Strangest Facts About the Titanic
The Titanic disaster is the most famous maritime tragedy in history. Let’s dive right in and take a look at some of the strangest facts about the Titanic.Knowledge
The Titanic disaster is the most famous maritime tragedy in history. Over 1,500 people died after the giant luxury liner hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank to the ocean floor 108 years ago. But perplexing secrets and scandals about the steamer began to emerge soon after the disaster. Let’s dive right in and take a look at some of the strangest facts about the Titanic.
A Sinking Prediction
No one could have foretold what would happen to the Titanic on the fateful day of April 15th, 1912. Except, they did. William Thomas Stead wrote a terrifyingly clairvoyant novella predicting the demise of the Titanic before anyone even thought to build it!
In 1886, he wrote the short story How the Mail Steamer Went Down In The Mid Atlantic By A Survivor. The tale follows a ship similar to the build and voyage of the Titanic, which sinks into the ocean without enough lifeboats on board to save everyone. But that’s not the only prediction that rang true.
Fast forward to 1898, and the disturbingly named The Wreck of the Titan was released by Morgan Robertson. The plot is almost identical to the fate of the Titanic, with a large ocean liner called ‘The Titan’ hitting an iceberg out in the Atlantic, and people perishing in the freezing water due to an insufficient number of lifeboats.
It’s an uncanny coincidence of details, right down to the month the ship sank! But to add to the coincidence of it all, William Thomas Stead, author of the first book, was on board the Titanic during that maiden voyage! Sadly, he was one of the many that didn’t survive.
It’s no secret that the Titanic really lived up to its name. At the time, it was the largest sea-born ship of its kind, dwarfing the longest ship of the day by around a hundred feet. In total, the Titanic measured in at 882 feet 9 inches from bow to stern. It was 175 feet from keel to funnel top and had a gross registered tonnage of 46,328.
To put that in perspective, it could easily carry the water volume of over 52 Olympic-sized swimming pools inside it. It also required 20 horses just to move one kedging anchor during its construction, and the ship needed two of them! But what’s really fascinating are the ship’s four famous funnels. This ship only had three furnaces, meaning the fourth funnel was a fake! According to the records, it was only added to make the ship look even more impressive.
However impressive it looked, building the ship was far from an easy task. It required over three million iron rivets during construction, but there were many issues regarding iron supply shortages. It meant the company in charge bought in cheaper alternatives to meet their schedule. The sub-quality iron rivets that were used were found to be more brittle and prone to fracture.
Steel rivets were also used, but only in the central hull where stresses were expected to be greatest. The stern and bow had the iron rivets, and it was the bow where the iceberg struck. Scientists argue that better rivets would have probably kept the opulent liner afloat for slightly longer, potentially saving hundreds more lives.
No one is debating that the Titanic hit an iceberg, but current evidence suggests it wasn’t the only thing that sank the unsinkable. In 2017, researchers uncovered a series of rare photos, in which the brand-new vessel can be seen with a long black mark stretched along the starboard hull.
Experts suspect these were the marks from a coal fire that was burning inside the ship’s fuel bunker! As coal fires are exceedingly hard to put out, the fire likely burned for days, reaching temperatures of over 1000F!
Further investigation revealed hidden testimonies that the fire had grown out of control after on-board firefighters failed to put out the blaze. Located in the fuel store, it wasn’t a risk of burning the ship down, but had the potential to cause an explosion eventually.
Despite this, fear of a financial loss from the ship’s owner meant the voyage was to press on regardless. Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the company that owned the Titanic said he was told by the owner of the ship that“they should reach New York and unload all the passengers before the inevitable explosion occurred”.
But the fire was burning under bunker number six, exactly where the iceberg hit. Subject to those temperatures, steel can become brittle, and it’s possible that the structural integrity of the hull was compromised, making the iceberg's damage that much worse.
On the evening of April 14, The Titanic received no less than 6 warnings about sea ice. Despite this, she was traveling close to her maximum speed of 23 knots. All because of the pressure of making it to the destination on time, and preferably before that coal fire led to an explosion.
Testimony from lookout Frederick Fleet said his job was made difficult on that night as the sea was calm. With very few waves hitting icebergs, they were almost impossible to see in the dark.
And due to a mix-up at Southampton, the lookouts didn’t even have binoculars. They were in total darkness, except for starlight. At 11:39 p.m., Fleet spotted the iceberg and raised the alarm. At 11.40 pm, that fateful collision took place.
One of the most critical failings of the Titanic’s fated voyage was the lack of lifeboats. The Titanic was only carrying 20 lifeboats with a capacity of 65 people each. This meant that if every single seat was taken, only 52% of the 2435 passengers and crew would be able to survive.
The small number (which was, technically, above the legal minimum) was an attempt to make the liner look more aesthetically pleasing and give confidence to the idea it was unsinkable. In reality, it would have needed at least 48 lifeboats to save everyone on board.
That wasn’t the only problem. The crew had barely been trained to load passengers onto these boats in an emergency. As a result, only 18 of the 20 boats actually launched, and the first ones that did were woefully under-packed – only 28 people were placed in the first lifeboat, and most of the others were only half-filled by barely-trained crew.
As the ship’s situation worsened over the 160 minutes it took to fully sink, panic really set in. With no usable lifeboats left, 30 people managed to stay alive by squatting on the hull of an upturned lifeboat.
Of those who didn’t get lifeboat privileges, only 9 people were rescued from the water, and 3 of them died from extreme hypothermia. In total, 472 seats aboard the lifeboats went unused, and a meager 31% of the passengers and crew survived.
