The Discovery of RMS Titanic

Canada #2531 (2012)
Canada #2531 (2012)

On September 1, 1985, debris was spotted during a joint French-American expedition led by oceanographer Robert Ballard in which a boiler was identified as identical to those installed aboard the RMS Titanic during the ship’s construction in 1911. The following day, the main part of the wreck was found and the Titanic was seen for the first time since her sinking during the night of April 14-15, 1912 — 73 years before. The ocean liner, operated by the White Star Line of Liverpool, England, collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. There were an estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard the ship, and more than 1,500 died, making it one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.

Titanic was long thought to have sunk in one piece and, over the years, many schemes were put forward for finding and raising the wreck. None came to fruition. The fundamental problem was the sheer difficulty of discovering and reaching a wreck that lies over 12,000 feet (3,700 m) below the surface, in a location where the water pressure is over 6,500 pounds per square inch. A number of expeditions were mounted to find Titanic, all of which failed until Ballard’s expedition. The team discovered that Titanic had in fact split apart, probably near or at the surface, before sinking to the seabed. The separated bow and stern sections lie about a third of a mile (0.6 km) apart off the coast of Newfoundland. They are located 13.2 miles (21.2 km) from the inaccurate coordinates given by Titanic’s radio operators on the night of her sinking, and approximately 715 miles (1,151 km) from Halifax and 1,250 miles (2,012 km) from New York.
I became very interested in Titanic as a young child growing up in Nashville, Tennessee. My initial interest in the ship (later extended to all of the classic ocean liners) occurred around the same time as I began collecting stamps. I don’t recall which happened first: reading Walter Lord’s book A Night To Remember or viewing the 1958 movie on late-night television. I was soon hooked and sought out everything I could find that was connected to the liner including books (non-fiction and fiction alike) as well as magazine and newspaper articles (including reproductions from 1911-1912) and memorabilia, I was given a copy of Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic! around 1977 and remember going to see the movie upon its release in 1980. I built several scale plastic models of the ship over the years and managed to find a number of original postcards dating from the time of her construction to the aftermath of the disaster. Some of these would be worth considerably more than I paid in suburban Kansas City in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s if I still had them today. Interest in all things concerning the ship and the disaster has skyrocketed since I was a child.

The highlight of my interest in the ship came during a visit to see my family after I’d moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first exhibit featuring artifacts recovered from the Titanic wreck was touring the nation and happened to be at Kansas City’s Union Station while I was in the area. While I was greatly interested in the items on display, I probably spent more time in the gift shop! I came away with a great many souvenirs (my favorite were a pair of White Star Line porcelain coffee cups) but all of these remained behind when I moved to Thailand about 12 years ago.

I don’t recall the Titanic having been portrayed upon any stamps during my initial period of collecting (roughly 1975 to 1999) and I still haven’t added many to my collection (just today’s featured stamp and one showing the other half of her bow). This despite numerous stamps having been issued picturing the liner in the aftermath of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster movie and the huge philatelic outpouring at the time of the centennial of her sinking in 2012. I think it’s time to pursue this as yet another topical collection…

Built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland, the RMS Titanic was the second of the three Olympic-class ocean liners — the first was the RMS Olympic and the third was the HMHS Britannic. They were by far the largest vessels of the British shipping company White Star Line’s fleet, which comprised 29 steamers and tenders in 1912. The three ships had their genesis in a discussion in mid-1907 between the White Star Line’s chairman, J. Bruce Ismay, and the American financier J. P. Morgan, who controlled the White Star Line’s parent corporation, the International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM).

The White Star Line faced an increasing challenge from its main rivals the Cunard Line, which had recently launched the Lusitania and the Mauretania — the fastest passenger ships then in service — and the German lines Hamburg America and Norddeutscher Lloyd. Ismay preferred to compete on size rather than speed and proposed to commission a new class of liners that would be larger than anything that had gone before as well as being the last word in comfort and luxury. The company sought an upgrade in their fleet primarily in response to the Cunard giants but also to replace their oldest pair of passenger ships still in service, being the SS Teutonic of 1889 and SS Majestic of 1890. Teutonic was replaced by Olympic while Majestic was replaced by Titanic. Majestic would be brought back into her old spot on White Star’s New York service after Titanic‘s loss.

The ships were constructed by the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, who had a long-established relationship with the White Star Line dating back to 1867. Harland and Wolff were given a great deal of latitude in designing ships for the White Star Line; the usual approach was for the latter to sketch out a general concept which the former would take away and turn into a ship design. Cost considerations were relatively low on the agenda and Harland and Wolff was authorized to spend what it needed on the ships, plus a five percent profit margin. In the case of the Olympic-class ships, a cost of £3 million (£250 million in 2015 money) for the first two ships was agreed plus “extras to contract” and the usual five percent fee.

Harland and Wolff put their leading designers to work designing the Olympic-class vessels. The design was overseen by Lord Pirrie, a director of both Harland and Wolff and the White Star Line; naval architect Thomas Andrews, the managing director of Harland and Wolff’s design department; Edward Wilding, Andrews’ deputy and responsible for calculating the ship’s design, stability and trim; and Alexander Carlisle, the shipyard’s chief draughtsman and general manager. Carlisle’s responsibilities included the decorations, equipment and all general arrangements, including the implementation of an efficient lifeboat davit design.

On July 29, 1908, Harland and Wolff presented the drawings to J. Bruce Ismay and other White Star Line executives. Ismay approved the design and signed three “letters of agreement” two days later, authorizing the start of construction. At this point the first ship — which was later to become Olympic — had no name, but was referred to simply as “Number 400”, as it was Harland and Wolff’s four hundredth hull. Titanic was based on a revised version of the same design and was given the number 401.

Titanic was 882 feet 9 inches (269.06 m) long with a maximum breadth of 92 feet 6 inches (28.19 m). Her total height, measured from the base of the keel to the top of the bridge, was 104 feet (32 m).[17] She measured 46,328 gross register tons and with a draught of 34 feet 7 inches (10.54 m), she displaced 52,310 tons. All three of the Olympic-class ships had ten decks (excluding the top of the officers’ quarters), eight of which were for passenger use.

The sheer size of Titanic and her sister ships posed a major engineering challenge for Harland and Wolff; no shipbuilder had ever before attempted to construct vessels this size. The ships were constructed on Queen’s Island, now known as the Titanic Quarter, in Belfast Harbour. Harland and Wolff had to demolish three existing slipways and build two new ones, the largest ever constructed up to that time, to accommodate both ships. Their construction was facilitated by an enormous gantry built by Sir William Arrol & Co., a Scottish firm responsible for the building of the Forth Bridge and London’s Tower Bridge. The Arrol Gantry stood 228 feet (69 m) high, was 270 feet (82 m) wide and 840 feet (260 m) long, and weighed more than 6,000 tons. It accommodated a number of mobile cranes. A separate floating crane, capable of lifting 200 tons, was brought in from Germany.

The construction of Olympic and Titanic took place virtually in parallel, with Olympic’s keel laid down first on December 16, 1908, and Titanic’s on March 31, 1909. Both ships took about 26 months to build and followed much the same construction process. They were designed essentially as an enormous floating box girder, with the keel acting as a backbone and the frames of the hull forming the ribs. At the base of the ships, a double bottom 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) deep supported 300 frames, each between 24 inches (61 cm) and 36 inches (91 cm) apart and measuring up to about 66 feet (20 m) long. They terminated at the bridge deck (B Deck) and were covered with steel plates which formed the outer skin of the ships.

The 2,000 hull plates were single pieces of rolled steel plate, mostly up to 6 feet (1.8 m) wide and 30 feet (9.1 m) long and weighing between 2.5 and 3 tons. Their thickness varied from 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). The plates were laid in a clinkered (overlapping) fashion from the keel to the bilge. Above that point they were laid in the “in and out” fashion, where strake plating was applied in bands (the “in strakes”) with the gaps covered by the “out strakes”, overlapping on the edges. Commercial oxy-fuel and electric arc welding methods, ubiquitous in fabrication today, were still in their infancy; like most other iron and steel structures of the era, the hull was held together with over three million iron and steel rivets, which by themselves weighed over 1,200 tons. They were fitted using hydraulic machines or were hammered in by hand. In the 1990s, some material scientists concluded that the steel plate used for the ship was subject to being especially brittle when cold, and that this brittleness exacerbated the impact damage and hastened the sinking. It is believed that, by the standards of the time, the steel plate’s quality was good, not faulty, but that it was inferior to what would be used for shipbuilding purposes in later decades, owing to advances in the metallurgy of steelmaking. As for the rivets, considerable emphasis has also been placed on their quality and strength.

Titanic ready for launch at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, 1911
Titanic ready for launch at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, 1911

One of the last items to be fitted on Titanic before the ship’s launch was her two side anchors and one center anchor. The anchors themselves were a challenge to make with the center anchor being the largest ever forged by hand and weighing nearly 16 tons. Twenty Clydesdale draught horses were needed to haul the center anchor by wagon from the Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd forge shop in Netherton, near Dudley, United Kingdom to the Dudley railway station two miles away. From there it was shipped by rail to Fleetwood in Lancashire before being loaded aboard a ship and sent to Belfast.

The work of constructing the ships was difficult and dangerous. For the 15,000 men who worked at Harland and Wolff at the time, safety precautions were rudimentary at best; a lot of the work was dangerous and was carried out without any safety equipment like hard hats or hand guards on machinery. As a result, deaths and injuries were to be expected. During Titanic’s construction, 246 injuries were recorded, 28 of them “severe”, such as arms severed by machines or legs crushed under falling pieces of steel. Six people died on the ship herself while she was being constructed and fitted out, and another two died in the shipyard workshops and sheds. Just before the launch a worker was killed when a piece of wood fell on him.

Titanic was launched at 12:15 p.m. on May 31, 1911, in the presence of Lord Pirrie, J. Pierpoint Morgan, J. Bruce Ismay and 100,000 onlookers. Twenty-two tons of soap and tallow were spread on the slipway to lubricate the ship’s passage into the River Lagan. In keeping with the White Star Line’s traditional policy, the ship was not formally named or christened with champagne. The ship was towed to a fitting-out berth where, over the course of the next year, her engines, funnels and superstructure were installed and her interior was fitted out.

