea, two miles deep and would disappear for more than 70 years until it would be discovered in 1985. Thus the beginnings of what would be a path toward the James Cameron billion-dollar box office hit that would forever imprint the name of the Titanic for future generations.
The ship was much more than a tragic event, however. It was a vessel that represented luxury at its prime. It was a miniature city on the water where people’s needs were met and then some. One can’t but to wonder what would have happened if the Titanic never sunk. Would it still have held the same significance as it does today? Or would it just be another dog-eared page in history that further emphasized the extravagance of the Edwardian age?
NEXT: Newly discovered Titanic photos offer clues to why it sank so quickly
Queen of the ocean
There was nothing quite like the RMS Titanic. The first supercruise liner, the Titanic was dubbed “Queen of the Ocean” and was said to be one of the wonders of the world. It’s safe to say that the Titanic was a big deal.
In fact, it was so big that a new shipyard had to be built just so they could build her. The site became the Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast and took up an equivalent of four city blocks. It was the birthplace of both the RMS Titanic and sister ship RMS Olympic. Building ships at such a multitude were not just risky, but pricey.
White Star vs Cunard
White Star Line chairman and managing director J. Bruce Ismay was under tremendous pressure to turn the cruise line company around. The White Star Line was struggling to compete with its competitors and were trying to keep their heads above water as they placed their bets in the transatlantic shipping wars.
Main rivals such as Cunard Line boasted and advertised how their ships were the fastest ocean liner services in the world. Ismay seethed. Though Cunard Line had speed, White Star Line was going for size, and Ismay’s ideas were gargantuan. However, there were also drawbacks.
Chief designer Thomas Andrews oversaw the construction and design of the RMS Titanic. As he rolled out his plans for a luxurious cruise liner, Ismay delivered the news that every designer dreads hearing: budget cuts.
Ismay was on a tight budget. The company was tanking and wanted his monolithic ships out on the water as soon as possible with little cost as possible. Andrews argued there would be corners Ismay couldn’t cut, such as steel quality and the number of lifeboats. Ismay dismissed his concerns. Little did he know, his flippant disregard to quality would end in catastrophe.
The National Coal Strike of 1912
Unconcerned with the budget, it was during the completion of the Titanic that the country was under a fierce coal strike. The National Coal Strike of 1912 led hundreds upon thousands of workers to engage in industrial action.
Their strike was caused by unfair wages provided by coal shareholders. As coal stocks plummet, so did their wages. But when the stock rose, there was little to no change in compensation. Due to the labor conflicts, the White Star Line was under tremendous pressure — and the pressure mounted.
It’s plausible that the ripple effect of the National Coal Strike of 1912 affected the price of coal. Strikes usually equate to a higher market value of the product, and with Ismay’s budget, it spelled disaster. The 2017 documentary Titanic: The New Evidence suggested that one of the reasons that contributed to the sinking of the Titanic was fuel shortage.
The documentary theorized that the only rational explanation to push at full speed in an iceberg field was because ship needed to conserve fuel. To slow the ship down, only to speed it back up, more coal was burned to keep the ship running at a continuous speed. In other words, the ship was going at top speed because they didn’t have enough fuel to slow and then speed up. Budget cuts.
Unfortunately, the budget cuts did not end there. Think of the Titanic as a banana. On the outside, it looks like the thickness of the peel would protect the soft fruit inside. In reality, it’s easy to peel, and just as easy to crush. That was the Titanic: deceptively strong and formidable on the outside, but internally weak and soft. The proof was in the pudding — when RMS Olympic struck the Royal Navy’s, HMS Hawk.
Not only did the HMS Hawk leave a gaping hole in the ship’s bow, but left cracks beyond the puncture. The steel was substandard, and any engineer looking at the damage could easily tell that faulty metal on a ship is like building Fort Knox out of tissue paper. It will tear easily. Did Ismay care? Nah. When steelworkers advised Ismay that it’s best to use “special” steel, he responded haughtily and informed the steel company that “ordinary” steel would suffice. This, however, does not compare to what came next.
