How the Titanic Worked

Titanic Passengers and Crew

HowStuffWorks 2008

Titanic's designers had discerning and practical taste, but they also took great care to ensure that everyone from the well-shod passengers to the poorest travelers in steerage had a grand experience. They knew that many third-class passengers were immigrating to the United States, and they intended for the passage to be a memorable one that infused these people with a hopeful sense of what was to come in their new lives [source: RMS Titanic]. To that end, even third-class rooms were private and enclosed, a modicum of luxury in their own right.

The ship set sail from its launching site in Belfast to Southampton, England, on April 3, 1911. Titanic picked up its passengers from Southampton, then moved along to Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, to collect the rest. Collectively, there were 2,208 passengers and 899 officers and crew members. Of these passengers, there were 329 first-class travelers, 285 second-class travelers and 710 third-class travelers [source: Titanic Inquiry Project]. First class consisted primarily of wealthy industrialists and their families, among them John Jacob Astor IV and even J.P. Morgan -- who was forced to cancel his passage due to business conflicts. Among the second-class passengers were businessmen and members of the clergy (even a teacher and chauffeur are recorded to have been traveling second-class). Third class, or steerage, was comprised mostly of European immigrants.

There are some discrepancies in passenger records due to cancelled trips, transfers to other ships and some passengers and crew simply being left behind. Some passengers traded or sold their boarding passes, and the names of the alternate passengers were never recorded. Now-legendary accounts of people like the three Slade brothers, who, after imbibing at Southampton pubs, were refused boarding privileges, or Mrs. Edward W. Bill, who refused to board after having a nightmare of the Titanic sinking, inspired the creation of a "Just Missed It" Club [source: Eaton]. According to an April 1912 report in the Milwaukee Journal, nearly 6,000 people were fatefully saved from the Titanic disaster after missing the boat or changing their travel plans. The fact that the ship could only accommodate about 2,500 passengers pokes holes in some of these flimsy just-missed-it stories.

But those who did board the Titanic boarded at great expense. First-class tickets cost anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500 (that's about $43,860 to $78,950 in today's market); third-class passages could be obtained for around $35 ($620) [source: Titanic Aquatic]. If you shelled out the big bucks, you got a private room and semi-private baths. Third-class accommodations were still a relative steal with sophisticated plumbing fixtures (even if there were two bathtubs to be shared among 700 third-class passengers) and real mattresses instead of the straw-stuffed pallets found on most ships. Third-class rooms could hold up to four people, and in most cases, strangers shared the accommodations. In these rooms, vibrations from the ship's massive engines could be felt and heard.

Aside from these disturbances, the Titanic's crew worked to ensure that everyone enjoyed a comfortable voyage. In addition to the band and members of the deck, engine and victualling (culinary) departments were the captain of the ship, Edward John Smith, and Thomas Andrews, the ship's head designer. Despite Smith's distinctive record of seamanship and Andrews' so-called unsinkable ship, the Titanic's maiden voyage was doomed.