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Mental Floss Presents: Titanic Timeline

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The sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, is surely history’s most storied shipwreck. On the 110th anniversary of the maritime disaster, Mental Floss is looking back at the people, events, and twists of fate that set the Titanic’s incredible story in motion, and the legacy we still honor today.

All times are approximate.

The Birth of the Titanic

The Titanic under construction
The 'Titanic' under construction in the Harland & Wolff shipyard / Bain News Service, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Titanic might not have existed if not for the rivalry between its shipping company, White Star Line, and its competitor, Cunard. Out of this intense business battle emerged the largest and most opulent ship known at that time.

June 7, 1906

British company Cunard launches the world’s largest and fastest passenger ship, the Lusitania, followed by its sister ship, the Mauretania, on September 20. Both would go on to win the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.

In response, Joseph Bruce Ismay, the chairman of Cunard’s rival White Star Line, resolves to build three massive luxury ocean liners: ships that would eventually be called the Olympic, the Britannic, and, of course, the Titanic.

All three would be built by Northern Ireland's Harland & Wolff in its Belfast shipyard. Lord Pirrie, chairman of Harland & Wolff, designs the three Olympic-class ocean liners. Alexander Carlisle, Lord Pirrie’s brother-in-law and Harland & Wolff’s general manager, takes responsibility for the “details, the decorations, the equipments, and general arrangements” for Olympic and Titanic.

March 31, 1909

Construction of the Titanic begins. It’s not just the world’s largest passenger ship at the time—it’s the world’s largest moving, man-made object (which sounds impressive until you try to picture a plane or truck as big as even a medium-sized ship, but still …). It measures 882.75 feet long and 92.5 feet broad, with enormous funnels belching exhaust from its 29 monstrous boilers. Its steel hull is held together with 3 million rivets, collectively weighing 1200 tons. Its main anchor weighs 16 tons, roughly the same as 32 concert grand pianos, and each link in its chain weighs 175 pounds.

June 30, 1910

Alexander Carlisle retires and is eventually succeeded by Thomas Andrews.

May 31, 1911

Before it can go out to sea, Titanic has to make its way from land to water via a large slipway—emphasis on the slip. More than 20 tons of lubricant, primarily rendered animal fat and soap, are applied to the slipway to ease the ship’s transition into the water. It works: in just over a minute, the ship is in the water, “as though she were eager for the baptism,” in the somewhat off-puttingly-anthropomorphizing language of the Belfast News Letter.

Contrary to popular belief, the White Star Line never touts the Titanic as flat-out “unsinkable” ahead of its maiden voyage. In fact, it isn’t until after the luxury liner sinks that the term starts to float (ahem) around and is subsequently seized upon by the press. But the Titanic’s safety features are praised in the lead-up to its official launch; in 1911, The Shipbuilder magazine refers to it as “practically unsinkable” on account of its 16 watertight compartments, which are innovative for the era. The idea is that, even if up to four of the compartments are damaged or flooded, the others will keep the ship afloat.

Lifeboats aboard the 'Titanic'
The 'Titanic''s lifeboats are placed in davits on the ship's boat deck. / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Once the Titanic is in the water, it is fitted out: internal systems are put in place and interior detailing begins. Workers start constructing the swimming pool, squash and tennis courts, exercise rooms, sunrooms, libraries, lounges, fine dining rooms, and the passenger cabins in first, second, and third class.

There are 20 lifeboats aboard the RMS Titanic—enough to accommodate around 1178 people, or roughly half the total passengers and crew members expected on the maiden voyage. The White Star Line isn’t flouting safety regulations, however. According to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 (the only safety requirements in place prior to the disaster), the number of lifeboats required aboard is determined by a ship’s tonnage. At the time, the highest requirement—which applies to ships over 10,000 tons—calls for 16 lifeboats. The Titanic, which has a gross carrying capacity of 46,328 tons (and clocked in at 52,000 tons total when weighed) not only meets the safety requirements of the era, but exceeds them.

Late summer 1911

A large iceberg breaks off from a glacier in southwest Greenland. Over the next several months, it will drift in a southwest direction across the Labrador Sea.

The Titanic Begins Its Maiden Voyage

The 'Titanic' leaving Belfast harbor
The 'Titanic' leaves Belfast harbor to start its sea trials on its way to Southampton. / Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The maiden voyage of the world’s largest, most luxurious ocean liner brings together a who’s who of early 20th-century tycoons, socialites, and movie stars. But not everyone aboard the Titanic is famous. Most of the passengers are regular folks on a visit to New York or emigrants seeking new opportunities in the United States. 

April 2, 1912

Titanic completes tests to confirm its seaworthiness, then sails from Belfast to its home port of Southampton, UK, from which it will depart on its maiden voyage. Its regular transatlantic service between Southampton and New York City will include stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, on its outbound journey.

April 3, 1912

The Titanic arrives in Southampton around midnight.

April 10, 1912

Passengers begin boarding the Titanic in the morning. Among them, Macy's co-owner Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, board the ship after a trip to Europe. Accompanying them on the voyage are Isidor's valet, John Farthing, and Ida's new maid, Ellen Bird.

At noon, the Titanic sets off from Southampton on its way to Cherbourg, France, with great fanfare. As the ship glides past other vessels along the docks, an incident that can be interpreted as a seriously bad omen occurs. Its colossal propellers displace so much water that some of those vessels become unmoored and get pulled toward the Titanic. Realizing that the SS New York will soon collide with the ocean liner’s port side, the Titanic reverses the port propeller—churning water in the opposite direction. Titanic captain Edward Smith's quick thinking (and quick work from a tugboat, which helps restrain the New York) succeeds in preventing a crash. The tugboat captain claims that the New York had halted just four feet from the Titanic.