Titanic launched at Belfast, Ireland, on May 31, 1911
Titanic launched at Belfast, Ireland, on May 31, 1911
Titanic under construction in the fitting-out basin at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, 1911-1912
Titanic under construction in the fitting-out basin at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, 1911-1912

Although Titanic was virtually identical to the class’s lead ship Olympic, a few changes were made to distinguish both ships. The most noticeable of these was that Titanic (and the third vessel in class, Britannic) had a steel screen with sliding windows installed along the forward half of the A Deck promenade. This was installed as a last minute change at the personal request of Bruce Ismay, and was intended to provide additional shelter to first class passengers. These changes made Titanic slightly heavier than her sister, and thus she could claim to be the largest ship afloat. The work took longer than expected due to design changes requested by Ismay and a temporary pause in work occasioned by the need to repair Olympic, which had been in a collision in September 1911.

Titanic was equipped with three main engines — two reciprocating four-cylinder, triple-expansion steam engines and one centrally placed low-pressure Parsons turbine — each driving a propeller. The two reciprocating engines had a combined output of 30,000 horsepower and a further 16,000 hp was contributed by the turbine. The White Star Line had used the same combination of engines on an earlier liner, the SS Laurentic, where it had been a great success. It provided a good combination of performance and speed; reciprocating engines by themselves were not powerful enough to propel an Olympic-class liner at the desired speeds, while turbines were sufficiently powerful but caused uncomfortable vibrations, a problem that affected the all-turbine Cunard liners Lusitania and Mauretania. By combining reciprocating engines with a turbine, fuel usage could be reduced and motive power increased, while using the same amount of steam.

The two reciprocating engines were each 63 feet (19 m) long and weighed 720 tons, with their bedplates contributing a further 195 tons. They were powered by steam produced in 29 boilers, 24 of which were double-ended and five single-ended, which contained a total of 159 furnaces. The boilers were 15 feet 9 inches (4.80 m) in diameter and 20 feet (6.1 m) long, each weighing 91.5 tons and capable of holding 48.5 tons of water. They were heated by burning coal, 6,611 tons of which could be carried in Titanic‘s bunkers, with a further 1,092 tons in Hold 3. The furnaces required over 600 tons of coal a day to be shoveled into them by hand, requiring the services of 176 firemen working around the clock. One hundred tons of ash a day had to be disposed of by ejecting it into the sea. The work was relentless, dirty and dangerous, and although firemen were paid relatively generously there was a high suicide rate among those who worked in that capacity.

Exhaust steam leaving the reciprocating engines was fed into the turbine, which was situated aft. From there it passed into a surface condenser, to increase the efficiency of the turbine and so that the steam could be condensed back into water and reused. The engines were attached directly to long shafts which drove the propellers. There were three, one for each engine; the outer (or wing) propellers were the largest, each carrying three blades of manganese-bronze alloy with a total diameter of 23.5 feet (7.2 m). The middle propeller was slightly smaller at 17 feet (5.2 m) in diameter, and could be stopped but not reversed.

Titanic‘s electrical plant was capable of producing more power than an average city power station of the time. Immediately aft of the turbine engine were four 400 kW steam-driven electric generators, used to provide electrical power to the ship, plus two 30 kW auxiliary generators for emergency use. Their location in the stern of the ship meant they remained operational until the last few minutes before the ship sank.

The interiors of the Olympic-class ships were subdivided into 16 primary compartments divided by 15 bulkheads which extended well above the waterline. Eleven vertically closing watertight doors could seal off the compartments in the event of an emergency. The ship’s exposed decking was made of pine and teak, while interior ceilings were covered in painted granulated cork to combat condensation. Standing above the decks were four funnels, each painted buff with black tops, (though only three were functional — the last one was a dummy, installed for aesthetic purposes and also for kitchen ventilation) — and two masts, each 155 feet (47 m) high, which supported derricks for working cargo.

Titanic‘s rudder was so large — at 78 feet 8 inches (23.98 m) high and 15 feet 3 inches (4.65 m) long, weighing over 100 tons — that it required steering engines to move it. Two steam-powered steering engines were installed though only one was used at any one time, with the other one kept in reserve. They were connected to the short tiller through stiff springs, to isolate the steering engines from any shocks in heavy seas or during fast changes of direction. As a last resort, the tiller could be moved by ropes connected to two steam capstans. The capstans were also used to raise and lower the ship’s five anchors (one port, one starboard, one in the centerline and two kedging anchors).

The ship was equipped with her own waterworks, capable of heating and pumping water to all parts of the vessel via a complex network of pipes and valves. The main water supply was taken aboard while Titanic was in port, but in an emergency the ship could also distill fresh water from seawater, though this was not a straightforward process as the distillation plant quickly became clogged by salt deposits. A network of insulated ducts conveyed warm air, driven by electric fans, around the ship, and First Class cabins were fitted with additional electric heaters.

Titanic‘s radiotelegraph equipment (then known as wireless telegraphy) was leased to the White Star Line by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company, which also supplied two of its employees, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, as operators. The service maintained a 24-hour schedule, primarily sending and receiving passenger telegrams, but also handling navigation messages including weather reports and ice warnings.

The radio room was located on the Boat Deck, in the officers’ quarters. A soundproofed “Silent Room”, next to the operating room, housed loud equipment, including the transmitter and a motor-generator used for producing alternating currents. The operators’ living quarters were adjacent to the working office. The ship was equipped with a ‘state of the art’ 5 kilowatt rotary spark-gap transmitter, operating under the radio callsign MGY, and communication was conducted in Morse code. This transmitter was one of the first Marconi installations to use a rotary spark gap, which gave Titanic a distinctive musical tone that could be readily distinguished from other signals. The transmitter was one of the most powerful in the world, and guaranteed to broadcast over a radius of 350 miles (563 km). An elevated T-antenna that spanned the length of the ship was used for transmitting and receiving. The normal operating frequency was 500 kHz (600 m wavelength), however the equipment could also operate on the “short” wavelength of 1000 kHz (300 m wavelength) that was employed by smaller vessels with shorter antennas.

Although Titanic was primarily a passenger liner, she also carried a substantial amount of cargo. Her designation as a Royal Mail Ship (RMS) indicated that she carried mail under contract with the Royal Mail (and also for the United States Post Office Department). For the storage of letters, parcels and specie (bullion, coins and other valuables) 26,800 cubic feet (760 m³) of space in her holds was allocated. The Sea Post Office on G Deck was manned by five postal clerks; three Americans and two Britons, who worked 13 hours a day, seven days a week sorting up to 60,000 items daily.

The ship’s passengers brought with them a huge amount of baggage; another 19,455 cubic feet (550.9 m³) was taken up by first- and second-class baggage. In addition, there was a considerable quantity of regular cargo, ranging from furniture to foodstuffs and even motor cars. Despite later myths, the cargo on Titanic‘s maiden voyage was fairly mundane; there was no gold, exotic minerals or diamonds, and one of the more famous items lost in the shipwreck, a jeweled copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, was valued at only £405 (£36,200 today). According to the claims for compensation filed with Commissioner Gilchrist, following the conclusion of the Senate Inquiry, the single most highly valued item of luggage or cargo was a large neoclassical oil painting entitled La Circassienne au Bain by French artist Merry-Joseph Blondel. The painting’s owner, first class passenger Mauritz Håkan Björnström-Steffansson, filed a claim for $100,000 ($2.4 million equivalent in 2014) in compensation for the loss of the artwork.

Titanic was equipped with eight electric cranes, four electric winches and three steam winches to lift cargo and baggage in and out of the hold. It is estimated that the ship used some 415 tons of coal whilst in Southampton, simply generating steam to operate the cargo winches and provide heat and light.

Titanic carried a total of 20 lifeboats: 14 standard wooden Harland and Wolff lifeboats with a capacity of 65 people each and four Englehardt “collapsible” (wooden bottom, collapsible canvas sides) lifeboats (identified as A to D) with a capacity of 47 people each. In addition, she had two emergency cutters with a capacity of 40 people each. Olympic herself did not even carry the four collapsibles A–D during the 1911–12 season. All of the lifeboats were stowed securely on the boat deck and, except for collapsible lifeboats A and B, connected to davits by ropes. Those on the starboard side were odd-numbered 1–15 from bow to stern, while those on the port side were even-numbered 2–16 from bow to stern.

Both cutters were kept swung out, hanging from the davits, ready for immediate use, while collapsible lifeboats C and D were stowed on the boat deck (connected to davits) immediately inboard of boats 1 and 2 respectively. A and B were stored on the roof of the officers’ quarters, on either side of number 1 funnel. There were no davits to lower them and their weight would make them difficult to launch by hand. Each boat carried (among other things) food, water, blankets, and a spare life belt. Lifeline ropes on the boats’ sides enabled them to save additional people from the water if necessary.

Titanic had 16 sets of davits, each able to handle four lifeboats. This gave Titanic the ability to carry up to 64 wooden lifeboats which would have been enough for 4,000 people — considerably more than her actual capacity. However, the White Star Line decided that only 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsibles would be carried, which could accommodate 1,178 people, only one-third of Titanic’s total capacity. At the time, the Board of Trade’s regulations required British vessels over 10,000 tons to only carry 16 lifeboats with a capacity of 990 occupants.

Therefore, the White Star Line actually provided more lifeboat accommodation than was legally required. At the time, lifeboats were intended to ferry survivors from a sinking ship to a rescuing ship — not keep afloat the whole population or power them to shore. Had the SS Californian responded to Titanic‘s distress calls, the lifeboats may have been adequate to ferry the passengers to safety as planned.

Both Olympic and Titanic registered Liverpool as their home port. The offices of the White Star Line as well as Cunard were in Liverpool, and up until the introduction of the Olympic, most British ocean liners for both Cunard and White Star, such as Lusitania and Mauretania, sailed out of Liverpool followed by a port of call in Queenstown, Ireland. Since the company’s founding in 1871, a vast majority of their operations had taken place out of Liverpool. However, in 1907 White Star established another service out of the port of Southampton on England’s south coast, which became known as White Star’s “Express Service”. Southampton had many advantages over Liverpool, the first being its proximity to London.

In addition, Southampton, being on the south coast, allowed ships to easily cross the English Channel and make a port of call on the northern coast of France, usually at Cherbourg. This allowed British ships to pick up clientele from continental Europe before recrossing the channel and picking up passengers at Queenstown. The Southampton-Cherbourg-New York run would become so popular that most British ocean liners began using the port after World War I. Out of respect for Liverpool, ships continued to be registered there until the early 1960s. Queen Elizabeth 2 was one of the first ships registered in Southampton when introduced into service by Cunard in 1969.

