Titanic Centennial

April 15, 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic shipwreck tragedy.

The day book. (Chicago, Ill.) April 16, 1912, Image 1. http://tinyurl.com/6tfbnrr

The story of the Titanic has been told and re-told since 1912: The largest and most luxurious ship ever to be built in the history of humankind was thought to be “unsinkable.” Not only was the ship a giant, it was extravagant inside and out.

Medford mail tribune. (Medford, Or.) April 16, 1912, FIRST EDITION, Image 1. http://tinyurl.com/7mn6eq8

New-York tribune. (New York, N.Y.) April 21, 1912, Page 8, Image 24. http://tinyurl.com/7dqy7os

News of the Titanic’s size and accommodations was bubbling in the press even before the ship set sail:

The day book. (Chicago, Ill.) February 26, 1912, Image 12. http://tinyurl.com/7hvhez2

In accordance with ideals of the Edwardian era, class and luxury were of utmost importance, which is one of the reasons why it was decided that more than 20 lifeboats (enough to fit 1178 people when filled to capacity) would clutter the ship’s deck, even though there were about 2200 people on board. At the time, Board of Trade regulations had not yet caught up with the size of the Titanic, and existing laws only required passenger ships to carry enough lifeboats for 1060 people. But after all, who would need lifeboats on an unsinkable ship?

The San Francisco call. (San Francisco, Calif.) April 17, 1912, Page 5, Image 5. http://tinyurl.com/7wrfkgl

Ironically and tragically, confidence in the infallible genius of man was shaken when the Titanic struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic after just five days at sea, and sank to the depths of the ocean, leaving only a fraction of its passengers – about 700 people – as survivors. When the news broke that the Titanic was not in fact “unsinkable,” newspaper reporters were on the scene to gather information and alert the world.

New-York tribune. (New York, N.Y.) April 18, 1912, Image 1. http://tinyurl.com/7yon9mk

Every generation has managed to find mystery and meaning in the gripping tale of the Titanic, and it continues to astonish people today. Stories surrounding the Titanic include survivors’ first-hand accounts of the disaster, detailing the anguish that they experienced as well as the bravery of those who lost their lives…

The Breckenridge news. (Cloverport, Ky.) April 24, 1912, Image 2. http://tinyurl.com/7gayb2r

…as well as speculation as to what happened and why, and how the huge loss could have been prevented…

The day book. (Chicago, Ill.) April 17, 1912, Image 6. http://tinyurl.com/7459m4n

…and accounts of the ensuing investigation, including suspicion of male passengers who managed to survive, even though it was customary of the time to save “women and children first.”  It was widely believed to be preferable for a man to perish in a disaster rather than to survive and be considered a coward. For example, Captain Edward J. Smith was viewed as a hero for “going down” with his ship, whereas J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, not only survived the wreck, but was held responsible for the disaster, and many American newspapers propagated this blame. Apparently it was Ismay who pressured Captain Smith to maintain full speed after the Titanic struck the infamous iceberg, causing the ship to sink so quickly that the majority of people on board could not be rescued.

New-York tribune. (New York, N.Y.) April 20, 1912, Image 1. http://tinyurl.com/7kbm7zl

Several elements of the Titanic story have been consistently repeated over time and are well known by many people today, such as the lack of lifeboats and the many lifeboats that were only half full, the way in which the ship broke into two pieces as it sank, and how the band continued to play until the very last possible moment.

The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) April 28, 1912, Image 45. http://tinyurl.com/8xcawue

As time has passed since the wreck, the story of the Titanic has been addressed in documentaries and Hollywood films, and after the discovery of the wreckage site in 1985, more recent narratives have focused on artifacts that have been identified or brought to the surface and examined, as well as exploration and scientific investigation of the wrecked ship itself.

New-York tribune. (New York, N.Y.) April 16, 1912, Image 1. http://tinyurl.com/yh4kprg

The story of the Titanic is tragic no doubt, but several positive consequences have stemmed from the event. For example, shortly after the Titanic sank, new laws were passed regulating the number of lifeboats required on big steamers, and people began to take safety measures more seriously.

Medford mail tribune. (Medford, Or.) April 16, 1912, FIRST EDITION, PAGE SIX, Image 6. http://tinyurl.com/6otoojc

Scientists have also been able to study the effects of the deep ocean ecosystem on the ship and vice versa, which has helped us to learn more about the mysterious ocean. For example, the Titanic was brand new when it sank, and so its current condition is strictly an effect of the ocean environment. Scientists have learned that micro-organisms have been thriving on the shipwreck, basically eating the iron and metabolizing the wreckage. It is predicted that eventually the ship will disintegrate completely, leaving nothing but its legacy, and newspaper articles of course, for future generations.

The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) April 18, 1912, Page 7, Image 7. http://tinyurl.com/8y6jylz

Countless additional articles and images related to the sinking of the Titanic can be found by searching the keyword “Titanic” in the Chronicling America and Historic Oregon Newspapers websites. For more information on the Titanic centennial, visit the website of the Titanic Historical Society.

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