An officer and the captain of the 'Titanic' on the ship
Purser Hugh Walter McElroy (left) and Captain Edward J. Smith aboard the RMS 'Titanic' during the run from Southampton to Queenstown / Francis Browne, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

At 6:35 p.m., the Titanic arrives in Cherbourg. John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Madeleine Force, board the ship before its 8:10 p.m. departure with Astor’s manservant, Victor Robbins; Madeleine’s maid, Rosalie Bidios; and her nursemaid, Caroline Endres (Madeleine is pregnant at the time). The couple had taken a lengthy holiday in Egypt and Paris and are heading back to New York. Astor, who would be Titanic’s richest passenger, had married the 18-year-old Madeleine in 1911 after divorcing his first wife, Ava Lowle Willing, in 1909. 

Most of the Titanic’s other first-class passengers board at Cherbourg, including American socialite Margaret “Molly” Brown, Scottish landowners Sir Cosmo and Lucy Duff Gordon, and American mining heir Benjamin Guggenheim.  

April 11, 1912

After departing Cherbourg, the Titanic sails to its last stop before New York: the Irish port of Queenstown (now Cobh). The ship arrives at 11:30 a.m. Seven second-class and 113 third-class passengers come on board, along with multiple bags of mail, fulfilling the Titanic’s contract as a royal mail ship. Seven lucky passengers also disembark in Queenstown.

The majority of passengers now aboard the Titanic are either American or European. American, British, Irish, and Swedish passengers are the most represented nationalities. But there are people from all over the world, including a large number of Syrian passengers. South African, Portuguese, Australian, and Chinese travelers fill the cabins as well.

At 1:30 p.m., the Titanic pulls away from the dock. Third-class passenger Eugene Daly plays the traditional tune “Erin’s Lament” on his uilleann pipes as the Irish coast fades into the distance.

The Titanic at Sea

Passengers aboard the 'Titanic' on its maiden voyage
Titanic's passengers on the A-Deck's aft promenade / Francis Browne, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Titanic passengers settle in for the next few days at sea. The ocean liner is equipped with every kind of pastime and diversion to entertain guests, from a Turkish bath to sumptuous meals served by attentive stewards.

April 12, 1912

One activity every passenger looks forward to is the Titanic’s meal service. Each class has its own formal dining room and the first-class passengers also enjoy an à la carte restaurant in which dishes are sold separately. Unlike earlier passenger liners, the Titanic offers plentiful portions of wholesome, expertly prepared foods at three seatings a day, all included in the ticket price. 

To work off all of those extravagant meals, the passengers (at least the rich ones) have access to a pretty impressive gymnasium. Some of the equipment highlights include punching bags; ‘cycle racing machines,’ which are essentially stationary bikes; an electric horse and an electric camel; and access to a squash court. Women are allowed to use the gym in the morning, and men are permitted in the afternoon. One of the more ironically useful pieces of equipment available is a mechanical rowing machine. 

And the Titanic has its own luxurious Turkish bath, mostly available for first-class passengers. It includes steam rooms, massage rooms, and an electric bath, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. In the book Titanic: Building the World’s Most Famous Ship, author Anton Gill describes it resembling an iron lung or “a modern tanning bed, which even sophisticated first-class passengers [view] with suspicion.”

While passengers spend the majority of their time aboard the Titanic eating, socializing, reading in the libraries, sending messages to loved ones by the Marconi wireless, or playing cards in the smoking lounges, they eventually return to their rooms at night to sleep. First-class passengers have their choice of 333 spacious staterooms spread over five decks and placed amidships, where the rocking of the sea is hardly felt, including four extravagant parlor suites.

Second-class passengers stay in rooms a bit lower in the ship with between two or four beds that have a sink and mirror, but no private bathrooms. They do have access to an outdoor promenade, smoking room, and library, however. Third-class passengers sleep near the noisy bottom of the ship, in rooms with bunkbeds that could accommodate between two and 10 passengers. Single men sleep in the bow of the ship, while single women and families are usually in the stern. There are reportedly only two bathtubs for everyone in third class, which (at full capacity) could be over 1000 passengers.

The Beginning of the End

Telegram sent from the 'Titanic' reporting sinking
A telegram sent from the 'Titanic' and received by the SS 'Birma' at 11:45 p.m. on April 14, 1912 / Print Collector/Getty Images

A cold front passes over the Titanic on the morning of April 14, bringing brisk northwesterly winds. The temperature drops from the spring-like upper 50s to about 50°F by noon, but rapid weather changes are par for the course in the North Atlantic in spring. Nothing in the air signals the catastrophe about to occur.

April 14, 1912

The morning begins like the others on the journey, with breakfast. Third-class passengers gather in their dining room for a filling spread of oatmeal, smoked herring, potatoes, bread, butter, and marmalade. Second-class diners probably enjoy a classic British selection of eggs, grilled meats, fried and mashed potatoes, fresh fish, and an array of breads. In first class, the tables groan under the plates of baked and stewed fruits, puddings, smoked fish, grilled and cold meats, eggs cooked several ways, breads, rolls, spreads, and more.