For those on board the Titanic when it sank, let’s just say it was a good day to be a rich woman. Tickets for the Titanic were divided into first, standard, and third class. Of the first-class passengers, 97% of the women survived, but only 32% of the first-class men did. In standard class, 86% of the women survived, compared to only 8% of men. And in the third class, 49% of women survived, and only 13% of men did.
Sadly, only 50% of all the children on board got on the lifeboats, which makes the next fact even worse. Lifeboat number 1 was a small wooden cutter boat that was never actually intended as a lifeboat. However, despite being able to hold 40 people, it launched with only 12 aboard; 7 crew members and 5 passengers who all ignored the captain’s call for women and children first.
It later emerged the passengers aboard included Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon and Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, Scottish landowners who were accused of bribing the crewmen not to return for the people in the water. Lady Duff Gordon was concerned the freezing swimmers would swamp the boat, and as a result, many of them died needlessly. Turns out all the money in the world can’t buy you compassion.
Whether more survivors of the wreckage could’ve been saved is debated to this day, and for good reason. The SS Californian was perched in the waters less than 20 miles away from the Titanic in the ice field where it met its doom. Its wireless operator had sent a message to the Titanic to inform them of the ice field, but the Titanic's on-duty wireless manager Jack Phillips replied with “Shut up, shut up! I am busy!”.
Ten minutes later, they hit the iceberg. Watchmen aboard the Californian both noted something odd appeared to be occurring to the boat they could see in the distance. At first, they had assumed it had simply stopped as they had done. Then, at 12:55 am they saw the flares.
But the Californian’s Captain Lord was convinced they were just rising stars, despite his officer’s reports to him. Another ship, the Carpathia, which was 58 miles away, came rushing to the rescue of the remaining survivors.
A full inquiry into the Californian’s refusal to help revealed the Titanic was within sight of the Californian as it sank, but Captain Lord refused to help. When questioned in court, the Captain was elusive and changed his testimony on multiple occasions.
It’s possible that he was afraid for the safety of his own crew in such treacherous conditions, or too proud to admit to cowardice. Nevertheless, the wake of the scandal saw the captain severely dishonored, though no charges were ever put against him.
No Lives Lost
There’s some pretty bad journalism in modern times, but none can compete with the newspapers from April 15, 1912. With information not as easily obtained as it is today, the headlines that carried news of the Titanic’s fate varied wildly.
The World reported “Titanic Sinking: No Lives Lost”. The Evening Sun’s headline read “All Titanic Passengers Are Safe: Transferred In Lifeboats At Sea”, while the Asbury Evening Press came out with “Titanic Survives Iceberg Crash. Tho Badly Damaged; Passengers Safe”.
How on earth did they miss the mark so badly? There are theories that with the amount of wireless chatter at the time, messages were being crossed and interrupted. One question asked about the state of the ship and received the answer “The ship is being towed back to Halifax and everyone aboard is okay”.
However, it wasn’t referring to the Titanic, but to its rescuing ship, The Carpathia. Upon the real news arriving, the titles quickly changed, although it took a few days for the numbers to really reveal the true extent of the death toll.
Violet Jessop Coincidence
Some might associate terrible luck with the most notorious maritime disaster in history. But for Violet Jessop, luck was on her side. Jessop boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912, as a stewardess. She was one of the lucky few who managed to secure a place in the lifeboats and was rescued by the Carpathia.
Fast forward to November 21, 1916, just over two years later, and Jessop was aboard one of the Titanic’s other ‘unsinkable’ sister ships, the Britannic, which suffered a deadly explosion and sank! But Jessop, who had no shortage of luck, survived this as well! She recorded all of this in her memoirs, but one thing she didn’t put down was that she was also onboard the third of the ‘unsinkable’ sister ships, The Olympic, back in 1911.
The ill-fated voyage she was part of saw the ship collide with the British warship HMS Hawke shortly after it left Southampton! There were no casualties, and the ship did manage to make it back to port, but does that make her the luckiest woman alive, or unluckiest?
Did you know the movie Titanic was German fascist propaganda? No, not that movie you're probably thinking of, but the movie in the trailer below. The 1943 Titanic was a German film commissioned by infamous Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
The film was conceived to show off German superiority in filmmaking, while also acting as propaganda, carrying the message that British and American capitalism was accountable for the entire disaster. The epilogue of the film reads "The deaths of 1,500 people remain un-atoned, an eternal condemnation of Britain's endless quest for profit ."
It was the most expensive film to be made of its time, reportedly costing 4 million Reichsmarks in a wartime economy. In 2020 that’s approximately $180 million dollars! But production was hounded by problems, from overly extravagant set-pieces to the director being reported to the Gestapo! Once released, it reportedly worsened the morale of the German people and was banned after a brief theatrical run.
When it comes down to brass tacks, The Titanic was the prized jewel of its heyday. It cost approximately £1.5 million to build, but in today's money that looks like £172,461,115, or $225,630,876. But in 1990, James Cameron was ready to match those costs in his tribute to the disaster.
In order to make one of the most successful box-office smashes of all time, Cameron spent $200 million making the movie Titanic. That’s over $1 million per minute of screen time and adjusted for inflation, the total was closer to $320 million!
So, Cameron spent more creating a film about the Titanic than the original Titanic cost to build! But how do you manage to spend so much money on a romance-drama film? Easy. You rebuild the entire ship!
A full-scale model of the Titanic was built from scratch to make the scenes feel all the more real. Where the original took 14,000 men and several years to build, Cameron’s crew managed their task in just 100 days with 500 workers.
I hope you were amazed at these strangest facts about the Titanic and will never let go of them (no offense to Rose). Thanks for reading!