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The 2-Minute History of the Titanic

Everyone knows the story of the Titanic: the unsinkable ship that sank. It was a marvel of modern engineering — the peak of luxury, at least for the people in first class — and also one of the most tragic events of the 20th century. Even 100 years after its fateful maiden voyage, the Titanic still intrigues people all over the world. There have been movies, musicals, and stories made of the incident, and it has been the subject of continuing scientific research. Here’s a quick rundown of the Titanic and its legacy.

Building the largest ship in the world

Historical photo of Titanic cruise ship seen at the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction, Ireland
Credit: Anton_Ivanov/ Shutterstock

In its day, the Titanic was the largest movable manmade object in the world. When finished, the ship weighed 46,328 tons (about 92.5 million pounds), was 882 feet long and 175 feet high including the smokestacks.

The massive ship was built by Harland and Wolff shipbuilders in Belfast, Ireland. It took 15,000 men almost three years and at a cost of $7.5 million. While that might not sound like a lot of money, in today’s terms, that’s equivalent to $166 million dollars.

Fun fact: Building the real Titanic was cheaper than making the movie “Titanic” in 1997. The movie had an estimated budget of $200-$315 million dollars.

The ship

S.S. Lusitania in New York around 1915
Credit: Everett Historical/ Shutterstock

The Titanic was built to compete with other luxury liners of the time like the Lusitania (pictured above) and the Mauretania. The Titanic was to outclass them in both speed and luxury. It featured 416 first-class rooms, 162 second-class rooms, and 262 third-class rooms for a total of 840 rooms. It was made to hold 3,547 people at one time. It’s been said that the second-class rooms on the Titanic were equivalent to first-class rooms on other ships. It also had a large, first-class dining room, ornate decorations, four elevators, and a swimming pool.

The ship also featured a state-of-the-art safety system. Sixteen compartments could be closed remotely from the bridge in the “highly unlikely” event that the double-hull was breached. These “watertight” compartments would hold air and keep the ship afloat. This is what led people to believe that the Titanic was unsinkable.

The voyage

Marina full of boats in Southampton, England
Credit: Sterling Images/ Shutterstock

On the 10th of April 1912, the Titanic left the port in Southampton, England and made stops in France and Ireland before setting off to cross the Atlantic for New York. It was quite the spectacle, as no one had ever seen a ship that large before. Many of the passengers were wealthy business owners, dignitaries and celebrities.

Right off the bat, the Titanic nearly missed colliding with an American ship ironically named the S.S. New York. While no damage was sustained, the superstitious believed this to be a bad omen of things to come, especially on a ship’s maiden voyage.

Early into the trip there was a small coal fire in the engine rooms. Coal fires were relatively common in steamships, especially in one the size of the Titanic. The crew got it under control and claimed that it didn’t do any damage. Some experts believe that the fire actually became uncontrollable and forced the crew to cross the Atlantic at full speed to reach harbor — a speed which that make stopping for something, like perhaps an iceberg, nearly impossible.

As far as the passengers were concerned, the voyage had been rather normal and uneventful.

Disaster strikes

Monument of passengers at the Titanic Memorial Garden, Belfast, Ireland
Credit: riccar/ Shutterstock

On the fourth day at sea, the crew started to get reports from other ships about ice in the area. They didn’t heed much of the warning because they thoroughly believed their ship was unsinkable. Around 11:40 p.m. on a clear night, a crew member spotted an iceberg in the distance. The captain did his best to avoid the ice: The engines were thrown in reverse to try and stop or slow the speeding ship as he turned the rudder hard to the side. The captain missed a head-on collision, but the iceberg scraped the side of the boat and penetrated six of the water-tight compartments.

The crew radioed for help using the newly-invented SOS signal, and a few minutes later, just after midnight, the command for passengers to head to the lifeboats was issued. Unfortunately, the Titanic only had 20 lifeboats, enough to carry 1,178 people. Regulations at the time required that lifeboats hold only 1,060 people, but the regulations weren’t made for a ship the size of the Titanic. There were no emergency drills conducted, so passengers were in a state of panic. In all the chaos, many of the lifeboats left without a full load.

The ship broke in half and plunged into the frigid Atlantic depths at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912. In total, 68 percent of those on board the ship, or 1,517 people, were killed in the disaster. Most of them were second- and third-class passengers along with most of the crew.

An hour after the incident, a nearby ship named the Carpathia arrived and rescued the 705 people that made it into the lifeboats. No one who fell into the water survived. The accident led to the passing of several new safety regulations and became a warning of the dangers of hubris for generations to come.

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