The word titanic has been around for a long time, but it’s difficult to even say the word without thinking of the ship that carried that name. I’ve probably used the word a handful of times in Today’s History Lesson, and I can safely say that every time I have, my mind’s eye has conjured up something involving the RMS Titanic. It’s hard not to.
Almost no one knows everything there is to know about this most famous of steamships, but almost everyone knows something. The story of her supposed “unsinkability”, her much-heralded and much-anticipated maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, and her disastrous end in the frigid Atlantic waters all constitute one of the most recognizable stories in American history.
And while April 15th, the day the Titanic died, is the most famous day in the Titanic’s life, another day ranks a close second.
On March 31, 1912, construction on the Titanic was completed, and she was built to be the very best in every aspect. It was the largest passenger liner of its day, was financed by one of the wealthiest men in the world (J. P. Morgan), was designed by some of the most accomplished engineers, and featured the most luxurious accomodations available (at least for the 1st-class passengers). And of course, there was the whole unsinkability thing, too.
Coincidentally, the construction of the Titanic had begun exactly 3 years before…March 31, 1909. It was 882 feet and 46,000 tons of opulence, and 1st-class passengers paid huge sums of money ($4,000 or more in 1912 money) to be numbered among those on the first trip across the Atlantic. Among them were some of the most famous people of the day, with last names like Guggenheim, Straus, and Astor. J.P. Morgan himself planned to be aboard, but canceled at the last minute.
Theirs were names on a manifest that included 2,240 names in total. And while there were but 20 lifeboats (far fewer than the passenger list could support), that number was well within the legal requirements.
But lifeboats were certainly not the issue of the day on March 31st. The Titanic was finished, and ready for sea trials and a glorious trip that would begin on April 10th.
I think we’ll visit the Titanic again…and most of you can correctly speculate as to why.