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RMS Titanic: 100 Years Later

040912-1 For a hundred years, the story of the RMS Titanic’s tragic collision with an iceberg has fascinated people on both sides of the Atlantic. The Titanic was built in Belfast, Ireland.  In her maiden voyage, the ship left Southhampton, England for New York City on April 10, 1912. It made stops to pick up passengers in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland.

When she turned toward the open sea, 2,224 passengers and 900 crewmen were aboard. The crew included 325 engineers, firemen, and stokers, and 494 hospitality workers, such as bakers and cooks, stewards and dishwashers, gym instructors, musicians, and cleaners. More than 700 crewmen originated from the Southampton area; only 175 returned home. The crew was composed mostly of men, most of whom were their family’s primary bread-winner and this was, it seemed, a fortunate job.

The maiden voyage of the Titanic was an historic and social event. The rich and famous of America and Europe purchased tickets for a chance to take this high-profile journey. Even so, the majority of the passengers, 709, were booked into third class, not first class. These were not wealthy people out for a leisure trip. Instead, these passengers were on the voyage to immigrate to the United States.

The largest ocean liner at the time, the Titanic was thought to be unsinkable. Captain Smith declared he could not "imagine any condition that would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that." And, yet, four days into the journey, six holes in her hull would fill with water within hours and push the renowned ocean liner to the ocean floor. Suffering from hypothermia in the frigid North Atlantic water, 1,514 perished.

This week, the Titanic will capture headlines and attention yet again. April 15, 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. To commemorate this, the 3D version of Titanic, James Cameron’s historical fiction film was released worldwide on April 4, 2012. On April 11, Guernsey’s auction house will announce the buyer of the largest single collection of Titanic artifacts. Meanwhile, you can spend your own time discovering what made the ship unique in its era. What was it like on board? Why was the sinking of the Titanic newsworthy? What is being auctioned and under what conditions?

Virtual Brochure

Since Titanic was designed and built in Belfast, Ireland, it is fitting that the National Museum of Northern Ireland features an extensive online exhibit dedicated to examining the Titanic’s creation and collision, as well as memorializing the enormity of the tragedy and the uniqueness of the people who died. The online exhibit shares 16 artifacts, beginning with a porthole recovered from the ocean floor. Visit the photo gallery and view photos of the Titanic leaving Southampton (photo 2), and just prior to her launch (photo 13).  View photos of the first class accommodations (photo 14-19).

040912-2 Listen to audio recollections from survivors. What strikes you as you listen to their testimony? What questions would you ask each? Watch a video remembrance from a grandson of one of the ship’s builders. Why do you think he reminded viewers to be proud that the Titanic was built in Belfast?

Learn more about why and how the Titanic was designed and built. Scroll down and explore the interactive timeline by opening each button (circle) in the Design and Build chapter. Read about the White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic. What inspired its owner, Bruce Ismay, to build three sister ships, the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Brittanic? What distinguished these ships from their competition? View a scale model of the Titanic.

So, what was it like on board the Titanic? First, scroll down and view the eight relevant entries in the timeline. Inspired by the Ritz Hotel, the Titanic’s designers hoped to capture the feel of a first-class hotel with an on-board swimming pool, libraries, and squash courts. First class featured marble toilets, laundry facilities, and private promenades. The Titanic distinguished itself by offering lavish features unique to ocean liners, including an elevator, and an artistic main staircase. Passengers’ accommodations varied depending on class and location. View a selection of rooms by opening the eight rooms featured along the left margin. How do the rooms in first class differ from those in third class? Where and what did passengers eat?  Compare photographs of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class dining rooms.

The loss of the Titanic was one of human tragedy and technological failure. Scroll down and examine the loss timeline. Read about the initial collision, the attempt to secure passengers’ safety on lifeboats,   the six wireless calls for help, and the Carpathia’s arrival. After the unsinkable ship sank, new safety standards were implemented, including new life boat regulations and the creation of the still active International Ice Patrol.

Why has the Titanic remained part of our collective memory and popular culture for a century? How was she memorialized? What myths exist about that fateful voyage? To answer, view the Myth and Memory timeline.

When Robert Ballard discovered the resting place of the Titanic in 1985, closer examination of the wreckage revealed that the Titanic did not suffer one enormous gash but many smaller ones caused when the rivets broke off, creating holes in the hull. What other Titanic myths exist? Explore six myths about the Titanic. Was White Star Line owner, Bruce Ismay, a hero or a coward? Did the Hope diamond sink with the Titanic? Did an unbroken champagne bottle predict doom?

040912-3 In the News

News of the sunken liner shocked the world. Because the Titanic sank at 2:20 am on April 15, 1912, it was too late to headline the day’s newspapers. The horrifying news dominated papers on April 16, 1912. Read articles from the New York Tribune. The front section, not only the front page, is dedicated to Titanic coverage. Read several articles on several pages (use the advance arrow to turn the page.) What angles do the articles cover? What questions remained at the time? What was the tone of the articles? What personal stories are shared?

The Passengers

The Titanic lives on because of the human stories born that early morning. More than a thousand stories began that day with hope and ended unexpectedly with heartbreak, as well as stories of dedication, final embraces, and disbelief.  However, there were also hundreds of stories of survival. To remember these very real stories, visit the Discovery Channel’s interactive and set sail aboard the Titanic. Select one of the silhouettes to launch a passenger’s journey. Join them as they board, walking in their footsteps as you read their thoughts, impressions, and accounts of their activities over the course of each day. Use the “next day” button to continue the journey. Who are you? Why are you aboard? Do you survive and why? What resonates with you as you travel in this person’s footsteps?

Sold! To the Highest Bidder

On January 5, 2012, Guerney’s auction house held a preview of Titanic items to be auctioned as one lot on April 11. View a timeline of the Titanic, the discovery of her resting place, and the recovery of her artifacts.  Learn more about the auction by viewing a slideshow of ten of the aritfacts included in the auction and watching a brief video about the conditions of the auction. (In case you are interested, several cities around the country are currently hosting the travelling exhibition of Titanic aritfacts.)