• Into the Rabbit Hole

Ep 30: The Titanic and the Way It Happened

It was a bright and sunny day in Southhampton, England. The air was abuzz with excited chatter and awestruck exclamations as thousands of people boarded a ship to their new lives and even more watched. The date was April 10, 1912. Everyone wanted to watch as history was made. The ships horn blew and the spectators cheered wildly as the Titanic set sail.

Not only was it the largest ship to ever be built but it was also considered to be unsinkable. Though we know now that sadly that claim proved to be false.

Largest ship in the world, 882 feet, nearly 100 ft longer than the Lusitania and Mauratania

Cost $7.5 million dollars to build, which is $180 million today

Could hold 3547 people but Estimated 2,224 on board at time of sinking

If you were traveling on this ship you were traveling in style.

Accommodations were unlike any seen before

There were several parlour suites with their own private promenade (the ones Rose had in the movie)

Cost $4350 which is $113k today for a one way transatlantic trip

These suites included 3 rooms (2 bedrooms and sitting room) plus 2 wardrobe room and a bath. There were interior servant rooms nearby. And then of course the 50 ft private promenade deck

At meal times they would have their choice of the first-class dining room which served a 10 course dinner, or the privately owned a la carte restaurant which cost extra

There was first class smoking room for the men, and a first class lounge where people would play cards and converse. It was modeled after Versailles

First class patrons could also use the heated salt-water pool (the first of it’s kind built into a ship), the Turkish bath, the squash court, or the gymnasium with the most up to date exercise equipment, or spend some time in the 1st class library

But the regular accommodations didn’t come cheap

Regular first class (not the suites) cost $150 which is about $3000 today

2nd class was $60 - $1200 today

3rd class ranged from 3 to 8 pounds - $298 to $793 today

Everything was smooth sailing for the first few days, and in fact they were making record time. But that all changed on the night of April 14th, 1912.

Earlier in the day they had received several ice berg warnings. These warnings went largely ignored on the basis of 40 years experience of the captain E.J. Smith, as well as unclear communication from the operators. It was also thought that some messages didn’t get passed on because of the operators being distracted by fixing faulty equipment.

The operators were not actually employed by the ship but rather Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company. They were mainly used to passenger communication rather than warnings. Due to a backlog from faulty equipment they were swamped with passenger communications and may have failed to pass on some of the warnings.

However, it might not have mattered. Despite the warnings they did receive, the ship did not slow down in the slightest. This was later criticized as reckless but was in fact common practice. Unfortunately, ships were more concerned about sticking to the schedule than anything else. They wanted to be known for speed as wells as grandeur, and they thought they would be able to see any icebergs large enough to sink the ship. And this might have been true, IF they had not forgotten the binoculars for the lookouts back in England. It was also pretty rare for a large ship to sink after hitting an iceberg, even if they hit head on.

But circumstances lined up in such a way in this instance, that disaster could not be averted.

And so it was that the luxurious ocean liner hit an iceberg at around 11:30 the night of April 14th. They desperately tried to turn the ship but to no avail.

They began to evacuate the ship women and children first, going by class. There were 20 lifeboats on deck, designed to carry 65 people each. The ship was actually designed to hold 32 lifeboats but the White Star Line only allowed the legal minimum because of aesthetic reasons. They thought it made the deck look too cluttered.

Worse still, the lifeboats left the ship only half full or even less. And aside from that the deck was in chaos. Passengers didn’t know where they were supposed to go after the lifeboat order had been given. There was supposed to have been a lifeboat drill earlier in the day on April 14th but the captain canceled it so people could go to church. Some didn’t even believe the ship was sinking, thinking it was only a drill so they stayed in bed. And because the lifeboat call was given to late they were not able to launch all of them. Some of them floated away.

If the lifeboats had been filled to capacity, an additional 400 people may have lived.

As the ship filled with water one end sank as the other was raised into the air until it was almost vertical to the water. The pressure was too much and it cracked in half. The first end broke apart and sank, while the second bobbed for a while but eventually sank as well.

The ship sank at 2:20am on April 15th, 2 hours after hitting the iceberg. 1500 people died either from drowning or hypothermia.

Only about 40 people were rescued from the water, either by being picked up or finding and overturned lifeboat.

At 4am the RMS Carpathia arrived, at great danger to itself, to rescue the survivors.

So that’s the general story. But there are so many things that had to line up just right, or rather just wrong, in order for this sequence of events to happen. And that’s what I really want to talk about today.


Starting with the building of the ship and White Stars efforts to cut costs. When the sunken ship was discovered in the 80s it was found that the rivets brought up from the wreck had a high concentration of slag a smelting residue that will make metal split apart. This could have weakened the hull, causing more damage than normal when the ship hit the iceberg. Additionally, many of the rivets were done by hand so they were not necessarily as tightly wound as they should have been. AND on top the cheap rivets, the company also cheaped out on the steel they used.

These weak rivets and low quality steel allowed more damage to the hull, which made the watertight compartments fill quickly. The ship was designed to allow four of the fifteen water tight compartments to fill without sinking, but the damage was so severe that 6 compartments filled before they were able to get the rest shut.


Due to a rare event earlier in the year where the sun and the moon passed closer to the earth than usual, the tides were stronger than normal, causing the pieces of ice that broke away from Greenland to be farther out and into the shipping lanes than they normally would be in mid April. Icebergs usually stay in place for a long time, but it’s thought that the high tides may have been enough to dislodge some of these large icebergs enough to travel.


As mentioned earlier the ship was traveling fast, and this has often been blamed on a decision made by Captain Smith. However, new evidence has come to light showing that there may have been a fire in one of the coal bunkers that was causing some of the speed.


As I said earlier, the binoculars for the lookouts had been forgotten. Maybe with these binoculars they would have been able to see the iceberg much earlier and avoid it, but maybe not. Because in all reality they did see the iceberg, they just thought it was much much smaller than it was.

Also, a nearby ship called the Californian had heard the distress call and had even seen a ship, and yet they didn’t stop to help. For a long time they got a lot of flack for this. They admitted to seeing a ship, but insisted that they did not believe it to be the Titanic. But the Titanic is freaking huge, how could they miss that?

Well according to a study done in 2012, the atmospheric conditions that night could have cause a phenomenon called super refraction. Basically, the light bends and creates mirages or illusions. Furthermore, the spot the Titanic sank in is a place where two different wind currents meet, causing the likelihood of these water mirages to be much higher.

Therefore, when the Californian saw this ship, they might have thought it was sailing away.


Molly Brown (Margaret)

The Cook

All the rich people (and the ones that went down with the ship)


The Captain – jumped off the ship and swam around helping people get into lifeboats. Was offered a spot, but declined to help more people.

Benjamin Guggenheim – “we are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentleman”

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