Following the morning meal, passengers write letters, read, or go up on the decks. Captain Edward Smith and the crew keeps the Titanic going at a fast clip: it burns so much coal that roughly 100 tonnes of ash are dumped into the Atlantic Ocean every day of its journey. Over the wireless, other ships report icebergs on the Titanic’s route. 

Lunch is served at mid-day. For third class, it’s the biggest meal they will have, and they tuck into rice soup, roast beef with gravy, more potatoes, corn, fresh bread, and plum pudding for dessert. Two decks above them, second-class diners likely have a slightly larger variety of soups, appetizers, meat-based entrees, and fruit, nuts, and sweets. Incredibly, first-class passengers are served another gigantic meal just a couple of hours after their breakfast, consisting of clear or hearty soups, numerous fish dishes and a seafood buffet, grilled mutton, potatoes, chicken dishes, sausages, roast beef, tongue, and a cheese selection.

At 5:50 p.m., maintaining his speed, Captain Smith orders the ship to be turned. (While some accounts say the ship is now traveling to the south to avoid the ice, some modern historians argue that explanation misunderstands the Titanic’s route.) 

But the passengers are too busy eating to notice the slight change of direction. They’re already well into the dinner hour. For the third-class folks, a rather anemic array of cold meats, bread, pickles, and stewed figs awaits them in the dining room, while second-class patrons can choose from baked haddock, curried chicken and rice, spring lamb with mint sauce, or roast turkey with cranberry sauce along with vegetables, the ever-present potatoes, and “American ice cream” among the desserts. Not to be outdone, the first-class menu positively bursts its buttons with a multicourse meal beginning with hors d’oeuvres, oysters, soups, salmon, filet mignon, chicken, roast duckling, and beef sirloin; side dishes like roast squab and cress, pâté de foie gras, asparagus vinaigrette, and, yes, potatoes; and éclairs, French ice cream, and peaches in chartreuse jelly. 

After dinner, men get together in the smoking lounges for drinks or to play cards, while women go to the libraries or to their rooms to put their children to bed. George Widener, the superrich CEO of a Philadelphia streetcar corporation, and his wife Eleanor host a party attended by Captain Smith and other wealthy passengers. At the same time, a group of second-class passengers sings hymns in their dining room, and a boisterous party takes place in the third-class area. 

Second-class menu from 'Titanic' dated April 14, 1912
A menu shows the final meal served in second class aboard the 'Titanic.' / Print Collector/Getty Images

About 7:40 p.m., the Titanic wireless operator Harold Bride receives a message from the Californian, a ship belonging to the Leyland Line that is en route to Boston, warning of ice. Bride later testifies he delivers the message to the bridge. A few hours later, the Californian turns off its engines to avoid collisions with ice in the dark, and they send another warning to the Titanic. The Titanic’s operator barks, "Shut up, shut up, I am busy; I am working Cape Race!" He’s likely sending messages to the Marconi tower at Cape Race, Newfoundland. 

At 9 p.m., Captain Smith leaves Widener’s party and goes to the bridge. The sea is so calm it appears like a sheet of glass. The night is clear and moonless, and stars scatter across the bowl of the sky. He leaves the bridge with First Officer William Murdoch in command and turns in at 9:30 p.m.

At 10 p.m., most passengers retire to their cabins. Crew members Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee climb up to the crow’s nest to take over the watch. They are without binoculars, though it’s unclear how much help they would have been.

Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian, having turned off his ship’s engines earlier in the evening, tells his wireless operator to turn in. The Marconi system is shut off at 11:30 p.m

Fleet and Lee glimpse a hazy shape in the distance at about 11:30 p.m. In the pitch-black night, it’s difficult to discern the horizon, and the sea is motionless.

Nine minutes later, the object comes into view—a huge iceberg directly on the Titanic’s course. Fleet rings the lookout bell and phones the bridge. “Iceberg, right ahead!” he cries. Officer Murdoch tells Quartermaster Robert Hichens to turn the ship’s wheel hard a-starboard. But it’s too late. At 11:40 p.m. the Titanic crashes into the berg, and an underwater tongue of ice gashes the hull.

The Sinking of the Titanic

A photo of the iceberg that sank the 'Titanic.'
A photo taken on the RMS 'Carpathia' of the iceberg that sank the 'Titanic.' / Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In the moments after the Titanic collides with the iceberg, only the captain and crew are aware of the immense peril the ship will soon face. Passengers remain calm. Many never imagine that the brand-new ocean liner has a chance of sinking.

April 14, 1912

Following the impact, bits of ice rain onto the ship’s deck; passengers, unaware of the gravity of the situation, use chunks of the debris to play a game of soccer. Captain Smith emerges onto the deck and learns not only that the Titanic has hit an iceberg, but that six of the ship’s watertight compartments are damaged. The Titanic can handle only four flooded compartments. Thomas Andrews, who is on board for its first voyage, surveys the damage and determines the Titanic will sink within two hours.

Meanwhile, the ship’s sea post clerks are enjoying a small birthday party for their colleague Oscar Scott Woody. They rush to the mail sorting room and find it rapidly flooding. The five men begin lugging the Titanic’s registered mail sacks—a small portion of the up to 9 million pieces of mail aboard the ship—to the upper decks. None of the clerks would survive the disaster to come.

April 15, 1912

At 12:05 a.m., the captain orders the crew to begin preparing the lifeboats. Officers are dispatched to stations around the ship to oversee the process. It’ll be hard—the Titanic is only carrying enough lifeboats to fit half the people on board. Passengers are roused from their rooms and told to report to the deck. The ship’s musicians entertain everyone, their attempt at maintaining a sliver of normalcy.