Titanic‘s maiden voyage was intended to be the first of many trans-Atlantic crossings between Southampton and New York via Cherbourg and Queenstown on westbound runs, returning via Plymouth in England while eastbound. Indeed, her entire schedule of voyages through to December 1912 still exists. When the route was established, four ships were assigned to the service. In addition to Teutonic and Majestic, the RMS Oceanic and the brand new RMS Adriatic sailed the route. When the Olympic entered service in June 1911, she replaced Teutonic, which after completing her last run on the service in late April was transferred to the Dominion Line’s Canadian service. The following August, Adriatic was transferred to White Star’s main Liverpool-New York service, and in November, Majestic was withdrawn from service impending the arrival of Titanic in the coming months, and was mothballed as a reserve ship.

White Star’s initial plans for Olympic and Titanic on the Southampton run followed the same routine as their predecessors had done before them. Each would sail once every three weeks from Southampton and New York, usually leaving at noon each Wednesday from Southampton and each Saturday from New York, thus enabling the White Star Line to offer weekly sailings in each direction. Special trains were scheduled from London and Paris to convey passengers to Southampton and Cherbourg respectively. The deep-water dock at Southampton, then known as the “White Star Dock”, had been specially constructed to accommodate the new Olympic-class liners, and had opened in 1911.

Titanic leaving Belfast for her sea trials, April 2, 1912
Titanic leaving Belfast for her sea trials, April 2, 1912

Titanic‘s sea trials began at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, April 2, 1912, just two days after her fitting out was finished and eight days before she was due to leave Southampton on her maiden voyage. The trials were delayed for a day due to bad weather, but by Monday morning it was clear and fair. Aboard were 78 stokers, greasers and firemen, and 41 members of crew. No domestic staff appear to have been aboard. Representatives of various companies traveled on Titanic‘s sea trials, Thomas Andrews and Edward Wilding of Harland and Wolff and Harold A. Sanderson of IMM. Bruce Ismay and Lord Pirrie were too ill to attend. Jack Phillips and Harold Bride served as radio operators, and performed fine-tuning of the Marconi equipment. Francis Carruthers, a surveyor from the Board of Trade, was also present to see that everything worked, and that the ship was fit to carry passengers.

The sea trials consisted of a number of tests of her handling characteristics, carried out first in Belfast Lough and then in the open waters of the Irish Sea. Over the course of about 12 hours, Titanic was driven at different speeds, the turning ability was tested and a “crash stop” was performed in which the engines were reversed full ahead to full astern, bringing her to a stop in 850 yards (777 m) or 3 minutes and 15 seconds. The ship covered a distance of about 80 nautical miles (92 miles; 150 km), averaging 18 knots (21 miles per hour; 33 km/h) and reaching a maximum speed of just under 21 knots (24 mph; 39 km/h).

On returning to Belfast at about 7 p.m., the surveyor signed an “Agreement and Account of Voyages and Crew”, valid for 12 months, which declared the ship seaworthy. An hour later, Titanic departed Belfast to head to Southampton, a voyage of about 570 nautical miles (660 mi; 1,060 km). After a journey lasting about 28 hours and arrived about midnight on April 4 and was towed to the port’s Berth 44, ready for the arrival of her passengers and the remainder of her crew.

Titanic‘s passengers on her maiden voyage numbered approximately 1,317 people: 324 in First Class, 284 in Second Class, and 709 in Third Class. Of these, 869 (66%) were male and 447 (34%) female. There were 107 children aboard, the largest number of which were in Third Class. The ship was considerably under capacity on her maiden voyage, as she could accommodate 2,453 passengers — 833 First Class, 614 Second Class, and 1,006 Third Class.

The passenger facilities aboard Titanic aimed to meet the highest standards of luxury. According to Titanic‘s general arrangement plans, the ship could accommodate 833 First Class Passengers, 614 in Second Class and 1,006 in Third Class, for a total passenger capacity of 2,453. In addition, her capacity for crew members exceeded 900, as most documents of her original configuration have stated that her full carrying capacity for both passengers and crew was approximately 3,547. Her interior design was a departure from that of other passenger liners, which had typically been decorated in the rather heavy style of a manor house or an English country house.

Titanic was laid out in a much lighter style similar to that of contemporary high-class hotels — the Ritz Hotel was a reference point — with First Class cabins finished in the Empire style. A variety of other decorative styles, ranging from the Renaissance to Louis XV, were used to decorate cabins and public rooms in First and Second Class areas of the ship. The aim was to convey an impression that the passengers were in a floating hotel rather than a ship; as one passenger recalled, on entering the ship’s interior a passenger would “at once lose the feeling that we are on board ship, and seem instead to be entering the hall of some great house on shore”.

Among the more novel features available to first-class passengers was a 7-foot deep saltwater swimming pool, a gymnasium, a squash court, and a Turkish bath which comprised electric bath, steam room, cool room, massage room, and hot room. First-class common rooms were impressive in scope and lavishly decorated. They included a Lounge in the style of the Palace of Versailles, an enormous Reception Room, a men’s Smoking Room, and a Reading and Writing Room. There was an À la Carte Restaurant in the style of the Ritz Hotel which was run as a concession by the famous Italian restaurateur Gaspare Gatti. A Café Parisien decorated in the style of a French sidewalk café, complete with ivy covered trellises and wicker furniture, was run as an annex to the restaurant. For an extra cost, first-class passengers could enjoy the finest French haute cuisine in the most luxurious of surroundings. There was also a Verandah Café where tea and light refreshments were served, that offered grand views of the ocean. At 114 feet long by 92 feet wide, the Dining Saloon on D-Deck was the largest room afloat and could seat almost 600 passengers at a time.

Third Class (commonly referred to as Steerage) accommodations aboard Titanic were not as luxurious as First or Second Class, but even so were better than on many other ships of the time. They reflected the improved standards which the White Star Line had adopted for trans-Atlantic immigrant and lower-class travel. On most other North Atlantic passenger ships at the time, Third Class accommodations consisted of little more than open dormitories in the forward end of the vessels, in which hundreds of people were confined, often without adequate food or toilet facilities.

The White Star Line had long since broken that mold. As seen aboard Titanic, all White Star Line passenger ships divided their Third Class accommodations into two sections, always at opposite ends of the vessel from one another. The established arrangement was that single men were quartered in the forward areas, while single women, married couples and families were quartered aft. In addition, while other ships provided only open berth sleeping arrangements, White Star Line vessels provided their Third Class passengers with private, small but comfortable cabins capable of accommodating two, four, six, eight and 10 passengers.

Third Class accommodations also included their own dining rooms, as well as public gathering areas including adequate open deck space, which aboard Titanic comprised the Poop Deck at the stern, the forward and aft well decks, and a large open space on D Deck which could be used as a social hall. This was supplemented by the addition of a smoking room for men and a General Room on C Deck which women could use for reading and writing. Although they were not as glamorous in design as spaces seen in upper class accommodations, they were still far above average for the period.

Leisure facilities were provided for all three classes to pass the time. As well as making use of the indoor amenities such as the library, smoking rooms, and gymnasium, it was also customary for passengers to socialize on the open deck, promenading or relaxing in hired deck chairs or wooden benches. A passenger list was published before the sailing to inform the public which members of the great and good were on board, and it was not uncommon for ambitious mothers to use the list to identify rich bachelors to whom they could introduce their marriageable daughters during the voyage.

One of Titanic‘s most distinctive features was her First Class staircase, known as the Grand Staircase or Grand Stairway. Built of solid English oak with a sweeping curve, the staircase descended through seven decks of the ship, between the Boat Deck to E deck, before terminating in a simplified single flight on F Deck. It was capped with a dome of wrought iron and glass that admitted natural light to the stairwell. Each landing off the staircase gave access to ornate entrance halls paneled in the William & Mary style and lit by ormolu and crystal light fixtures.

At the uppermost landing was a large carved wooden panel containing a clock, with figures of “Honour and Glory Crowning Time” flanking the clock face. The Grand Staircase was destroyed during the sinking and is now just a void in the ship which modern explorers have used to access the lower decks. During the filming of James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997, his replica of the Grand Staircase was ripped from its foundations by the force of the inrushing water on the set. It has been suggested that during the real event, the entire Grand Staircase was ejected upwards through the dome.

Titanic at Southampton, April 1912
Titanic at Southampton, April 1912

Usually, a high prestige vessel like Titanic could expect to be fully booked on its maiden voyage. However, a national coal strike in the U.K. had caused considerable disruption to shipping schedules in the spring of 1912, causing many crossings to be cancelled. Many would-be passengers chose to postpone their travel plans until the strike was over. The strike had finished a few days before Titanic sailed; however, that was too late to have much of an effect. Titanic was able to sail on the scheduled date only because coal was transferred from other vessels which were tied up at Southampton, such as SS City of New York and RMS Oceanic, as well as coal Olympic had brought back from a previous voyage to New York, which had been stored at the White Star Dock.

Some of the most prominent people of the day booked a passage aboard Titanic, travelling in First Class. Among them were the American millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madeleine Force Astor, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, Denver millionairess Margaret “Molly” Brown, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturière Lucy (Lady Duff-Gordon), cricketer and businessman John Borland Thayer with his wife Marian and son Jack, the Countess of Rothes, author and socialite Helen Churchill Candee, journalist and social reformer William Thomas Stead, author Jacques Futrelle with his wife May, and silent film actress Dorothy Gibson, among others. Titanic‘s owner J. P. Morgan was scheduled to travel on the maiden voyage but cancelled at the last minute. Also aboard the ship were the White Star Line’s managing director J. Bruce Ismay and Titanic‘s designer Thomas Andrews, who was on board to observe any problems and assess the general performance of the new ship.

The exact number of people aboard is not known, as not all of those who had booked tickets made it to the ship; about 50 people cancelled for various reasons, and not all of those who boarded stayed aboard for the entire journey. Fares varied depending on class and season. Third Class fares from London, Southampton, or Queenstown cost £7 5s (equivalent to £600 today) while the cheapest First Class fares cost £23 (£2,100 today). The most expensive First Class suites were to have cost up to £870 in high season (£78,000 today).

On Wednesday, April 10, 1912, Titanic‘s maiden voyage began. Following the embarkation of the crew the passengers began arriving from 9:30 a.m., when the London and South Western Railway’s boat train from London Waterloo station reached Southampton Terminus railway station on the quayside, alongside Titanic‘s berth. In all, 923 passengers boarded Titanic at Southampton, 179 First Class, 247 Second Class and 494 Third Class.

