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The RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic was an early 20th century British luxury liner and the largest ship ever built at the time of her launching in 1912. The Titanic was one of three White Star Line company passenger ships of the Olympic class, the other two being the Olympic and the Brittanic. Passengers of the Titanic included the rich, middle class and poor immigrants. The ship's maiden voyage took her from the port of Southampton, England, to New York City in the United States. During the luxury liner's first voyage, however, she collided with an iceberg and sank on April 15th of 1912. Of the over 2,200 passengers that were on board when the ship sank, more than 1,500 died, making this one of the deadliest accidents at sea during peacetime.
Construction of the RMS Titanic began in March of 1909 at the Hartland and Wolff shipyards at the Belfast Harbor in Northern Ireland. A massive scaffolding system called a gantry was designed for the ship's construction by Sir William Arroi & Co., the same company that built the Tower Bridge in London, England. The construction effort also required a powerful crane to be imported from Germany, one that could lift 200 tons of weight. 2,000 hull plates and 3 million rivets were used to build the ship, which took 26 months to complete. When it was finished, the Titanic was 882 feet long, 104 feet high from its keel to its bridge, and 92 feet wide. She had 9 decks, 16 primary compartments, four funnels or smokestacks, and a total weight of over 46,000 tons. The ship carried 20 lifeboats, which was more than the 16 which were required by law. Because of the 15 watertight doors that were designed to limit the flooding of water in the case of a breach, the White Star Lines company declared the ship was designed to be unsinkable. Publications, however, declared the Titanic to be the "unsinkable" vessel, and thus even before it launched, the ship was given the unofficial title of "the unsinkable Titanic".
The Titanic was also designed to be not only the largest, but also the most luxurious ship in the history of luxury liners. The state of the art ocean liner included 840 staterooms, and each came with electric lighting and heating, but no air conditioning. The Titanic was also one of the first to have an on-board pool for first-class passengers, and it also had electric elevators, libraries, a gymnasium, a court for squash games, and a Turkish bath. There was a Marconi room for telegraph communications, and telephones for passengers to contact each other. There were also two barber shops which were available to everyone. One of the most famous amenities on the Titanic was the Grand Staircase which covered a full seven of the ship's nine decks. The ship's accommodations came in three levels, which were first class, second class, and third class, or steerage. While the Titanic was a luxury vessel, she was also designed to attract immigrants, since immigrants heading mostly to the United States were the majority of passengers on luxury liners at the time. In fact the White Star company's Olympic line of luxury ships were actually designed with increased luxuries for immigrants in mind. These third-class amenities, included mattresses and dining rooms in the cabins, separate areas for smoking and reading, open deck space, and a social hall. Steerage passengers had food prepared by cooks, whereas on other ships they would have had to come with their own food.
The Titanic's maiden voyage started on April 2, 1912, with a series of dockings that occurred before the main voyage from Southampton to New York. Her journey started in Belfast, Ireland, where a handful of passengers boarded. On April 10 at Southampton, England, over 900 passengers came aboard. On the same day the ship reached Cherbourg, France, where she picked up more than 270 additional passengers. Finally, the Titanic steamed to Queenstown in southern Ireland, where another 120 people boarded on April 11. The total passenger list at this point was estimated at 1,300 passengers and 918 crew. The passengers of the Titanic included 412 women, 112 children and 776 men, plus 22 female and 896 male staff members. First class passengers numbered 319, second class numbered 272, and third class numbered 709. Famous passengers included American tycoon John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madelaine, as well as Margaret "the unsinkable Molly" Brown. Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic, was also a passenger, along with J Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star company. One famous staffer was Violet Jessop, a nurse who survived both the Brittanic and the Titanic, as well as the Olympic when it suffered a collision with another ship.
On April 14th at 11:40 pm, the Titanic spotted an iceberg and unsuccessfully attempted to avoid it. The ship sideswiped the iceberg and five watertight compartments were breached in the process. The ship was designed to stay afloat if four compartments were flooded. When the crew realized the ship was going to sink, and that there weren't enough life boats for everyone, they began a disorganized evacuation. During the ensuing chaos, a decision was made by the crew to put women and children on the lifeboats first, and often exclusively. In addition, many third class passengers were trapped in the lower decks behind locked grates. Flares were shot in the air and telegraphs were transmitted in a call for help, but no ships were close by, except for the USS California, which did not respond, and the USS Carpathia, which arrived too late. Many lifeboats were below capacity and only 13 people were rescued from the water, whose temperature was four degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. The Titanic broke in half and sank in the early morning hours of April 15, less than three hours after the collision. Only 703 people survived, including 75 percent of women, 50 percent of children, and only 19 percent of the men. 62 percent of first class passengers, 43 percent of second class and 25 percent of steerage passengers survived. Notable survivors included Margaret Brown, who insisted that her life boat turn around to pick up survivors from the water, and J Bruce Ismay, who was accused of cowardice as a result of his survival and ostracized from elite society. Thomas Andrews and John Jacob Astor were among the over 1,500 passengers who died.
The sinking of the Titanic had consequences that were global in magnitude. As a result of the disaster, maritime safety was revolutionized worldwide. For instance, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention) was passed in 1914. The SOLAS Convention required adequate lifeboat coverage on all ships, and mandated a higher standard of safety procedures in the event of a disaster, including lifeboat drills. An ice patrol service called the International Ice Patrol was created 2 years after the Titanic's sinking to help ships avoid icebergs. The White Star Lines company was subjected to massive liability claims totaling greater than 16 million dollars. White Star Lines was eventually driven into bankruptcy and was purchased by its rival the Cunard Lines Company. The Titanic disaster has also become the subject of numerous legends, books, films, and documentaries, from Walter Lord's book "A Night to Remember" to James Cameron's record-breaking film "Titanic" in 1997.
The Titanic was intended to be the crowning glory of the White Star Line. Instead it became the greatest peacetime disaster in the history of the company and in the history of luxury liners. The ship's loss cost not only the lives of many rich people, but also that of many immigrants, plus the dreams many of their families had of building a life in America. The only silver lining of this catastrophe was that maritime safety regulations underwent revolutionary overhauls which endure to this day.
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