The Titanic’s radio operators begin sending out distress signals at 12:15 a.m. Use of “SOS” as a Morse code distress signal isn’t commonplace in 1912, though it was adopted by the International Radiotelegraph Convention in 1906 and intended to go into effect internationally in 1908. The wireless operators on the Titanic are employed by the Marconi Company, which still favors using “CQD” for distress calls. Operator Jack Phillips uses both in an attempt to get help, but he isn’t the first to use “SOS”—the practice is already in effect among German liners.

The Frankfurt and the Olympic respond, but are too far to render timely aid. Minutes later, the Carpathia begins to head toward the Titanic—it's still hours away from the sinking ship.

At 12:25 a.m., women and children are helped into the lifeboats. Passengers are at first unaware that there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, and the crowd gathered on the deck is calm; some stand quietly, others pace about. “At no time during this period was there any panic, or evidence of fear, or unusual alarm,” notes one first-class passenger. Men say goodbye to their wives and children, and, as time passes, some attempt to snag a spot on the emergency vessels. Many passengers remain unconvinced the ship will actually sink.

Lifeboat Number 7 is lowered into the icy water at 12:45 a.m. The first to leave the ship, it’s carrying around 27 people, though it can fit 65. Meanwhile, the Titanic begins firing distress rockets, hoping to catch the attention of a nearby ship. The Titanic continues to tilt forward as the bow sinks. More lifeboats enter the water, none loaded to full capacity: Number 5 at 12:55 a.m.; Number 6 a few minutes later, carrying Margaret “Molly” Brown and Frederick Fleet.

Number 3 is lowered around 1 a.m. carrying roughly 39 passengers and crew, followed by Number 1 with the Duff Gordons and only 10 other people.

All eight members of the Titanic’s band continue playing as the women and children clamber into the boats. Later, many survivors remember them playing "Nearer, My God, To Thee" as the ship sinks, while others dispute these claims and suggest that band leader Wallace Hartley offered more uplifting songs, including ragtime melodies and popular hits like “Songe d’Automne.”

Just before 1:10 a.m., Ida Straus refuses to take a place in Lifeboat Number 8; she will not leave her husband, who won’t break the crew’s order of women and children first.

Lifeboat Number 10 hits the water at 1:20 a.m. Among its occupants is the Titanic’s youngest passenger, Millvina Dean, who is only 9 weeks old.

Benjamin Guggenheim and his valet, Victor Giglio, visit the deck. When they realize the Titanic is sinking, the two head back to their suite and don their most formal attire. Guggenheim reportedly says, “We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” Guggenheim’s alleged mistress is one of 56 people in Lifeboat Number 9. 

'Titanic' Lifeboat Number 6 with survivors
'Titanic' Lifeboat Number 6 carries survivors toward rescue. / National Archives and Records Administration // Unrestricted Use

Lifeboats 12, 14, 13, 15, and 16 are lowered between 1:25 a.m. and 1:35 a.m.

At 1:40 a.m., Collapsible Boat C is lowered with White Star executive J. Bruce Ismay among the occupants.

Five minutes later, Lifeboat Number 2 is set adrift with 20 people, followed by Number 11 with 50, and Number 4 with John Jacob Astor IV’s pregnant wife Madeleine in the group. Astor himself is not permitted to board with her.

At 2 a.m. Captain Smith begins releasing the crew from their duties. People have become more frantic, rushing to load the remaining lifeboats and causing chaos. At 2:05 a.m., the last lifeboat, canvas-sided Collapsible D, is lowered. More than 1500 people remain on the ship. On the narrow staircases, third-class passengers claw their way up the height of seven decks; first-class passengers begin to slide forward on the slanted floors. Deck chairs, tables, potted plants, dishes, and wine glasses cascade into the sea. The bow continues to flood and sink, while the stern tilts so dramatically that the propellers are lifted above water. 

The Titanic sends its final distress call at 2:17 a.m.: “We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats.” Father Thomas Byles, a Catholic priest, comforts the panicked passengers, hearing their confessions and giving absolution. The ship’s lights finally go out as the electricity fails. Everyone, both on the ship and those who managed to make it onto the lifeboats, is plunged into darkness.

The Titanic’s bow fully sinks below the surface by 2:20 a.m., sending the stern higher into the air. The strain causes the ship to snap into two pieces. Freed from the still-buoyant stern, the bow begins to fall to the bottom of the ocean. Passengers and crew alike are thrown into the freezing ocean. 

Then the Titanic’s stern plummets beneath the surface. Like the bow, it shoots nearly vertically toward the ocean floor, where it remains to this day. The great, celebrated ship is fully lost to the sea.

The Rescue

'Titanic' survivors in a collapsible boat at sea
'Titanic' survivors approach the RMS 'Carpathia' in one of the collapsible boats. / National Archives-Northeast Region, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As the Titanic survivors huddle in lifeboats and others clutch floating debris in the icy water, rescue is still hours away. The nearest ship, the Californian, fails to heed the Titanic's distress signals. But the Cunard passenger liner Carpathia is steaming toward the Titanic's last known position, almost 60 nautical miles to the northeast

By 2:30 a.m., hundreds of Titanic survivors are shivering in lifeboats, trying to swim toward the half-empty vessels, or simply hanging on to pieces of debris. The lifeboats' occupants try to reach the survivors clinging to flotsam. A horrifying stillness overtakes the scene. Whether they're first class or steerage, the passengers and crew are alone in the North Atlantic, with every object familiar to them now spiraling 12,000 feet down to the seabed. 

