The name Titanic was derived from Greek mythology and meant gigantic. Built in Belfast, Ireland, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it then was), 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.[5] 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.[6] 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 a growing challenge from its main rivals Cunard, which had just 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 bigger than anything that had gone before as well as being the last word in comfort and luxury.[7] 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.[citation needed]

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.[8] 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 authorised to spend what it needed on the ships, plus a five percent profit margin.[8] In the case of the Olympic-class ships, a cost of £3 million for the first two ships was agreed plus "extras to contract" and the usual five percent fee.[9]

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.[10] Carlisle's responsibilities included the decorations, equipment and all general arrangements, including the implementation of an efficient lifeboat davit design.[a]

On 29 July 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 authorising the start of construction.[13] 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.[14]

Dimensions and layout

Titanic in 1912

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).[15] She measured 46,328 gross register tons and with a draught of 34 feet 7 inches (10.54 m), she displaced 52,310 tons.[16]

All three of the Olympic-class ships had ten decks (excluding the top of the officers' quarters), eight of which were for passenger use. From top to bottom, the decks were:

  • The Boat Deck, on which the lifeboats were housed. It was from here during the early hours of 15 April 1912 that Titanic's lifeboats were lowered into the North Atlantic. The bridge and wheelhouse were at the forward end, in front of the captain's and officers' quarters. The bridge stood 8 feet (2.4 m) above the deck, extending out to either side so that the ship could be controlled while docking. The wheelhouse stood directly behind and above the bridge. The entrance to the First Class Grand Staircase and gymnasium were located midships along with the raised roof of the First Class lounge, while at the rear of the deck were the roof of the First Class smoke room and the relatively modest Second Class entrance. The wood-covered deck was divided into four segregated promenades; for officers, First Class passengers, engineers, and Second Class passengers respectively. Lifeboats lined the side of the deck except in the First Class area, where there was a gap so that the view would not be spoiled.[17][18]
  • A Deck, also called the Promenade Deck, extended along the entire 546 feet (166 m) length of the superstructure. It was reserved exclusively for First Class passengers and contained First Class cabins, the First Class lounge, smoke room, reading and writing rooms and Palm Court.[17]
  • B Deck, the Bridge Deck, was the top weight-bearing deck and the uppermost level of the hull. More First Class passenger accommodation was located here with six palatial staterooms (cabins) featuring their own private promenades. On Titanic, the A La Carte Restaurant and the Café Parisien provided luxury dining facilities to First Class passengers. Both were run by subcontracted chefs and their staff; all were lost in the disaster. The Second Class smoking room and entrance hall were both located on this deck. The raised forecastle of the ship was forward of the Bridge Deck, accommodating Number 1 hatch (the main hatch through to the cargo holds), numerous pieces of machinery and the anchor housings.[b] Aft of the Bridge Deck was the raised Poop Deck, 106 feet (32 m) long, used as a promenade by Third Class passengers. It was where many of Titanic's passengers and crew made their last stand as the ship sank. The forecastle and Poop Deck were separated from the Bridge Deck by well decks.[19][20]
  • C Deck, the Shelter Deck, was the highest deck to run uninterrupted from stem to stern. It included both well decks; the aft one served as part of the Third Class promenade. Crew cabins were housed below the forecastle and Third Class public rooms were housed below the Poop Deck. In between were the majority of First Class cabins and the Second Class library.[19][21]
  • D Deck, the Saloon Deck, was dominated by three large public rooms—the First Class Reception Room, the First Class Dining Saloon and the Second Class Dining Saloon. An open space was provided for Third Class passengers. First, Second and Third Class passengers had cabins on this deck, with berths for firemen located in the bow. It was the highest level reached by the ship's watertight bulkheads (though only by eight of the fifteen bulkheads).[19][22]
  • E Deck, the Upper Deck, was predominantly used for passenger accommodation for all three classes plus berths for cooks, seamen, stewards and trimmers. Along its length ran a long passageway nicknamed Scotland Road, in reference to a famous street in Liverpool. Scotland Road was used by Third Class passengers and crew members. [19][23]
  • F Deck, the Middle Deck, was the last complete deck and mainly accommodated Second and Third Class passengers and several departments of the crew. The Third Class dining saloon was located here, as were the swimming pool and Turkish bath.[19][23]
  • G Deck, the Lower Deck, was the lowest complete deck that carried passengers, and had the lowest portholes, just above the waterline. The squash court was located here along with the travelling post office where mail clerks sorted letters and parcels so that they would be ready for delivery when the ship docked. Food was also stored here. The deck was interrupted at several points by orlop (partial) decks over the boiler, engine and turbine rooms.[19][24]
  • The Orlop Decks and the Tank Top were on the lowest level of the ship, below the waterline. The orlop decks were used as cargo spaces, while the Tank Top—the inner bottom of the ship's hull—provided the platform on which the ship's boilers, engines, turbines and electrical generators were housed. This area of the ship was occupied by the engine and boiler rooms, areas which passengers would not be permitted to see. They were connected with higher levels of the ship by flights of stairs; twin spiral stairways near the bow provided access up to D Deck.[19][24]