The large number of Third Class passengers meant they were the first to board, with First and Second Class passengers following up to an hour before departure. Stewards showed them to their cabins, and First Class passengers were personally greeted by Captain Smith on boarding. Third Class passengers were inspected for ailments and physical impairments that might lead to their being refused entry to the United States — a prospect the White Star Line wished to avoid, as it would have to carry anyone who failed the examination back across the Atlantic.

The maiden voyage began on time, at noon. An accident was narrowly averted only a few minutes later as Titanic passed the moored liners SS City of New York of the American Line and what would have been her running mate on the service from Southampton, White Star’s Oceanic. Her huge displacement caused both of the smaller ships to be lifted by a bulge of water and then drop into a trough. New York‘s mooring cables could not take the sudden strain and snapped, swinging her around stern-first towards Titanic. A nearby tugboat, Vulcan, came to the rescue by taking New York under tow, and Captain Smith ordered Titanic‘s engines to be put “full astern”. The two ships avoided a collision by a matter of about 4 feet (1.2 m). The incident delayed Titanic‘s departure for about an hour, while the drifting New York was brought under control.

After making it safely through the complex tides and channels of Southampton Water and the Solent, Titanic headed out into the English Channel. She headed for the French port of Cherbourg, a journey of 77 nautical miles (89 mi; 143 km). The weather was windy, very fine but cold and overcast. Because Cherbourg lacked docking facilities for a ship the size of Titanic, tenders had to be used to transfer passengers from shore to ship. The White Star Line operated two at Cherbourg, the SS Traffic and the SS Nomadic. Both had been designed specifically as tenders for the Olympic-class liners and were launched shortly after Titanic. Nomadic is today the only White Star Line ship still afloat.

Four hours after Titanic left Southampton, she arrived at Cherbourg and was met by the tenders. Two hundred and seventy-four additional passengers were taken aboard, 142 First Class, 30 Second Class, and 102 Third Class. Twenty-four passengers who had booked passage only cross-channel from Southampton left aboard the tenders to be conveyed to shore. The process was completed within only 90 minutes and at 8 p.m. Titanic weighed anchor and left for Queenstown with the weather continuing cold and windy.

Titanic at Queenstown, April 11, 1912
Titanic at Queenstown, April 11, 1912

At 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 11, Titanic arrived at Cobh Harbour (Queenstown) on the south coast of Ireland. It was a partly cloudy but relatively warm day, with a brisk wind. Again, the dock facilities were not suitable for a ship of Titanic‘s size, and tenders were used to bring passengers aboard. In all, 123 passengers boarded Titanic at Queenstown, 3 First Class, 7 Second Class and 113 Third Class. In addition to the 24 cross-channel passengers who had disembarked at Cherbourg, another seven passengers had booked an overnight passage from Southampton to Queenstown. Among the seven was Father Francis Browne, a Jesuit trainee, who was a keen photographer and took many photographs aboard Titanic, including the last-ever known photograph of the ship. A decidedly unofficial departure was that of a crew member, stoker John Coffey, a Queenstown native who sneaked off the ship by hiding under mail bags being transported to shore. Titanic weighed anchor for the last time at 1:30 p.m. and departed on her westward journey across the Atlantic.

Titanic was planned to arrive at New York Pier 54 on the morning of April 17. After leaving Queenstown, Titanic followed the Irish coast as far as Fastnet Rock, a distance of some 55 nautical miles (63 mi; 102 km). From there, she traveled 1,620 nautical miles (1,860 mi; 3,000 km) along a Great Circle route across the North Atlantic to reach a spot in the ocean known as “the corner” south-east of Newfoundland, where westbound steamers carried out a change of course. Titanic sailed only a few hours past the corner on a rhumb line leg of 1,023 nautical miles (1,177 mi; 1,895 km) to Nantucket Shoals Light when she made her fatal contact with an iceberg. The final leg of the journey would have been 193 nautical miles (222 mi; 357 km) to Ambrose Light and finally to New York Harbor.

Following the disaster the night of April 14-15, 1912, RMS Carpathia took three days to reach New York after leaving the scene of Titanic‘s sinking. Her journey was slowed by pack ice, fog, thunderstorms and rough seas. She was, however, able to pass news to the outside world by wireless about what had happened. The initial reports were confused, leading the American press to report erroneously on April 15 that Titanic was being towed to port by the SS Virginian.

London newsboy Ned Parfett with news of the disaster.
London newsboy Ned Parfett with news of the disaster.

Later that day, confirmation came through that Titanic had been lost and that most of her passengers and crew had died. The news attracted crowds of people to the White Star Line’s offices in London, New York, Montreal, Southampton, Liverpool and Belfast. It hit hardest in Southampton, whose people suffered the greatest losses from the sinking. Four out of every five crew members came from this town.

Carpathia docked at 9:30 p.m. on April 18 at New York’s Pier 54 and was greeted by some 40,000 people waiting at the quayside in heavy rain. Immediate relief in the form of clothing and transportation to shelters was provided by the Women’s Relief Committee, the Travelers Aid Society of New York, and the Council of Jewish Women, among other organizations. Many of Titanic‘s surviving passengers did not linger in New York but headed onwards immediately to relatives’ homes. Some of the wealthier survivors chartered private trains to take them home, and the Pennsylvania Railroad laid on a special train free of charge to take survivors to Philadelphia. Titanic‘s 214 surviving crew members were taken to the Red Star Line’s steamer SS Lapland, where they were accommodated in passenger cabins.

Carpathia was hurriedly restocked with food and provisions before resuming her journey to Fiume, Austria-Hungary. Her crew were given a bonus of a month’s wages by Cunard as a reward for their actions, and some of Titanic‘s passengers joined together to give them an additional bonus of nearly £900 (£80,000 today), divided among the crew members.

The ship’s arrival in New York led to a frenzy of press interest, with newspapers competing to be the first to report the survivors’ stories. Some reporters bribed their way aboard the pilot boat New York, which guided Carpathia into harbor, and one even managed to get onto Carpathia before she docked. Crowds gathered outside newspaper offices to see the latest reports being posted in the windows or on billboards. It took another four days for a complete list of casualties to be compiled and released, adding to the agony of relatives waiting for news of those who had been aboard Titanic.

Many charities were set up to help the victims and their families, many of whom lost their sole breadwinner, or, in the case of many Third Class survivors, everything they owned. On April 29, opera stars Enrico Caruso and Mary Garden and members of the Metropolitan Opera raised $12,000 ($300,000 today) in benefits for victims of the disaster by giving special concerts in which versions of “Autumn” and “Nearer My God To Thee” were part of the program. In Britain, relief funds were organized for the families of Titanic‘s lost crew members, raising nearly £450,000 (£40,000,000 today). One such fund was still in operation as late as the 1960s.

Even before the survivors arrived in New York, investigations were being planned to discover what had happened, and what could be done to prevent a recurrence. Inquiries were held in both the United States and United Kingdom, the former more robustly critical of traditions and practices, and scathing of the failures involved, and the latter broadly more technical and expert-oriented. Each inquiry took testimony from both passengers and crew of Titanic, crew members of Leyland Line’s Californian, Captain Arthur Rostron of Carpathia and other experts. The British inquiry also took far greater expert testimony, making it the longest and most detailed court of inquiry in British history up to that time. The two inquiries reached broadly similar conclusions: the regulations on the number of lifeboats that ships had to carry were out of date and inadequate, Captain Smith had failed to take proper heed of ice warnings, the lifeboats had not been properly filled or crewed, and the collision was the direct result of steaming into a dangerous area at too high a speed.

The recommendations included strong suggestions for major changes in maritime regulations to implement new safety measures, such as ensuring that more lifeboats were provided, that lifeboat drills were properly carried out and that wireless equipment on passenger ships was manned around the clock. An International Ice Patrol was set up to monitor the presence of icebergs in the North Atlantic, and maritime safety regulations were harmonized internationally through the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea; both measures are still in force today.

Once the massive loss of life became known, White Star Line chartered the cable ship CS Mackay-Bennett from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to retrieve bodies. Three other Canadian ships followed in the search: the cable ship Minia, lighthouse supply ship Montmagny and sealing vessel Algerine. Each ship left with embalming supplies, undertakers, and clergy. Of the 333 victims that were eventually recovered, 328 were retrieved by the Canadian ships and five more by passing North Atlantic steamships.

The first ship to reach the site of the sinking, the CS Mackay-Bennett, found so many bodies that the embalming supplies aboard were quickly exhausted. Health regulations required that only embalmed bodies could be returned to port. Captain Larnder of the Mackay-Bennett and undertakers aboard decided to preserve only the bodies of first class passengers, justifying their decision by the need to visually identify wealthy men to resolve any disputes over large estates. As a result, many third class passengers and crew were buried at sea. Larnder identified many of those buried at sea as crew members by their clothing, and stated that as a mariner, he himself would be contented to be buried at sea.

Markers of Titanic victims, Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Markers of Titanic victims, Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Bodies recovered were preserved for transport to Halifax, the closest city to the sinking with direct rail and steamship connections. The Halifax coroner, John Henry Barnstead, developed a detailed system to identify bodies and safeguard personal possessions. Relatives from across North America came to identify and claim bodies. A large temporary morgue was set up in the curling rink of the Mayflower Curling Club and undertakers were called in from all across eastern Canada to assist. Some bodies were shipped to be buried in their home towns across North America and Europe. About two-thirds of the bodies were identified. Unidentified victims were buried with simple numbers based on the order in which their bodies were discovered. The majority of recovered victims, 150 bodies, were buried in three Halifax cemeteries, the largest being Fairview Lawn Cemetery followed by the nearby Mount Olivet and Baron de Hirsch cemeteries.

In mid-May 1912, RMS Oceanic recovered three bodies over 200 miles (320 km) from the site of the sinking who were among the original occupants of Collapsible A. When Fifth Officer Harold Lowe and six crewmen returned to the wreck site sometime after the sinking in a lifeboat to pick up survivors, they rescued a dozen males and one female from Collapsible A, but left the dead bodies of three of its occupants. After their retrieval from Collapsible A by Oceanic, the bodies were buried at sea.

The last Titanic body recovered was steward James McGrady, Body No. 330, found by the chartered Newfoundland sealing vessel Algerine on May 22, 1912, and buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax on June 12.