Minutes tick past. The boats are able to pick up only a handful of survivors. The screaming and thrashing of people in the water grows quieter. They begin to die of hypothermia, but remain floating upright in their lifebelts, with their heads and shoulders bobbing above the surface.

Nearby ships, not knowing the nature of the disaster, continue to try to reach the Titanic by wireless. The operators attempt to glean information from other vessels. The SS Birma, belonging to the Russian East Asiatic Steam Ship Co., reports in its wireless log, "several ships calling MGY [the Titanic's call letters], no reply. Fear it is serious." The Birma's operator speaks to his counterpart on the German liner Frankfurt, who confirms the distress call came from the Titanic. Several vessels sail toward the Titanic's last position to render aid.

The Californian remains stationary only 10 or so miles from the Titanic. The wireless operator had turned off the system only 10 minutes before the Titanic struck the iceberg. It receives none of the Titanic's desperate CQD calls, nor does Captain Lord respond to the Titanic emergency rockets, which he thinks are flares used among ships owned by the same company. 

The Cunard steamship Carpathia continues at full speed to the Titanic’s last position. Captain Arthur Rostron orders his crew to prepare its lifeboats to receive survivors, tells the galley to prepare hot tea and soup, and starts collecting warm clothes and blankets. 

At 4 a.m., the Carpathia's crew sees a green signal flare from the Titanic's lifeboat 2, which carries 18 survivors: four crew, eight women from first class, and two families from third class. The two vessels make their way toward each other. The Carpathia's crew lowers rope ladders and slings to hoist people onto the passenger liner's decks. As the day wears on and more lifeboats are rescued, the Carpathia's passengers wrap the shivering castaways in blankets and offer hot beverages. Nineteen-year-old Bernice Palmer takes photos of the rescued survivors—and the infamous iceberg—with her new Kodak Brownie camera.

At 8:30 a.m., Charles Lightoller, a deck officer, is the last passenger rescued from the last lifeboat to be brought aboard the Carpathia. The ship's decks teem with 705 wet survivors in varying states of shock and grief. Still, Captain Rostron continues to search the debris field with spotlights, hoping to pick up more victims. But he finds no one alive.

'Titanic' survivors on the deck of the 'Carpathia'
'Titanic' survivors on the deck of the 'Carpathia' / Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Captain Rostron debates what to do next. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the closest large port, but sailing there would mean traveling through the same dangerous ice fields that had just sunk the Titanic. Sailing east to the Azores would keep the Carpathia relatively on course, but the ship isn't provisioned for so many passengers and risks running out of food. Roston decides to turn around and go back to New York—the Titanic's original destination. He orders the crew and passengers not to speak to the press until they arrive.

April 17, 1912

As the Carpathia steams toward New York, the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, a cable ship based in Halifax, appropriates all of the embalming fluid in town for its grim mission: collecting the remains of Titanic victims from the sea. Having been hired by the White Star Line for the task, the Mackay-Bennett also carries a minister, an undertaker, 100 wooden coffins, 100 tons of ice, and 12 tons of iron to weigh down bodies buried at sea. It departs in the morning.

April 18, 1912

The Carpathia arrives in New York City at 9:15 p.m. in the eye of a media hurricane. For three days, the other ships in the vicinity of where the Titanic had gone down had received almost no news since the Carpathia arrived on the scene. Reporters had sent frantic wireless messages to the ships that received no reply. On both sides of the Atlantic, friends and family of the passengers and crew didn't know if their loved ones had survived. Now, as the overloaded Cunarder sails up the Hudson River to Pier 54, journalists and photographers in tugboats follow the Carpathia, shouting questions through megaphones, offering huge sums of money for exclusives, and trying to squeeze scoops out of the Titanic survivors. Despite Captain Rostron's media blackout, one of the Carpathia's original passengers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Carlos Hurd, secretly takes notes and interviews Titanic victims before they get to the pier. Knowing what a bombshell his eyewitness account will be, he seals his notes in a cigar tin, ties champagne corks to the box for buoyancy, and flings it overboard, where it is fished out of the river by a colleague in a boat. Hurd's story is splashed across the paper's front page the following day.

April 22, 1912

The White Star Line hires a second mortuary ship, the Minia, when the Mackay-Bennett finds far more bodies than expected in the Titanic debris field. The Minia departs Halifax and meets with the Mackay-Bennett at sea to transfer supplies. The Mackay-Bennett steams back to Halifax with its grim cargo. 

Meanwhile, John Jacob Astor IV’s son Vincent contacts the Merritt-Chapman Wrecking Company to do whatever it takes to retrieve his father’s body. They have little interest in salvage, though—the plan is to drop 400 pounds of gun cotton in the wreck and use the explosion to bring bodies to the surface. The scheme does not go further because Astor’s body is recovered the same day by the Mackay-Bennett. Families of the wealthier passengers will continue to investigate ways to raise the Titanic, but experts consider it impossible.

April 30, 1912

The Mackay-Bennett arrives in Halifax at 9:30 a.m. and begins unloading the Titanic victims' remains. The crew found a total of 306 bodies, each carefully catalogued according to the clothing, appearance, and personal effects. Not all are able to be identified. While at sea, the crew embalmed and placed the first 100 bodies in coffins; when the coffins ran out, the crew selected those who appeared to be from first class to be embalmed and placed in ice. Apparent Titanic crewmembers and third-class passengers were buried at sea. In total, 190 victims are brought to Halifax for burial and 116 are buried at sea. Of the latter, around 56 were able to be identified. Over the next six weeks, the Minia and two more mortuary ships attempt to pick up the victims' remains. The Minia finds 17 bodies, the Montmagny recovers four, and the Algerine finds one, that of saloon steward James McGrady.