Is ignorance really bliss?
Is this luxury ship sounding luxurious to you? It sounds horrifying to think that passengers would board a ship without knowing their safety could be jeopardized. What was more shocking, is not just the faulty materials that constructed the ship, but what happened inside.
In 2017 a photo album was discovered in an attic that held never before seen photographs of the Titanic before its maiden voyage. Titanic expert, author, and journalist Senan Molony of the documentary Titanic: The New Evidence had the honor of seeing the photos and called them “…the Titanic equivalent of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.” As he spoke to photo album owner, Titanic enthusiast Steve Raffield, Molony discovers something extraordinary and could change Titanic’s history.
A closer look
When Raffield purchased the discovered photo album, he never expected to find a small anomaly that could rock Titanic’s history. He explained as he was flipping through the album, he saw something odd in one of the photographs. At first, he thought it was a glare caused by a cast reflection or damage in the photo.
Upon further inspection, Raffield blew up the photos and realized there was a 30-foot scorch mark on the Titanic’s haul. He looked at other photographs and sees the same mark in the exact same spot and knew he found something substantial. The mark hovered where one of the boilers was; it was a burn that came from inside the ship. What does that mean?
Since the Titanic was a massive ship it would come to no surprise that the coal bunkers — the areas designated to store the ship’s coal — would be just as enormous.
According to Titanic: The New Evidence the coal bunkers were three stories high and house 1.5 tons of coal. This, however, was not the problem. What was the problem is when the coal was stored, something heated the coal reserve, and sparked what no fireman or furnace worker wants to hear. The coals caught fire and the Titanic began to burn. The Titanic was burning from the inside.
You’re probably thinking that the fire was only a setback. Sooner or later, firemen and their dalmatians came on board and extinguished the fire before the ship set sail across the Atlantic, right? It would not just be dangerous, but unethical if they didn’t. Wrong.
The fire was mentioned in the official inquiry if 1912, but nothing was done. John Dilley was an eye-witness to the Titanic‘s coal fire, an engine room worker, he saw what was happening first hand and his accounts are chilling. Dilly reports, “There were hundreds of tons of coal stored there. We made no headway against it … we didn’t get the fire out … from the day we sailed, the Titanic was on fire …”
Battling the inferno
Eleven men combated the coal bunker fire, but it wasn’t enough. The fire continued to burn when it departed from its port from Belfast to Southampton, where it would receive over 2,200 passengers ready to board and take sail across the Atlantic.
None of the passengers knew there was a fire burning in the ship — in fact Ismay made sure no one knew. Not only was the company’s reputation on the line, but his reputation was on thin ice. The fire pushed the launch continuously until Ismay had enough. Can you imagine? Wealthy investors were watching one delay after another, and the last thing the White Star Line wanted was an excuse for investors to turn their attention (money) away. They decided for the Titanic to set her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 — fire or no fire.
Biting his nails, Ismay gambled that his cruise ship would be a phenomenal success. He spared no expense in lavishing the Titanic with luxury interior designs and spacious rooms for the first class. Ismay wanted his potential investors to be impressed by the materialism.
In fact, a first-class ticket on the Titanic cost up to $2,560, which is an equivalent of $61,000 USD today. A first-class ticket could get you a three-bedroom suite with two wardrobe rooms, a bath, and a drawing-room. Ismay didn’t skimp out on his first-class meals either. He really knew where his priorities were.
In 2012 a rare Titanic menu sold at auction for $160,450: a lunch menu for $102,000 and a dinner menu containing a 12-course luncheon sold for $58,000. On the menu were dishes like foie gras-stuffed eggs, turtle soup, and Sussex capon (a breed of chicken).
For dinner, according to Time, the menu served ten courses including oysters, salmon, chicken, lamb, duckling, and squab, and beef. It’s safe to say that the wealthy were very much taken care of. However, the glamour couldn’t cover up what was burning inside the walls beneath the Titanic‘s deck, and it was coming to a boiling point.