Only 333 bodies of Titanic victims were recovered, one in five of the over 1500 victims. Some bodies sank with the ship while currents quickly dispersed bodies and wreckage across hundreds of miles making them difficult to recover. By June, one of the last search ships reported that life jackets supporting bodies were coming apart and releasing bodies to sink.

Almost immediately after Titanic sank, proposals were advanced to salvage her from her resting place in the North Atlantic Ocean, despite her exact location and condition being unknown. The families of several wealthy victims of the disaster — the Guggenheims, Astors, and Wideners —formed a consortium and contracted the Merritt and Chapman Derrick and Wrecking Company to raise Titanic. The project was soon abandoned as impractical as the divers could not even reach a significant fraction of the necessary depth, where the pressure is over 6,000 pounds per square inch (410 bar). The lack of submarine technology at the time as well as the outbreak of World War I also put off such a project. The company considered dropping dynamite on the wreck to dislodge bodies which would float to the surface, but finally gave up after oceanographers suggested that the extreme pressure would have compressed the bodies into gelatinous lumps.

In later years, numerous proposals were put forward to salvage Titanic. However, all fell afoul of practical and technological difficulties, a lack of funding and, in many cases, a lack of understanding of the physical conditions at the wreck site. Charles Smith, an architect from Denver, proposed in March 1914 to attach electromagnets to a submarine which would be irresistibly drawn to the wreck’s steel hull. Having found its exact position, more electromagnets would be sent down from a fleet of barges which would winch Titanic to the surface. An estimated cost of $1.5 million (£35,451,827 today) and its impracticality meant that the idea was not put into practice. Another proposal involved raising Titanic by means of attaching balloons to her hull using electromagnets. Once enough balloons had been attached, the ship would float gently to the surface. Again, the idea got no further than the drawing board.

In the mid-1960s, a hosiery worker from Baldock named Douglas Woolley devised a plan to find Titanic using a bathyscaphe (like Trieste, used to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 1960) and raise the wreck by inflating nylon balloons that would be attached to her hull. The declared objective was to “bring the wreck into Liverpool and convert it to a floating museum.” The Titanic Salvage Company was established to manage the scheme and a group of businessmen from West Berlin set up an entity called Titanic-Tresor to support it financially. It fell apart when its proponents found they could not overcome the problem of how the balloons would be inflated in the first place. Calculations showed that it could take ten years to generate enough gas to overcome the water pressure.

A variety of audacious but equally impractical schemes were put forward during the 1970s. One proposal called for 180,000 tons of molten wax (or alternatively, Vaseline) to be pumped into Titanic, lifting her to the surface. Another proposal involved filling Titanic with ping-pong balls, but overlooked the fact that the balls would be crushed by the pressure long before reaching the depth of the wreck. A similar idea involving the use of Benthos glass spheres, which could survive the pressure, was scuppered when the cost of the number of spheres required was put at over $238 million. An unemployed haulage contractor from Walsall named Arthur Hickey proposed to turn Titanic into an iceberg, freezing the water around the wreck to encase it in a buoyant jacket of ice. This, being lighter than liquid water, would float to the surface and could be towed to shore. The BOC Group calculated that this would require half a million tons of liquid nitrogen to be pumped down to the sea bed.

In his 1976 thriller Raise the Titanic!, author Clive Cussler’s hero Dirk Pitt repairs the holes in Titanic’s hull, pumps it full of compressed air and succeeds in making it “leap out of the waves like a modern submarine blowing its ballast tanks”, a scene depicted on the posters of the subsequent film of the book. Although this was an “artistically stimulating” highlight of the film, made using a 55-foot (17 m) model of Titanic, it would not have been physically possible. At the time of the book’s writing, it was still believed that she sank in one piece.

Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution had long been interested in finding Titanic. Despite early negotiations with possible backers being abandoned when it emerged that they wanted to turn the wreck into souvenir paperweights, more sympathetic backers joined Ballard to form a company named Seasonics International Ltd. as a vehicle for rediscovering and exploring Titanic. In October 1977, he made his first attempt to find the ship with the aid of the Alcoa Corporation’s deep sea salvage vessel Seaprobe. This was essentially a drillship with sonar equipment and cameras attached to the end of the drilling pipe. It could lift objects from the seabed using a remote-controlled mechanical claw. The expedition ended in failure when the drilling pipe broke, sending 3,000 feet (910 m) of pipe and $600,000 worth of electronics plunging to the sea bed.

In 1978, The Walt Disney Company and National Geographic magazine considered mounting a joint expedition to find Titanic, using the aluminium submersible Aluminaut. Titanic would have been well within the submersible’s depth limits, but the plans were abandoned for financial reasons.

The following year, the British billionaire financier and tycoon Sir James Goldsmith set up Seawise & Titanic Salvage Ltd. with the involvement of underwater diving and photographic experts. His aim was to use the publicity of finding Titanic to promote his newly established magazine, NOW!. An expedition to the North Atlantic was scheduled for 1980 but was cancelled due to financial difficulties. A year later, NOW! folded after 84 issues with Goldsmith incurring huge financial losses.

Fred Koehler, an electronics repairman from Coral Gables, Florida, sold his electronics shop to finance the completion of a two-man deep-sea submersible called Seacopter. He planned to dive to Titanic, enter the hull and retrieve a fabulous collection of diamonds rumored to be contained in the purser’s safe. However, he was unable to obtain financial backing for his planned expedition. Another proposal involved using a semi-submersible platform mounted with cranes, resting on two watertight supertankers, that would winch the wreck off the seabed and carry it to shore. A proponent was quoted as saying, “It’s like the Great Wall of China — given enough time and money and people, you can do anything.” Time, money and people were not forthcoming and the proposal got no further than any of its predecessors.

On July 17, 1980, an expedition sponsored by Texan oilman Jack Grimm set off from Port Everglades, Florida, in the research vessel H.J.W. Fay. Grimm had previously sponsored expeditions to find Noah’s Ark, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the giant hole in the North Pole predicted by the pseudoscientific Hollow Earth hypothesis. To raise funds for his Titanic expedition, he obtained sponsorship from friends with whom he played poker, sold media rights through the William Morris Agency, commissioned a book, and obtained the services of Orson Welles to narrate a documentary. He acquired scientific support from Columbia University by donating $330,000 to the Lamont–Doherty Geological Observatory for the purchase of a wide-sweep sonar, in exchange for five years’ use of the equipment and the services of technicians to support it. Drs. William B. Ryan of Columbia University and Fred Spiess of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California joined the expedition as consultants. They nearly stayed ashore when Grimm introduced them to a new consultant — a monkey called Titan, which was trained to point at a spot on the map to supposedly indicate where Titanic was. The scientists issued an ultimatum: “It’s either us or the monkey.” Grimm preferred the monkey, but was prevailed upon to leave it behind and bring the scientists instead.

The results were inconclusive, as three weeks of surveying in almost continuous bad weather during July and August 1980 failed to find Titanic. The problem was exacerbated by technological limitations; the Sea MARC sonar used by the expedition had a relatively low resolution and was a new and untested piece of equipment. It was nearly lost only 36 hours after it was first deployed when the tail was ripped off during a sharp turn, destroying the magnetometer, which would have been vital for detecting Titanic‘s hull. Nonetheless it managed to survey an area of some 500 square nautical miles and identified 14 possible targets.

Grimm mounted a second expedition in June 1981 aboard the research vessel Gyre, with Spiess and Ryan again joining the expedition. To increase their chances of finding the wreck, the team employed a much more capable sonar device, the Scripps Deep Tow. The weather was again very poor, but all 14 of the targets were successfully covered and found to be natural features. On the last day of the expedition, an object that looked like a propeller was found. Grimm announced on his return to Boston that Titanic had been found, but the scientists declined to endorse his identification.

In July 1983, Grimm went back a third time with Ryan aboard the research vessel Robert D. Conrad to have another look at the “propeller”. This time nothing was found and very bad weather brought an early end to the expedition. It later turned out that Sea MARC had actually passed over Titanic but had failed to detect it, while Deep Tow passed within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the wreck.

D. Michael Harris and Jack Grimm had failed to find Titanic but their expeditions did succeed in producing fairly detailed mapping of the area in which the ship had sunk. It was clear that the position given in Titanic‘s distress signals was inaccurate, which was a major expedition difficulty because it increased the search area’s already-massive size. Despite the failure of his 1977 expedition, Robert Ballard had not given up hope and devised new technologies and a new search strategy to tackle the problem. The new technology was a system called Argo / Jason. This consisted of a remotely controlled deep-sea vehicle called Argo, equipped with sonar and cameras and towed behind a ship, with a robot called Jason tethered to it that could roam the sea floor, take close-up images and gather specimens. The images from the system would be transmitted back to a control room on the towing vessel where they could be assessed immediately. Although it was designed for scientific purposes, it also had important military applications and the United States Navy agreed to sponsor the system’s development, on condition that it was to be used to carry out a number of program — many still classified — for the Navy.

The Navy commissioned Ballard and his team to carry out a month-long expedition every year for four years, to keep Argo / Jason in good working condition. It agreed to Ballard’s proposal to use some of the time to search for Titanic once the Navy’s objectives had been met; the search would provide an ideal opportunity to test Argo / Jason. In 1984, the Navy sent Ballard and Argo to map the wrecks of the sunken nuclear submarines USS Thresher and USS Scorpion, lost in the North Atlantic at depths of up to 9,800 feet (3,000 m). The expedition found the submarines and made an important discovery. As Thresher and Scorpion sank, debris spilled out from them across a wide area of the seabed and was sorted by the currents, so that light debris drifted furthest away from the site of the sinking. This “debris field” was far larger than the wrecks themselves. By following the comet-like trail of debris, the main pieces of wreckage could be found.

RV Le_Suroît
RV Le_Suroît

A second expedition to map the wreck of Scorpion was mounted in 1985. Only twelve days of search time would be left at the end of the expedition to look for Titanic. As Harris/Grimm’s unsuccessful efforts had taken more than forty days, Ballard decided that extra help would be needed. He approached the French national oceanographic agency, IFREMER, with which Woods Hole had previously collaborated. The agency had recently developed a high-resolution side-scan sonar called SAR and agreed to send a research vessel, Le Suroît, to survey the sea bed in the area where Titanic was believed to lie. The idea was for the French to use the sonar to find likely targets, and then for the Americans to use Argo to check out the targets and hopefully confirm whether they were in fact the wreck. The French team spent five weeks, from July 5 to August 12, 1985, “mowing the lawn” — sailing back and forth across the 150-square mile (390 km²) target area to scan the sea bed in a series of stripes. However, they found nothing, though it turned out that they had passed within a few hundred yards of Titanic in their first run.