The Aftermath

People gather at a newspaper billboard to read about the Titanic sinking
People gather around newspaper bulletin boards as reports of the 'Titanic' sinking arrive in New York. / Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The public’s fascination with the Titanic only grows stronger in the months and years following the disaster. Movies and books scrutinize the facts and romanticize the survivors’ stories, while discussions about finding and salvaging the Titanic begin almost as soon as the ship goes down. 

May 14, 1912

The first film about the disaster, Saved From the Titanic, is shot and released just 29 days after the ship sank. It stars Dorothy Gibson, a well-known actress and model who was an actual Titanic survivor (she and her mother had been in Lifeboat 7). The film kicks off a century-long trend. More films dramatize the Titanic sinking, including Atlantic (1929), an early talkie; Titanic (1943), a Nazi propaganda film smearing Great Britain; and Titanic (1953), which won an Oscar for screenwriting in 1954.

August 1, 1953

Newspapers report that Southampton-based company Risdon Beazley Ltd. makes what is usually considered the first serious attempt to find and salvage the Titanic. Investigators used explosives underwater to detect the shipwreck’s location via soundwaves. When asked by a reporter from the Liverpool Echo, Risdon Beazley officials neither confirm nor deny whether they’re also looking to recover the Titanic’s reported “fortune in art treasures, including a priceless gem-set copy of Omar Khayyam.” They fail to locate the ship. (Today, some experts claim Risdon Beazley was looking for a completely different ship, the Empire Manor.)

Lead actor and Titanic survivor on the set of 'A Night to Remember'
Actor Kenneth More (right) as Second Officer Charles Lightoller speaks with 'Titanic' survivor Gus Cohen on the set of 'A Night to Remember.' / John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images

November 21, 1955

A Night to Remember, a thrilling minute-by-minute telling of the Titanic’s sinking, hits bookstores. Author Walter Lord interviewed dozens of Titanic survivors still alive in the early 1950s for his fact-based account. The Chicago Tribune gushes that “all the drama, horror, tragedy of that grim, heartbreaking night are here, never before presented in such superb narrative style,” while The New York Times’s reviewer calls it “a stunning book, incomparably the best on its subject and one of the most exciting books of this or any year.” A Night to Remember lands on bestseller lists and sparks renewed interest in the Titanic saga.

July 3, 1958

A British movie based on Lord’s book, also called A Night to Remember, premieres in London. Widely praised for its accuracy, the film stars British actors Kenneth More as second officer Charles Lightoller and Michael Goodliffe as the ship’s architect Thomas Andrews.

January 23, 1960

Explorers Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh descend in the bathyscaphe Trieste—a blimp-shaped, deep-sea research vessel with a spherical observation chamber—to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, some 36,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, the deepest known point on Earth. And make it back alive. The expedition proves it is possible to get equipment and people down to the bone-crushingest depths of the ocean.

The Rediscovery

Bow of the Titanic shipwreck in 2004
View of the bow of the RMS 'Titanic' photographed in June 2004 by the ROV Hercules. / NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island (NOAA/IFE/URI), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Scientists may now have the technology to find the Titanic, which one expert pinpoints as being 500 miles from Halifax and 70 miles south of the Grand Banks, at a depth of two miles. The question is, who will get there first?

August 19, 1977

Newspapers report that scientists may launch an expedition to the Titanic to take photos of the wreck. Team leader Robert Ballard, a seafloor geologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, is inspired by Piccard and Walsh’s groundbreaking voyage, and, after a career in the military, develops submersible prototypes of his own. 

Ballard tells the Boston Globe that it would be possible to locate the wreck in a newly available vessel, the Alcoa Seaprobe, which can hold machinery capable of scanning the seabed with sonar. It can also take photos of any objects it detects and send them back to the scientists on the ship. “Finding the Titanic wouldn’t, to my mind, be difficult,” Ballard says. “The real challenge in something like this is the photography.” But when they get ready to go, a pay dispute with a drilling contractor means they have to use a cheaper replacement crew—which leads to an accident and the loss of $600,000 of equipment. 

July 17, 1980

Jack Grimm—who has also searched for Bigfoot and Noah’s Arkdeparts Port Everglades, Florida, on his first unsuccessful expedition to find Titanic. According to Titanic Belfast, his ship passes over the shipwreck, but sonar fails to detect it. Grimm nevertheless pieces together a documentary about the expedition, Search for the Titanic, narrated by Orson Welles. 

June 28, 1981

Grimm once again heads out to the North Atlantic, this time with a documentary crew in tow. He claims that his expedition did snap a photo of the Titanic’s propellers, but experts disagree.

July 16, 1983

Grimm makes his third and final attempt to find the Titanic. He also claims that computer enhancement of images proves it is a propeller, but in his memoir Into the Deep, Robert Ballard writes that when he checked it out there was nothing there. Grimm will go to his grave (in 1998) claiming to have found the ship first.

