How the Titanic Worked

R.M.S. Titanic
The R.M.S. Titanic was thought to be unsinkable as it departed Southampton in England on April 10, 1912. Wikimedia Commons

We can't get enough of the Titanic. It was an epic disaster, for sure. More than 1,500 people died when the ship sank into the North Atlantic late on the night of April 14, 1912, which is tragic enough. But there are so many other aspects to this famous disaster that foster intrigue. Like the fact that life-saving efforts were focused on the elite; while more than 500 third-class passengers perished, only 123 first-class passengers did. And the fact that the accident could very well have been prevented if the crew had heeded ice warnings from other ships.

And then there's the posh sailing vessel itself, with luxuries like five grand pianos and the Grand Staircase, which is actually a collection of ornate staircases. No wonder innumerable books, poems, films and songs have been created about the it. And that one historian claimed the Titanic, along with Jesus and the Civil War, are the three most-written-about subjects of all time [source: Mendelsohn].


The idea for the Titanic was conceived over an intimate dinner in 1907 between J. Bruce Ismay, Lord William Pirrie and their wives. Ismay was the son of Thomas Ismay, who had founded the British shipping company White Star Line on the premise that people would travel farther by ship if the vessels were luxurious enough. Pirrie was chairman of Harland & Wolff, a shipbuilding company based in Belfast [source: RMS Titanic].

During dinner, the conversation centered around two new ocean liners, the Mauretania and the Lusitania, which had been built by the Cunard Line, competitor to the White Star Line. Ismay and Pirrie felt they could create bigger and better ships than those two. By the end of the evening, they'd imagined constructing a trio of sister ships: the Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic (the latter would be renamed Brittanic after the Titanic tragedy).

These three ships would be posh, fast and safe, the men determined. As we'll see, they failed on only one count.