Ballard realized that looking for the wreck itself using sonar was unlikely to be successful and adopted a different tactic, drawing on the experience of the surveys of Thresher and Scorpion; he would look for the debris field instead, using Argo‘s cameras rather than sonar. Whereas sonar could not distinguish man-made debris on the sea bed from natural objects, cameras could. The debris field would also be a far bigger target, stretching a mile (1.6 km) or longer, whereas Titanic itself was only 90 feet (27 m) wide. The search required round-the-clock towing of Argo back and forth above the sea bed, with shifts of watchers aboard the research vessel Knorr looking at the camera pictures for any sign of debris. After a week of fruitless searching, at 12.48 am on Sunday, September 1, 1985 pieces of debris began to appear on Knorr‘s screens. One of them was identified as a boiler, identical to those shown in photographs from 1911. The following day, the main part of the wreck was found and Argo sent back the first pictures of Titanic since her sinking 73 years before. The discovery made headlines around the world.

First image of one of Titanic's boilers as photographed by Argo on September 1, 1985
First image of one of Titanic’s boilers as captured by Argo on September 1, 1985

The wreck of the RMS Titanic lies at a depth of about 12,500 feet (3,800 m) or 2.37 miles (3.81 km), about 370 miles (600 km) south-southeast off the coast of Newfoundland. It lies in two main pieces about a third of a mile (600 m) apart. Both sections struck the sea bed at considerable speed, causing the bow to crumple and the stern to collapse entirely. The bow is by far the more intact section and still contains some surprisingly intact interiors, despite its deterioration and the damage it sustained hitting the sea floor. In contrast, the stern is completely wrecked; its decks have pancaked down on top of each other and much of the hull plating was torn off and lies scattered across the sea floor. The much greater level of damage to the stern is probably due to structural damage incurred during the sinking. Thus weakened, the remainder of the stern was flattened by the impact with the sea bed.

The two main parts of the wreck present a striking contrast. Although fourteen survivors testified that the ship had broken apart as she sank, this testimony was discounted by the official inquiries, and it was supposed that the ship had sunk intact. It is now clear that the stresses on Titanic caused the ship to split apart between the second and third funnels at or just below the surface.

The bow section, which measures about 470 feet (140 m) long, is thought to have descended at an angle of about 45°. Its distance from the stern was caused by its planing forward horizontally by about 1 foot (0.30 m) for every 6 feet (1.8 m) of its descent. During the descent to the sea bed, the funnels were swept away, taking with them the rigging and large lengths of cables. These dragged along the boat deck, tearing away many of the davits and much of the other deck equipment. The foremast was also torn down, falling onto the port bridge area. The ship’s wheelhouse was swept away, possibly after being hit by the falling foremast.

The bow hit the bottom at a speed of about 20 knots (23 mph; 37 km/h), digging about 60 feet (18 m) deep into the mud, up to the base of the anchors. The impact bent the hull in two places and caused it to buckle downwards by about 10° under the forward well deck cranes and by about 4° under the forward expansion joint. When the bow section hit the sea bed, the weakened decks at the rear, where the ship had broken apart, collapsed on top of each other. The forward hatch cover was also blown off and landed a couple of hundred feet in front of the bow, possibly due to the force of water being pushed out as the bow impacted the bottom.

The area around the bridge is particularly badly damaged; as Robert Ballard has put it, it looks “as if it had been squashed by a giant’s fist”. The roof of the officers’ quarters and the sides of the gymnasium appear pushed in, railings were bent outwards and vertical steel columns supporting the decks were bent into a C-shape. Charles R. Pellegrino has proposed that this was the result of a “down-blast” of water, caused by a slipstream that had followed the bow section as it fell towards the sea bed. According to Pellegrino’s hypothesis, when the bow came to an abrupt halt the inertia of the slipstream caused a rapidly moving column of water weighing thousands of tons to strike the top of the wreck, striking it near the bridge. This, argues Pellegrino, caused large parts of the bow’s interior to be demolished by surges of water and violent eddies kicked up by the wreck’s sudden halt. The damage caused by the collision with the iceberg is not visible at the bow as it is buried under mud.

Despite the exterior devastation caused by the bow’s descent and collision with the ocean floor, there are parts of the interior in reasonably good condition. The bow’s slow flooding and its relatively smooth descent to the sea floor mitigated interior damage. The stairwell of the First-Class Grand Staircase between the Boat Deck and E Deck is an empty chasm within the wreck, providing a convenient point of access for ROVs. Dense rusticles hanging from the steel decking combined with the deep layers of silt that have accumulated in the interior make navigating the wreck disorienting.

Passenger staterooms have largely deteriorated because they were framed in perishable softwoods like teak and pine, leaving a warren of hanging electrical wire, light fixtures and debris interspersed with more durable items like brass bed frames, light fixtures, and marble-topped washstands. Woodwork with attachments like doorknobs, drawer-pulls or push-plates survive in better condition because of the small electric charge emitted by metal which repels fish and other harmful organisms. On the whole hardwoods like mahogany, the material for most stateroom furnishings, is more resistant to decay. Lavatories and bathrooms within the passenger quarters survive because they were framed in steel.

The only intact public rooms remaining in either the stern or bow sections are the First-Class Reception Room and Dining Saloon, both on D-Deck. Most of the Dining Saloon has collapsed because of its proximity to the break-up point midships, but the very forward part is accessible and the rectangular leaded glass windows, table bases, and ceiling lamps are noticeably preserved. The Reception Room with its leaded glass windows and mahogany paneling remains remarkably intact, although the ceiling is sagging and there is a deep layer of silt obstructing the floor. The Turkish Baths on F-Deck were found to be in excellent condition during their rediscovery in 2005, preserving the blue-green tiles, carved teak woodwork, bronze lamps, and inlaid furniture. The Grand Staircase was very likely destroyed during the sinking, but the surrounding First-Class foyers and elevator entrances preserve many of the ormolu and crystal lamps, oak timbers, and oak-framed stanchions.

In addition to the passenger areas, crew areas like the Firemen’s Mess, dormitories, parts of “Scotland Road” on E-Deck and the cargo holds on the Orlop Deck have also been explored. The Ghosts of the Abyss expedition in 2001 attempted to locate the famed Renault automobile belonging to William Carter, but the cargo was indistinguishable beneath the silt and rusticles.

The stern section, which measures about 350 feet (110 m) long, was catastrophically damaged during the descent and in landing on the sea bed. It had not fully filled with water when it sank and the increasing water pressure caused trapped air pockets to implode, tearing apart the hull. Data from a sonar map made during a 2010 expedition showed that the stern section rotated like a helicopter blade as it sank. The rudder appears to have swung over to an angle of about 30–45° during the stern’s descent, causing the section to follow a tight spiral to the bottom. It probably struck rudder-first, burying most of the rudder in the mud up to a depth of 50 feet (15 m). The decks pancaked on top of each other and the hull plating splayed out to the sides of the shattered section. The pancaking is so severe that the combined height of the decks, which are piled up on top of the reciprocating engines, is now generally not more than about 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) high. No individual deck is more than about 1 foot (30 cm) high.

Large sections of the hull plating seem to have fallen off well before the wreck hit the bottom. One such section, thought to have been from the galleys, separated from the stern in one piece and landed nearby. The force of the water tore up the poop deck and folded it back on itself. The center propeller is totally buried, while the force of the impact caused the two wing propellers and shafts to be bent upwards by an angle of about 20°.

A large V-shaped section of the ship just aft of midships, running from the keel upwards through Number 1 Boiler Room and upwards to cover the area under the third and fourth funnels, was believed to have disintegrated entirely when the ship broke up. This was one of the weakest parts of the ship as a result of the presence of two large open spaces — the forward end of the engine room and the aft First Class passenger staircase. The rest of this part of the ship are scattered across the seabed at distances of 130 to 260 feet (40 to 79 m) from the main part of the stern. During the 2010 expedition to map the wreck site, a major chunk of the deck house (the base of the third funnel) along with pieces of the third funnel was found. This showed that instead of simply disintegrating into a mass of debris, large sections of the ship broke off in chunks and that the ship broke in half between the second and third funnels, not the third and fourth funnels. Five of the boilers from Number 1 Boiler Room came loose during its disintegration and landed in the debris field around the stern. Experts believe that this tight cluster of the boilers marks the hypocenter of where the ship broke up 12,000 feet above. The rest of the boilers are still presumably located in the bow section.

As Titanic broke apart, many objects and pieces of hull were scattered across the sea bed. There are two debris fields in the vicinity of the wreck, each between 2,000–2,600 feet (610–729 m) long, trailing in a south-westerly direction from the bow and stern and measuring approximately 5 by 3 miles (8.0 km × 4.8 km). They cover an area of about 2 square miles (5.2 km²). Most of the debris is concentrated near the stern section of Titanic. It consists of thousands of objects from the interior of the ship, ranging from tons of coal spilled from ruptured bunkers to suitcases, clothes, corked wine bottles (many still intact despite the pressure), bathtubs, windows, washbasins, jugs, bowls, hand mirrors and numerous other personal effects. The debris field was the last resting place of a number of Titanic‘s victims. Most of the bodies and clothes were consumed by sea creatures and bacteria, leaving pairs of shoes and boots — which have proved to be inedible — as the only sign that bodies once lay there. The debris field also includes numerous pieces of the ship itself, with the largest pieces of debris in the vicinity of the partially disintegrated stern section.

The position of the wreck is a considerable distance from the location transmitted by the ship’s wireless operators before she went down. The initial location was given as 41°44′N 50°24′W, 20.8 miles (33.5 km) from the wreck. A corrected location was later transmitted as 41°46′N 50°14′W, but this too was inaccurate, by 13.2 miles (21.2 km). Titanic is in two main pieces 370 miles (600 km) south-east of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland. The bow is located at 41°43′57″N 49°56′49″W and the stern is about 1,970 feet (600 m) to the south at 41°43′35″N 49°56′54″W. The boilers found by Argo, which mark the point at which the ship went down, are about 600 feet (180 m) east of the stern at 41°43′32″N 49°56′49″W.

Following his discovery of the wreck site, Ballard returned to Titanic in July 1986 aboard the research vessel RV Atlantis II. Now the deep-diving submersible DSV Alvin could take people back to Titanic for the first time since her sinking, and the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason Jr. would allow the explorers to investigate the interior of the wreck. Another system, ANGUS, was used to carry out photo surveys of the debris field. Jason Jr. descended the ruined Grand Staircase as far as B Deck, and photographed remarkably well preserved interiors, including some chandeliers still hanging from the ceilings.