Summer 1984

Robert Ballard sets off on a mission to test his new submersible, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called the Argo, and to hopefully find the Titanic. This story, however, is just a cover; Ballard is actually checking out two nuclear submarinesUSS Thresher and the USS Scorpion—that had sunk in the North Atlantic in the 1960s. The U.S. Navy tells Ballard that if he can examine the subs, he can spend the remaining time on the expedition doing whatever he wants. In summer 1984, he maps and photographs the Thresher. Ballard later tells CNN, “What they wanted me to do was go back and not have the Russians follow me, because we were interested in the nuclear weapons that were on the Scorpion and also what the nuclear reactors (were) doing to the environment.”

August 17, 1985

Ballard maps and examines the Scorpion. His primary mission accomplished, he has just 12 days to search for Titanic before he has to return to shore. With help from a French ship called Le Suroit, he looks for the world’s most famous shipwreck.

Using a concept they learned from mapping the wreckage of the subs—which had imploded under pressure and spread wide debris fields—Ballard’s team begins to scan the seafloor looking not for the Titanic’s hull, but for its trail of metal parts and objects. The items provide a much bigger target than the ship itself, and will hopefully lead explorers right to the motherlode.

The crew works around the clock. As the days pass, Ballard thinks this mission might also be a failure.

September 1, 1985

At about 2 a.m., Ballard is in his cabin reading when he hears a knock on the door. The ship’s cook tells him that he’s needed in the command center. Ballard recalls later, “I knew something had happened, so I flew out of my bunk and blew past him. It took me about four seconds to slide down six banisters of stairs.”

The crew monitoring the feed had seen the Titanic’s debris field come into view. At the moment Ballard enters the room, the ROV glides over one of Titanic’s boilers, sending images of the long-lost artifact to the stunned researchers. After an initial celebration, the mood quickly turns somber. The researchers realize it’s about the same time of night that the Titanic finally sank in 1912. Ballard tells 60 Minutes, “We were embarrassed we were celebrating … all of a sudden we realized that we should not be dancing on someone’s grave.”

In his memoir Into the Deep, Ballard would later write, “a world tragedy had played itself out on this spot, and now the site itself took hold of me. Its emotion filled me and never let go.”

View of captain's bathroom in Titanic shipwreck
A 2004 view of the bathtub in Capt. Smith's bathroom. Rusticles are observed growing over most of the pipes and fixtures in the room. / Lori Johnston, RMS Titanic Expedition 2003, NOAA-OE, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

September 2, 1985

The Titanic itself is discovered at approximately 41°43’57” N, 49°56’49” W—nearly 15 miles from the position given during distress calls. It rests in two pieces on the ocean floor more than 12,000 feet below the surface. The ship appears to be in mostly good condition, with the hull standing upright and little growth from marine organisms.

July 9, 1986

Ballard and crew from Woods Hole set off for the Titanic site to make the first crewed trip down to the wreck in a three-person submersible called the Alvin. Eleven dives total yield nearly 60,000 high-quality photos and hours of video footage. From examining the wreck, they determine that—contrary to popular belief—the iceberg hadn’t created a gash in the Titanic. Rather, the collision had caused the seams in that area to split apart, flooding the ship. They also find that the ship is quite rusty, which leaves it in a fragile state. The rust is caused by ocean microbes feeding on the iron and forming long “rusticles.”

July 18, 1986

Photos and video of the Titanic wreck are released to the public while Ballard’s crew is still at sea. The three major television networks and other media outlets pool funds to charter a helicopter to Ballard’s ship to retrieve the images and tapes, which are flown to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution under a shroud of secrecy. Reporters get the first glimpses of the storied ship, “sheathed in icicles of iron,” that evening.

July 28, 1986

Ballard and crew return to Woods Hole with thousands of photographs and videotapes of the Titanic. “The Titanic can finally rest in peace,” he tells UPI. Over the next few days, the photos are printed in newspapers across the country.

October 21, 1986

The R.M.S Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986, which designates the site as an international maritime memorial, becomes law. The act also regulates research, exploration, and salvage activities regarding the ship. "The R.M.S. Titanic is the premier symbol in modern times of both the perils of the sea and the need for high standards of ship safety," President Ronald Reagan says in a statement. "The significance of the R.M.S. Titanic stems not only from the durable imprint of the disaster upon the consciousness of succeeding generations but also from the enormous strides made by the international community in promoting safety of life at sea, the study and observation of ice conditions, the maintenance of ice patrols in the North Atlantic Ocean, and the development and improvement of standards for the design and construction of vessels."

The Titanic Becomes a Touchstone

pocket watch from the Titanic wreck
A pocket watch recovered from the 'Titanic' stopped at the approximate time of the sinking on April 15, 1912. / Digiblue, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After discovering Titanic, Robert Ballard balks at questions about bringing up artifacts from the wreck—doing so, he believes, is like desecrating a gravesite: "I just hope we can somehow rise above the way we have behaved in the past and preserve the Titanic," he says. Survivor Louise Pope—who was 4 when Titanic sanktakes on the salvage issue when testifying before Congress in 1985, saying, "I do not like the benefit of salvaging for commercial purposes, but if they can use it for research or something on there for museums, I would be more than willing." Over the years, a number of dives are made to the wreck—some for research purposes, some for documentary purposes, and some for the purposes of retrieving objects for exhibitions that traveled around the world. And perhaps more than any artifact brought up from the deep, James Cameron’s feature film Titanic does more to keep the spirit of the ocean liner alive well into the 21st century.

