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Titanic story for the ages April 12, 1912, left an imprint on the human psyche like no other single event in history

  • AP Photos A man looks at a display of over 600 staff who worked and died on the Titanic, at SeaCity Museum in Southampton, England. The new museum opened on April 10, 100 years after the ill fated Titanic sailed from the City's docks.
    AP Photos A man looks at a display of over 600 staff who worked and died on the Titanic, at SeaCity Museum in Southampton, England. The new museum opened on April 10, 100 years after the ill fated Titanic sailed from the City's docks.
Published April 14. 2012 09:01AM

It's been 100 years since the 'unsinkable' gave us the 'unthinkable.'

After striking an iceberg and sinking during its maiden voyage, the British supership Titanic left an imprint on the human psyche like no other single event in history. Hundreds of books have been written, miles of film produced and every possible explanation explored into the world's most infamous shipwreck, and still we thirst for more.

When Titanic steamed out of Southampton, England, bound for New York, on April 10, 1912, it was hailed as the largest ship in the world, and also one of the fastest. Its total cost of approximately $7.5 million was the equivalent of about $400 million in today's dollars.

Some 1,200 tons of rivets, numbering about three million, were used to construct the ship's hull. In recent years, the way these rivets popped from stresses after the iceberg was struck, thus opening a hole in the great ship, has consumed investigators.

Every aspect of Titanic's construction was bigger than life. To complete what was the largest moving man-made object ever built to that date, three thousand men toiled for two years. Twenty draft horses were required to pull just one of Titanic's 15-ton anchors through Belfast to the shipyard on a wagon.

Each of Titanic's engines were the size of a three-story house. The ship was fitted with 29 boilers and 159 furnaces. Over 8,000 tons of coal filled her coal bunkers.

Four 400 kilowatt dynamos or generators produced 16,000 amps at 100 volts to power the 10,000 light bulbs that lit the ship. These dynamos were attached to over 200 miles of electrical wiring.

From its oriental carpets and crystal chandeliers to its on-board gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants and opulent cabins, Titanic was the last word in comfort and luxury.

Any talk of human error regarding its design or construction was quickly dismissed before that fateful maiden voyage.

"I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that," Edward Smith, the ship's captain, had boasted.

Among the famous quotes attached to the Titanic story is that "God himself could not sink this ship!" Although this line was delivered by the snobbish rich playboy named Cal in the movie version, the quote has no historical roots.

Titanic was licensed to carry 2,603 passengers and a crew of 944 - 3547 in all. On her voyage, there were some 2,200 persons aboard, but there was lifeboat accommodation for no more than 1,178. This number, however, exceeded the official requirements of the Board of Trade at the time.

The voyage began uneventfully on April 10. After leaving Southampton, England, it made a brief stop in Cherbourg, France, and a pause off Queenstown Ireland, before steaming into open waters. Early on, Capt. Smith was intent on breaking the world's record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Passengers and crew were shaken into reality after the mighty ship struck the iceberg on the night of April 12. It took just two hours and forty minutes for the crowning jewel of mankind - the greatest monument to modern technology - to sink to the bottom of the sea.

News coverage

Being used to having the news at our fingertips the instant it happens, it's hard to imagine persons in our global community not knowing for days the gravity of the Titanic disaster.

The Civil War era brought technical advances, like photography to the nation's great newspapers. And the advent of the telegraph enabled Civil War correspondents to transmit stories back to their newspapers' home offices with unprecedented speed.

At the end of the 19th century the wireless telegraph became a standard safety device on oceangoing vessels. Often, however, telegraph lines would come down, so reporters learned to put the most important information in their stories into the first few lines of the transmission. This led to the inverted-pyramid style of writing that we associate with newspaper journalism today.

On Monday, April 15, three days after the ship sank, the Tamaqua Evening Courier carried a two-paragraph front page story under the headline "Big Steamship Strikes Iceberg" and the subhead "Twenty-five Boat Loads of Passengers Taken off Sinking Liner Teutonic by Other Boats - Steamship Officers Declare Liner Could Not Be Sunk."

The second paragraph reveals just how much the sea disaster was initially underplayed. This is partly attributed to the amount of pre-trip hype about the ship's invincibility. The majority of people had trouble grasping the fact that something as massive and grand as Titanic could sink.

"At the local offices of the White Star Line, it was declared that there could be no doubt that all the passengers would be taken off safely," the initial report in the Courier stated. "An iceberg smashed in the prow of the boat but the directors, after a long conference, declared in a statement that as the Teutonic was unsinkable, she would in all probability be towed safely to port."

The Courier also carried a photograph of Capt. Smith, who went down with his ship.

The following day, the Courier reported that the number of survivors was estimated at 868. This too was an optimistic number since the tragedy had 705 actual survivors.

Among the many sidebar stories carried by the Courier was one concerning Mrs. Peter Hansen, of Racine, Wisconsin.

Accompanied by her husband, she had been in Denmark since February and the couple had booked their return trip to Wisconsin aboard Titanic.

Before beginning the trip, however, Mrs. Hansen, in a feeling of foreboding, kissed her brother Howard goodbye and said: "I dread taking this trip to Denmark for I have a feeling that I will never return alive. I just know that the boat will sink or something awful happen to me."

"Their names do not appear among the rescued," the Courier solemnly announced in ending the article.

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