Between July 25 and September 10, 1987, an expedition mounted by IFREMER and a consortium of American investors which included George Tulloch, G. Michael Harris, D. Michael Harris and Ralph White made 32 dives to Titanic using the submersible Nautile. Controversially, they salvaged and brought ashore more than 1,800 objects. A joint Russian-Canadian-American expedition took place in 1991 using the research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh and its two MIR submersibles. Sponsored by Stephen Low and IMAX, CBS, National Geographic and others, the expedition carried out extensive scientific research with a crew of 130 scientists and engineers. The MIRs carried out 17 dives, spending over 140 hours at the bottom, shooting 40,000 feet (12,000 m) of IMAX film. This was used to create the 1995 documentary film Titanica, which was later released in the US on DVD in a re-edited version narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

Titanic's bow
Titanic’s bow
Titanic's stern
Titanic’s stern

IFREMER and RMS Titanic Inc., the successors to the sponsors of the 1987 expedition, returned to the wreck with Nautile and the ROV Robin in June 1993. Over the course of fifteen days, Nautile made fifteen dives lasting between eight and twelve hours. Another 800 artefacts were recovered during the expedition including a two-tonne piece of a reciprocating engine, a lifeboat davit and the steam whistle from the ship’s forward funnel.

In 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2000, RMS Titanic Inc. carried out an intensive series of dives that led to the recovery of over 4,000 items in the first two expeditions alone. The 1996 expedition controversially attempted to raise a section of Titanic itself, a section of the outer hull that originally comprised part of the wall of two First Class cabins on C Deck, extending down to D Deck. It weighed 20 tons, measured 15 by 25 feet (4.6 m × 7.6 m) and had four portholes in it, three of which still had glass in them. The section had come loose either during the sinking or as a result of the impact with the sea bed. Its recovery using diesel-filled flotation bags was turned into something of an entertainment event with two cruise ships accompanying the expedition to the wreck site. Passengers were offered the chance, at $5,000 per person, to watch the recovery on television screens in their cabins while enjoying luxury accommodation, Las Vegas-style shows and casino gambling aboard the ships. Various celebrities were recruited to enliven the proceedings, including Burt Reynolds, Debbie Reynolds and Buzz Aldrin, and “Grand Receptions” for VIPs were scheduled on-shore where the hull section would be displayed. However, the lift ended disastrously when rough weather caused the ropes supporting the bags to snap. At the moment the ropes broke, the hull section had been lifted to within only 200 feet (61 m) of the surface. It hurtled 12,000 feet (3,700 m) back down, embedding itself upright on the sea floor. Although the attempt was strongly criticized by marine archaeologists, scientists and historians as a money-making publicity stunt, a second, successful attempt to lift the fragment was carried out in 1998. The so-called “Big Piece” was conserved in a laboratory in Santa Fe for two years before being put on display at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 1995, Canadian director James Cameron chartered the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh and the MIRs to make 12 dives to Titanic. He used the resulting footage to considerable effect in his blockbuster 1997 film Titanic. The discovery of the wreck in 1985 and a National Geographic documentary of Ballard’s 1986 expedition had inspired Cameron to write a synopsis in 1987 of what eventually became the film Titanic: “Do story with bookends of present day scene of wreck using submersibles intercut with memories of a survivor and re-created scenes of the night of the sinking. A crucible of human values under stress.” Cameron’s expedition did not salvage anything from the ship.

One of Titanic's ship telegraphs, a device which told the engine room the bridge's orders for speed, lies in the wreck's debris field. Image ©1995 Ralph White/CORBIS
One of Titanic’s ship telegraphs, a device which told the engine room the bridge’s orders for speed, lies in the wreck’s debris field. Image ©1995 Ralph White/CORBIS
This photo provided by the Institute for Exploration, Center for Archaeological Oceanography/University of Rhode Island/NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, shows The remains of a coat and boots, articulated in the mud on the sea bed near Titanic's stern, are suggestive evidence of where a victim of the disaster came to rest. (AP Photo/Institute for Exploration, Center for Archaeological Oceanography/University of Rhode Island/NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration) Photo taken April 14, 2012
This photo provided by the Institute for Exploration, Center for Archaeological Oceanography/University of Rhode Island/NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, shows The remains of a coat and boots, articulated in the mud on the sea bed near Titanic’s stern, are suggestive evidence of where a victim of the disaster came to rest. (AP Photo/Institute for Exploration, Center for Archaeological Oceanography/University of Rhode Island/NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration) Photo taken April 14, 2012

The 2000 expedition by RMS Titanic Inc. carried out 28 dives during which over 800 artifacts were recovered, including the ship’s engine telegraphs, perfume vials and watertight door gears. In 2001, an American couple — David Leibowitz and Kimberly Miller — caused controversy when they were married aboard a submersible that had set down on the bow of Titanic, in a deliberate echo of a famous scene from James Cameron’s 1997 film. The wedding was essentially a publicity stunt, sponsored by a British company called SubSea Explorer which had offered a free dive to Titanic that Leibowitz had won. He asked whether his fiancée could come too and was told that she could — but only if she agreed to get married during the trip. The same company also brought along Philip Littlejohn, the grandson of one of Titanic‘s surviving crew members, who became the first relative of a Titanic passenger or crew member to visit the wreck. Cameron himself also returned to Titanic in 2001 to carry out filming for Walt Disney Pictures’ Ghosts of the Abyss, filmed in 3D.

In 2003 and 2004, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration carried out two expeditions to Titanic. The first, carried out between June 22 and July 2, 2003, performed four dives in two days. Its key aims were to assess the current condition of the wreck site and carry out scientific observations to support ongoing research. The stern section, which had previously received relatively little attention from explorers, was specifically targeted for analysis. The microbial colonies aboard Titanic were also a key focus of investigation. The second expedition, from May 27 to June 12, 2004, saw the return of Robert Ballard to Titanic nearly 20 years after he discovered it. The expedition spent 11 days on the wreck, carrying out high-resolution mapping using video and stereoscopic still images.

In 2005, two expeditions were made to the Titanic. James Cameron returned for the third and last time to film Last Mysteries of the Titanic. Another expedition searched for previously unseen pieces of wreckage, and led to the documentary Titanic’s Final Moments: Missing Pieces.

RMS Titanic Inc. mounted further expeditions to Titanic in 2004 and 2010, when the first comprehensive map of the entire debris field was produced. Two autonomous underwater vehicles — torpedo-shaped robots — repeatedly ran backwards and forwards across the 3 by 5 miles (4.8 km × 8.0 km) debris field, taking sonar scans and over 130,000 high-resolution images. This enabled a detailed photomosaic of the debris field to be created for the first time, giving scientists a much clearer view of the dynamics of the ship’s sinking. The expedition encountered difficulties: several hurricanes passed over the wreck site, and the Remora ROV was caught in a piece of wreckage. This same year saw the discovery of the new bacteria living in the rusticles on the Titanic, Halomonas titanicae.

Tourist and scientific visits to Titanic are still continuing; by April 2012, 100 years since the disaster and nearly 25 since the discovery of the wreck, around 140 people had visited. On April 14, 2012, the wreck of the Titanic became eligible for protection under the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. In the same month, Robert Ballard, the wreck’s discoverer, announced a plan to preserve the wreck of the Titanic by using deep-sea robots to paint the wreck with anti-fouling paint, to help keep the wreck in its current state for all time. The proposed plan that Ballard announced has been outlined in a documentary made to time with the Titanic‘s 100th sinking anniversary called Save the Titanic With Bob Ballard where Ballard himself talks about how this proposed paint job on the wreck will work. Ballard says that he proposed to robotically clean and repaint the Titanic with a color scheme mimicking rusticles because he saw “original anti-fouling paint on the ship’s hull, which was still working even after 74 years on the seabed” when he visited the Titanic in 1986.

Prior to the discovery of Titanic‘s wreck, in addition to the common assumption that she had sunk in one piece, it had been widely believed that conditions at 12,000 feet down would preserve the ship virtually intact. The water is bitterly cold at only about 1–2 °C (34–36 °F), there is no light and the high pressure was thought to be likely to lower oxygen and salinity levels to the point that organisms would not be able to gain a foothold on the wreck. Titanic would effectively be in a deep freeze. The reality has turned out to be very different, and the ship has increasingly deteriorated since she sank in April 1912. Her gradual decay is due to a number of different processes — physical, chemical and biological. She is situated on an undulating, gently sloping area of seabed in Titanic Canyon which is swept by the Western Boundary Current. Eddies from the current flow constantly across the wreck, scouring the sea bed and keeping sediment from building up over the hull. The current is strong and often changeable, gradually opening up holes in the ship’s hull. Salt corrosion eats away at the hull and it is also affected by galvanic corrosion.

Rusticles growing on either side of window frames on Titanic (2003)
Rusticles growing on either side of window frames on Titanic (2003)

The most dramatic deterioration has been caused by biological factors. It used to be thought that the depths of the ocean were a lifeless desert, but research carried out since the mid-1980s has found that the ocean floor is teeming with life and may rival the tropical rainforests for biodiversity. During the 1991 IMAX expedition, scientists were surprised by the variety of organisms that they found in and around Titanic. A total of 28 species were observed, including sea anemones, crabs, shrimp, starfish, and rattail fish up to a yard (1 m) long. Much larger creatures have been glimpsed by explorers. Some of Titanic‘s fauna has never been seen anywhere else; James Cameron’s 2001 expedition discovered a previously unknown type of sea cucumber, lavender with a glowing row of phosphorescent “portholes” along its side. A newly discovered species of rust-eating bacterium found on the ship has been named Halomonas titanicae, which has been found to cause rapid decay of the wreck. The Canadian geophysicist Steve Blasco has commented that the wreck “has become an oasis, a thriving ecosystem sitting in a vast desert.”

