What explains our nationalized passion with the Titanic? Why do so few historical events grip the heart in the same way? What really caused the great ocean liner to sink into its grave? There have been many great disasters. Some have resulted in a drastically higher death toll and level of damage to a property. The epic creation and then unfortunate sinking of the Titanic has proven that no ship is “unsinkable,” and that people underestimated the chances of ever having to worry about the safety of the ship.
The British-based White Star Line had gone through a number of changes since its formation in 1850. The company had turned its attention to oceangoing passenger steamships when Thomas Henry Ismay purchased it in 1867. Ismay’s first ship, the Oceanic, completed by the Belfast shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff in 1871, introduced innovations, like promenade decks, that greatly increased passenger comfort and became the rule on subsequent liners. When Ismay died in 1899, his 38-year-old son, J. Bruce Ismay, took over the company.
J. Bruce Ismay had a real sense of both “business and style” says Marc Shapiro in Total Titanic. Together with Lord W. J. Pirrie, the chairman of Harland and Wolff, he considered a proposal by American financial wizard, J. P. Morgan, to buy White Star Line as part of a scheme to unite all Atlantic shipping lines in one trust. In 1902, Morgan purchased the White Star Line for his International Mercantile Marine and installed J. Bruce Ismay as the company’s president, in 1904.
At a 1907 dinner party, Ismay proposed the construction of two luxury-class ocean liners, to be known as the Olympic class, to go head to head with the Cunard Line for the well-paid Atlantic passenger trade. A third ship was added to the proposal at a later date. There were good reasons to begin thinking of making economic war against Cunard. For years, White Star and Cunard had been in competition with one another. Cunard decided to upgrade; they decided to build the Lusitania and the Mauretania- the biggest, fastest ships on the North Atlantic route.
In July 1908, Ismay and Morgan signed a contract with Harland and Wolff for the construction of the three luxury liners. These liners would be the true gods of the sea; they would be named Olympic, Britannic, and Titanic. “Ismay and designer Thomas Andrew’s plan for the Titanic: carry 3,547 passengers and crew, weigh 46,328 tons, 882 feet and nine inches in length, ninety-four feet in width, 100 feet at bridge level, and for it to have forty-two watertight doors. The Titanic design included twenty-nine boilers, 159 furnaces, and funnels that were sited seventy-three feet above the boat deck. The
Titanic’s estimated speed included 46,000 horsepower capacity and is estimated to be capable of twenty-four knots at full speed. It had three propellers; the middle was sixteen feet across, the other two were twenty feet across. There were to be twenty lifeboats total; sixteen wooden,...