Smoke under the rafters
Okay, big deal, there was a fire. How is that relevant to the ship sinking? As the story goes, an iceberg sunk the ship, not a fire. Truth. An iceberg was the main reason why the Titanic sank, but it was only one part of a larger, more complex equation.
Senan Molony thought so too and asked, what kind of damage could an internal fire do? Molony sought out a consultant to answer his question and approached coal fire specialist Guillermo Rein who gave a chilling revelation. His answer: The coal had been on fire days before anyone could find a flame, and his explanation makes you see coal a lot differently.
What can possibly go wrong?
Rein reveals to Molony that the coal might have been on fire days, if not heated for weeks before the Titanic left for Southampton. He says it doesn’t take much. When heat is trapped in a bed of coal it spreads and branches until it begins to smoke. It didn’t take long for the coal to catch fire and it would take days, if not weeks, for someone to notice.
By the time someone senses it, it’s too late. Once a fire starts to burn, it’s extremely hard to put out. With that much quantity of coal, the fires can burn anywhere between 1,000–2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — the equivalent of molten lava. That melts metal — including steel.
The ninth circle
Let’s put everything in perspective, shall we? A fire in the engine room is burning between 1,000–2,000 degrees in a metal compartment or a bunker. Besides said bunker is one of the ship’s bulkheads — the ship’s watertight compartments — so if the ship took on water, the water would only fill in the designated compartment.
When fire as hot as the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno puts continuous heat and pressure on steel, the metal became brittle and weak. No longer will it hold upon impact; it was very prone to shattering. The bulkhead that was most affected was not just a dime a dozen, but it was the last stronghold before reaching the boiler room. If the fourth bulkhead leading to the boiler room was damaged, nothing would protect the furnaces. What the fire lead to was disastrous.
When the Titanic left Southampton, the fire was still burning in the coal bunker. However, it was slightly mitigated with a few shovels and manpower. It was enough to push back the flames and make repairs.
The fire — still burning — warped the metal around the ship’s boiler room’s bulkhead. It looked like a buckled wave of metal, and between the welding seam of the water-tight compartment, was a breach: a hole. All the crew could do was make a patch repair and cross their fingers that they could get the Titanic to port.
Running on fumes
The only way the fireman and furnace workers could lessen the coal fire was to shovel away the coal. Where do you move coal? The furnaces, of course!
And because it was assumed that the Titanic was low on fuel, feeding the furnace until the ship was at full speed was a requirement (remember, more coal would be used to slow down and speed up the ship rather than keeping it at a consistent speed). With the furnaces burning hot, the ship was racing across the Atlantic at top speed (23 knots) and straight into an iceberg field.
Disaster over the horizon
Though there were several warnings of icebergs in close proximity. The crew navigating the ship didn’t want to stop in fear of being stranded in the middle of the ocean. Rumor has it that the captain, Captain Edward John Smith, was pressured to keep the ship at top speed.
With the rate the ship was going he had two options: The first was to ignore the iceberg warning and hope that his crew could avoid the towering iceberg or two, risk slowing and burning through whatever coal reserves Titanic had. Neither were great options, but as they say, the rest is history.
Down she goes
Chaos finally struck on April 14, 1912, when the Titanic collided with an iceberg 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship sunk in two hours and forty minutes. Out of the 2,200 passengers, only 706 people survived. The ship sank quickly — too quickly.
There could very well be a plausible explanation: the fire. The iceberg struck the starboard side of the ship and scraped along the haul. It tore like tissue paper and the water quickly filled the water compartments. The water gurgled in and filled the bow of the ship. Thankfully the compartments held. However, it wouldn’t last.
Just use duct tape
The fourth compartment groaned under the weight of the Atlantic as it pressed against the brittle and weak steel. It was the last barrier before the water could reach the engine room.
The patch held as long as it could, but like a duct-taped bumper, it wasn’t meant to ward a significant amount of stress. In a wash of green and foam, the water breached the last stronghold of the ship’s walls and the ocean began to wash through the engine room.
Molony theorized that if the bulkhead held, the Titanic could have stayed afloat double the amount of time, which would have been enough time for the Titanic to send out an SOS to the RMS Carpathia.