In mid 2016, using an imaging technique neutron radiation, the facilities of the Institut Laue-Langevin demonstrate that a molecule called ectoine is used by Halomonas titanicae to survive the osmotic pressure that causes salt water on their membranes. Analysis by Henrietta Mann (who discovered the bacteria) and Bhavleen Kaur, both of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in conjunction with other scientists and researchers of the University of Seville in Spain, has determined that the wreck of Titanic will not exist by 2037 and that preservation of Titanic is impossible. “Unfortunately, because Titanic is 2.3 miles down, it is very difficult or impossible to preserve. It is film which will preserve it for history now,” says Mann. “It has already lasted for 100 years, but eventually there will be nothing left but a rust stain on the bottom of the Atlantic… I think Titanic has maybe 15 or 20 years left. I don’t think it will have too much longer than that.” Other scientists have estimated that Titanic will last no longer than 14 years, as of 2017.

The soft organic material aboard and dispersed onto the seabed around the hull would have been the first to disappear, rapidly devoured by fish and crustaceans. Wood-boring molluscs such as Teredo colonized the ship’s decks and interior in huge numbers, eating away the wooden decking and other wooden objects such as furniture, paneling, doors and staircase banisters. When their food ran out they died, leaving behind calcareous tubes. The question of the victims’ bodies is one that has often troubled explorers of the wreck site. When the debris field was surveyed in Robert Ballard’s 1986 expedition, pairs of shoes were observed lying next to each other on the sea bed. The flesh, bones, and clothes had long since been consumed but the tannin in the shoes’ leather had apparently resisted the bacteria, leaving the shoes as the only markers of where a body had once lain. Ballard has suggested that skeletons may remain deep within Titanic‘s hull, such as in the engine rooms or third-class cabins. This has been disputed by scientists, who have estimated that the bodies would have completely disappeared by the early 1940s at the latest.

In any event, the molluscs and scavengers did not consume everything organic. Some of the wooden objects on the ship and in the debris field have not been consumed, particularly those made of teak, a dense wood that seems to have resisted the borers. The First Class reception area off the ship’s Grand Staircase is still remarkably intact and furniture is still visible among the debris on the floor. Although most of the corridors have lost their walls, furniture is still in place in many cabins; in one, a mattress is still on the bed, with an intact and undamaged dresser behind it. Robert Ballard has suggested that areas within the ship or buried under debris, where scavengers may not have been able to reach, may still contain human remains. According to Charles Pellegrino, who dived on Titanic in 2001, a finger bone encircled by the partial remains of a wedding ring was found concreted to the bottom of a soup tureen that was retrieved from the debris field. It was returned to the sea bed on the next dive.

The longest-lasting inhabitants of Titanic are likely to be bacteria and archaea which have colonized the metal hull of the ship. They have produced “reddish-brown stalactites of rust [hanging] down as much as several feet, looking like long needle-like icicles”, as Robert Ballard has put it. The formations, which Ballard dubbed “rusticles”, are extremely fragile and disintegrate in a cloud of particles if touched. The bacteria consume the iron in the hull, oxidizing it and leaving rust particles behind as a waste product. To protect themselves from the seawater, they secrete an acidic viscous slime that flows where gravity takes it, carrying ferric oxides and hydroxides. These form the rusticles. When scientists were able to retrieve a rusticle, it was discovered that it was far more complex than had been imagined, with complex systems of roots infiltrating the metal, interior channels, bundles of fibers, pores and other structures. Charles Pellegrino comments that they seem more akin to “levels of tissue organization found in sponges or mosses and other members of the animal or plant kingdoms.”

The bacteria are estimated to be consuming Titanic‘s hull at the rate of 400 pounds (180 kg) per day, which is about 17 pounds (8 kg) per hour or 4.4 ounces (126 grams) per minute. Roy Collimore, a microbiologist, estimates that the bow alone now supports some 650 tons of rusticles and that they will have devoured fifty per cent of the hull within 200 years.

Since Titanic‘s wreck was discovered in 1985, radical changes have been observed in the marine ecosystem around the ship. The 1996 expedition recorded 75 per cent more brittle stars and sea cucumbers than Ballard’s 1985 expedition, while crinoids and sea squirts had taken root all over the sea bed. Red krill had appeared and an unknown organism had built numerous nests across the seabed from black pebbles. The amount of rusticles on the ship had increased greatly. Curiously, the same thing had happened over about the same timescale to the wreck of the German battleship Bismarck, sunk at a depth of 15,719 feet (4,791 m) on the other side of the Atlantic. The mud around the ship was found to contain hundreds of different species of animals. The sudden explosion of life around Titanic may be a result of an increased amount of nutrients falling from the surface, possibly a result of human overfishing eliminating fish that would otherwise have consumed the nutrients.

Many scientists, including Robert Ballard, are concerned that visits by tourists in submersibles and the recovery of artifacts are causing the wreck to decay faster. The promenade deck has deteriorated significantly in recent years, partly because of damage caused by submersibles landing on the ship. The mast has almost completely deteriorated and has been stripped of its bell and brass light. Other damage includes a gash on the bow section where block letters once spelled Titanic, part of the brass telemotor which once held the ship’s wooden wheel is now twisted and the crow’s nest has completely deteriorated. The Canadian director James Cameron is responsible for some of the more significant damage during his expedition to the ship in 1995 to acquire footage for his film Titanic two years later. One of the MIR submersibles used on the expedition collided with the hull, damaging both and leaving fragments of the submersible’s propeller shroud scattered around the superstructure. Captain Smith’s quarters were heavily damaged by the collapse of the external bulkhead, which exposed the cabin’s interior.

Captain Smith's bathroom
Captain Smith’s bathroom

Objects from Titanic have been exhibited for many years, though only a few were retrieved before the discovery of the wreck in 1985. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia has a collection of wooden fragments and an intact deckchair plucked from the sea by the Canadian search vessels that recovered the victims’ bodies. Various other museums, including the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the SeaCity Museum in Southampton, have objects donated by survivors and relatives of victims, including some items that were retrieved from the bodies of victims. More donated Titanic artifacts are to be found in the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool and the Titanic Historical Society’s museum in Indian Orchard, Springfield, Massachusetts. The latter’s collection includes items such as the life jacket of Madeleine Astor, the wife of millionaire Titanic victim John Jacob Astor IV, a rivet which was removed from the hull before Titanic went to sea, an ice warning which never reached the bridge, a restaurant menu and a sample square of carpet from a First Class stateroom.

RMS Titanic Inc. organizes large-scale exhibitions around the world of artifacts retrieved from the wreck site. After minor exhibitions were held in Paris and Scandinavia, the first major exhibition of recovered artifacts was held at the National Maritime Museum in 1994–1995. It was hugely popular, drawing an average of 21,000 visitors a week during the year-long exhibition. Since then, RMS Titanic Inc. has established a large-scale permanent exhibition of Titanic artifacts at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The 25,000 square foot (2,300 m²) exhibit is the home of the “Big Piece” of the hull retrieved in 1998 and features conserved items including luggage, Titanic‘s whistles, floor tiles and an unopened bottle of champagne. The exhibit includes a full-scale replica of the ship’s Grand Staircase and part of the Promenade Deck, and even a mock-up of the iceberg. It also runs a traveling exhibition called Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition which has opened in various cities around the world and has been seen by over 20 million people. The exhibition typically runs for six to nine months featuring a combination of artifacts, reconstructions and displays of the ship, her passengers and crew and the disaster itself. In a similar fashion to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., visitors are given a “boarding pass” in the name of an individual passenger at the start of the exhibition. They do not discover the fate of their assigned passenger until the end.

Titanic has gone down in history as the ship that was called unsinkable. For more than 100 years, she has been the inspiration of fiction and non-fiction. She is commemorated by monuments for the dead and by museums exhibiting artfacts from the wreck. Just after the sinking, memorial postcards sold in huge numbers together with memorabilia ranging from tin candy boxes to plates, whiskey jiggers, and even black mourning teddy bears. Several survivors wrote books about their experiences but it was not until 1955 the first historically accurate book A Night to Remember was published.

The first film about the disaster, Saved from the Titanic, was released only 29 days after the ship sank and had an actual survivor as its star — the silent film actress Dorothy Gibson. The British film A Night to Remember (1958) is still widely regarded as the most historically accurate movie portrayal of the sinking. The most financially successful by far has been James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), which became the highest-grossing film in history up to that time, as well as the winner of 11 Oscars at the 70th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Cameron.

The Titanic disaster was commemorated through a variety of memorials and monuments to the victims, erected in several English-speaking countries and in particular in cities that had suffered notable losses. These included Southampton, Liverpool and Belfast in the United Kingdom; New York and Washington, D.C. in the United States; and Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in Ireland. A number of museums around the world have displays on Titanic. In Northern Ireland, the ship is commemorated by the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction, opened on March 31, 2012, that stands on the site of the shipyard where Titanic was built.

RMS Titanic Inc., which is authorized to salvage the wreck site, has a permanent Titanic exhibition at the Luxor in Nevada which features a 22-ton slab of the ship’s hull. It also runs an exhibition which travels around the world. In Nova Scotia, Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic displays items that were recovered from the sea a few days after the disaster. They include pieces of woodwork such as paneling from the ship’s First Class Lounge and an original deckchair, as well as objects removed from the victims. In 2012 the centenary was marked by plays, radio programs, parades, exhibitions and special trips to the site of the sinking together with commemorative stamps and coins.

In a frequently commented-on literary coincidence, Morgan Robertson authored a novel called Futility in 1898 about a fictional British passenger liner with the plot bearing a number of similarities to the Titanic disaster. In the novel the ship is the SS Titan, a four-stacked liner, the largest in the world and considered unsinkable. But like the Titanic, she sinks after hitting an iceberg and does not have enough lifeboats.

Titanic leaves Belfast for sea trials on April 2, 1912. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Titanic leaves Belfast for sea trials on April 2, 1912. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

On April 5, 2012, Canada Post issued a five-stamp Titanic set, including a stamp pane, a souvenir sheet, an uncut press sheet, plus prepaid postcards, framed prints, a collectible album and a stamp and coin collector envelope. The four domestic-rate — 61 cents at the time — “P” stamps (Scott #2531-2534) come as two pairs of setenant stamps, with two showing the ship’s bow and the other two featuring the stern. The stern stamps are available only on a pane of 16 stamps, which includes eight stern stamps and eight bow stamps. The bow stamps are also available in a booklet of 10 and on a pane of 16 stamps. The international-rate stamp (Scott #2535) shows a full-color side illustration of Titanic sailing on a calm ocean with a layered map showing relevant locations. It’s available in a booklet of six stamps, a souvenir sheet and a limited edition uncut press sheet. Perforated 12½, the stamps were printed by the Lowe-Martin Group.

Robert Ballard (right) with National Geographic flag
Robert Ballard (right) with National Geographic flag
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