Rudder with central and port wing propellers;[c] note the man at bottom of the photo

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 hp and a further 16,000 hp was contributed by the turbine.[15] 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.[26] 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.[27] By combining reciprocating engines with a turbine, fuel usage could be reduced and motive power increased, while using the same amount of steam.[28]

The two reciprocating engines were each 63 feet (19 m) long and weighed 720 tons, with their bedplates contributing a further 195 tons.[27] They were powered by steam produced in 29 boilers, 24 of which were double-ended and 5 single-ended, which contained a total of 159 furnaces.[29] 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.[30]

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 shovelled into them by hand, requiring the services of 176 firemen working around the clock.[31] 100 tons of ash a day had to be disposed of by ejecting it into the sea.[32] The work was relentless, dirty and dangerous, and although firemen were paid relatively generously[31] there was a high suicide rate among those who worked in that capacity.[33]

Exhaust steam leaving the reciprocating engines was fed into the turbine, which was situated aft. From there it passed into a condenser, to increase the efficiency of the turbine and so that the steam could be condensed back into water and reused.[34] 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).[30] The middle propeller was slightly smaller at 17 feet (5.2 m) in diameter,[35] 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.[36] 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.[37] Their location in the stern of the ship meant that they remained operational until the last few minutes before the ship sank.[38]


The interiors of the Olympic-class ships were subdivided into sixteen primary compartments divided by fifteen bulkheads which extended well above the waterline. Eleven vertically closing watertight doors could seal off the compartments in the event of an emergency.[39] The ships' exposed decking was made of pine and teak, while interior ceilings were covered in painted granulated cork to combat condensation.[40] 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 large enough—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.[41] As a last resort, the tiller could be moved by ropes connected to two steam capstans.[42] The capstans were also used to raise and lower the ship's five anchors (one port, one starboard, one in the centreline and two kedging anchors).[42]

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 distil 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.[36]

Titanic was equipped with two 1.5 kW quenched spark-gap transmitters for wireless telegraphy located in the radio room on the Boat Deck, in the Officers' quarters. One set was used for transmitting messages and the other, located in a soundproofed booth called the "Silent Room", for receiving them. The signals were transmitted through two parallel wires strung between the ship's masts, 50 feet (15 m) above the funnels to avoid the corrosive smoke.[36] The system was one of the most powerful in the world, with a range of up to 1,000 miles (1,609 km).[43] It was owned and operated by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company rather than the White Star Line, and was intended primarily for passengers rather than ship operations. The function of the two wireless operators—both Marconi employees—was to operate a 24-hour service sending and receiving wireless telegrams for passengers. They did, however, also pass on professional ship messages such as weather reports and ice warnings.[44]

Passenger facilities

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.[45]

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.[45] A variety of other decorative styles, ranging from the Renaissance to Victorian, 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".[46]

Passengers could use an on-board telephone system, a lending library and a large barber shop.[47] The First Class section had a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a squash court, a Turkish bath, an electric bath and a Verandah Cafe.[46] First Class common rooms were adorned with ornate wood panelling, expensive furniture and other decorations, while the Third Class general room had pine panelling and sturdy teak furniture.[48] The Café Parisien was located on a sunlit veranda fitted with trellis decorations and offered the best French haute cuisine for First Class passengers.[49]

Third Class (also commonly referred to as Steerage) accommodations aboard Titanic were not as luxurious as First 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 mould. 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 ten passengers.

Third Class accommodations also included their own dining rooms, as well as public gathering areas including adequate open deck space, which aboard Titanic included the Forecastle Deck forward, the Poop Deck aft, both 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 reading room for women, and although they were not as glamorous in design as spaces seen in upper class accommodations, they were still far above average for the period.[citation needed]

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 socialise 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.[50]

One of Titanic's most distinctive features was her First Class staircase, known as the Grand Staircase or Grand Stairway. This descended through seven decks of the ship, from the Boat Deck to E deck in the elegant style depicted in photographs and movies, and then as a more functional and less elegant staircase from there down to F deck.[51] It was capped with a dome of wrought iron and glass that admitted natural light. Each landing off the staircase gave access to ornate entrance halls lit by gold-plated light fixtures.[52]

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.[51] The Grand Staircase was destroyed in Titanic's sinking and is now just a void in the ship which modern explorers have used to access the lower decks.[53] 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.[
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