Thousands could have been saved and lived happily ever after. But, as we know, that’s not what happened. It shook the world as news spread that the world’s largest ship had sunk. Among the survivors was none other than the biggest schmuck of the bunch — J. Bruce Ismay.
What was the first thing Ismay did after enduring the traumatic event? He sent a telegram. Shortly after the Titanic sank, an inquiry — a private investigation — was held.
Ismay was shaking in his boots and sent a telegram for all the hired fireman who worked the Titanic to scatter inland, that their presence was not needed for the inquiry. When Ismay was put on trial, he claimed that all the fireman on the Titanic had perished in the Atlantic. The telegram was noted. However, what came next was disturbing.
The high court judge who ruled over the inquiry was named John Charles Bigham, aka Lord Mersey. When presented evidence that a coal fire was burning below the decks of the Titanic, Lord Mersey waved off the evidence as irrelevant and was recorded to have looked impatient and seemed to want to get the investigation over with.
More evidence revealed that out of the 160 firemen fired to embark with the Titanic‘s maiden voyage, only 8 stayed on. They basically looked at the fire, turned and said “nope.” Still, Lord Mersey dismissed the claims. His ruling was infuriating.
In the end, Lord Mersey closed the case and concluded that the reason the Titanic sank was an accident due to excessive speed and collision. The case was over, and it set the tone for the story of the Titanic for the remainder of the century.
But then the missing photos were discovered. Upon reading all the evidence he possessed, the fire, the budget cuts, and the events that lead to the sinking of what was once “Queen of the Ocean” Molony was baffled. He was left to question why such an important detail was ruled out of the Titanic‘s sinking? Could this solve the Titanic‘s hidden mysteries?
It’s suspicious that such important evidence such as the coal fire could be overlooked. It seems a little too convenient that Ismay was not held responsible for the fire when it may have played a role in the Titanic‘s sinking.
The case was still ruled “accidental” and was dropped. Of course, there were repercussions on the White Star Line’s part. Of those that did survive the sinking, the majority of which were upper-class passengers, filed for compensation for loss of property. One woman by the name of Charlotte Drake Cardeza filed for the loss of her wardrobe with an estimated worth of around $177,000.00 — $4.2 million today. At least there was some justice.
The cost of cutting corners
Fearing the White Star Line would go bankrupt, J. Bruce Ismay risked the lives of over 2,200 men, women, and children for money. He left the ship vulnerable, and not just by fire.
Not only did Ismay cut corners in the quality of the metal used in constructing the ship and in the ship’s fuel, but he also cut back on the number of lifeboats that were on board. Every shortcut Ismay took in the construction of the Titanic was exposed and were all a part of the ships sinking and tragedy.
The ship was doomed from the very beginning. The RMS Olympic‘s collision with the HMS Hawk should have been a warning of what was to come, and the testimonies and reports should have sufficed to send the ship back to the harbor to make the proper repairs.
The White Star Line gambled and lost horribly. Today, historians are still investigating the new evidence presented from Steve Raffield’s album. However there is a silver lining from the negative outcome of the Titanic‘s sinking — you can be grateful that we have laws for cruise ships today.
Many changes have been made in regards to maritime safety years following the sinking of the Titanic. One of these regulations enforced stricter and more rigorous ice patrols in the North Atlantic.
Rules regulating on-board radios were introduced (since the Titanic used Morse code to signal any nearby ships) and required that the standing crew onboard monitor the radios in case of an emergency. Then in 1914, two years after the Titanic tragedy, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was formed, creating a single, global maritime standard. Finally, in 1915, it was mandated that there would be enough lifeboats on-board passenger ships.
In the end, the sinking of the RMS Titanic was a bitter and tragic event that ended the lives of over a thousand passengers, most of which were immigrants who looked forward to a new life in the United States.
Does it lessen the blow to know the truth about why the Titanic sank? Not really. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from mistakes. We can take tragedy and use history as a constant reminder of past consequences and strive for improvement.