July 25, 1987

Titanic Ventures Limited Partnership (TVLP), in partnership with L'Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer, makes its first salvage trip to the wreck. Among the 1800 artifacts it returns with is the bronze bell that lookout Frederick Fleet rang to warn of the iceberg and a bronze cherub from one of the ship's staircases.

November 12, 1992

Marex Inc.—which counts Jack Grimm among its leadersseeks sole salvage rights to Titanic but is denied. Instead, TVLP is awarded sole salvage rights. The decision is eventually reversed on appeal.

July 1993

RMST Inc., the successor of TVLP,  visits Titanic again, making "15 trips in 15 days," according to Titanic, Triumph and Tragedy, adding 800 new artifacts to its collection.

June 7, 1994

RMST Inc. is awarded exclusive salvage rights by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, provided that it remains “in possession” of the wreck. RMST must mount regular expeditions to ensure its status. RMST Inc. makes another trip to Titanic, spotting a huge piece of the hull they mark for future salvage; more than 1000 artifacts are brought to the surface in July and put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. 

August 1996

RMST Inc. heads to the wreck's debris field again; this time, the company tries to bring up the piece of the hull spotted two years earlier, but the cable snaps mid-salvage, sending the piece back down to the ocean floor.

July 1996

James Cameron’s Titanic begins principal photography with a budget of $110 million and almost immediately runs aground. The entertainment media maligns it for its exorbitant budget, which grows to over $200 million before marketing costs, and delays. It is originally scheduled to open in July 1997 as a summer blockbuster to compete with Men in Black. A Night to Remember author Walter Lord is a consultant on the film.

Among those who audition for Cameron’s Titanic is Matthew McConaughey, who loses out on the role of Jack Dawson when Cameron opts for Leonardo DiCaprio. “Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it,” McConaughey later recalls. “I didn’t get it. I never got offered that.”

November 1, 1997

Cameron’s Titanic finally premieres—in Japan. The movie has its world debut at the Tokyo International Film Festival. DiCaprio is big in Japan, so much so that the studio deploys 49 personal security guards for both the actor and director. At the screening, the excited audience keeps shouting “Leo!” There’s no word on their reaction when his character (spoiler alert!!) dies.

December 14, 1997

Titanic premieres in the U.S. and goes on to be the blockbuster studios had hardly dared to hope for. Critics and audiences fall for its sweeping romance set against heart-stopping cinematography and effects. It becomes the first film to make more than $1 billion and sets a record as the highest-grossing film of all time (until 2010, when it is dethroned by Avatar, another Cameron creation).

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in a scene from James Cameron's 'Titanic' (1997).
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in a scene from James Cameron's 'Titanic' (1997). / Getty Images / Handout

March 23, 1998

Titanic is the most-nominated film at the 70th Academy Awards with 14 nods in all of the major categories, tying the record set by 1950’s All About Eve. It wins 11 Oscars (tying the number won by Ben-Hur in 1960), including Best Picture, Directing, Score, Song, Art Direction, Cinematography, Visual Effects and more, but is shut out of the acting categories.

August 10, 1998

On this trip down to the debris field, RMST Inc. succeeds in nabbing the piece of hull dropped during the previous attempt. Weighing in at 15 tons, it becomes known as "The Big Piece." It is the largest piece of the ship recovered and still has glass in its portholes.

August 2000

RMST Inc. makes another trip to Titanic, salvaging perfume samples that once belonged to first-class passenger Adolphe Saalfeld.

September 2001

Cameron dives to Titanic to film his 3D documentary Ghosts of the Abyss. The documentary is released in 2003.

June 22, 2003

NOAA embarks on an 11-day mission to dive to the wreck and check the condition of the ship.

May 27, 2004

Ballard returns to study the wreck for the first time in 18 years. Over the course of 11 days, Ballard and a team use ROVs to examine the deterioration of the ship, which Ballard believes is accelerating due to visits by submersibles and salvage missions. "The deep sea is the biggest museum in the world ... yet there's no lock on the door," Ballard tells NPR.

August 25, 2004

RMST Inc. heads to Titanic again. By this point, the seven salvage dives to the wreck's debris field have resulted in the recovery of 5500 artifacts.

December 2010

Scientists announce that a new bacterium has been found in samples of rusticles brought up from the ship. They name the bacterium Halomonas titanicae.

August 15, 2011

RMST Inc. is granted title to the Titanic artifacts it has salvaged, provided the company follows conditions that "ensure that the collection of artifacts recovered from Titanic will be conserved and curated consistent with current international and U.S. historic preservation standards," according to NOAA.

January 31, 2012

Government agencies including NOAA, the U.S. National Park Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard release a circular advising ships not to jettison waste or garbage within the area surrounding the wreck. Submersibles are asked not to land on the wreck itself or leave plaques behind.

April 4, 2012

James Cameron’s Titanic remains unsinkable when it's re-released in theaters to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the real-life disaster. Presented in 3D in select theaters, the film takes in a staggering $100 million internationally in one weekend, putting its overall grosses at over $2 billion.

The Future of the Titanic

Australian mining tycoon Clive Palmer unveils plans for 'Titanic II.'
Australian mining tycoon Clive Palmer unveils plans for 'Titanic II.' / Mario Tama/Staff/Getty Images

A century after the RMS Titanic sinks on its maiden voyage and makes the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean its final resting place, a new ship—dubbed the Titanic II—makes headlines. Envisioned as an almost exact replica of the doomed luxury liner by Australian billionaire and politician Clive Palmer, it becomes something of an iceberg looming on the modern-day legacy of the Titanic. For maritime scholars and fans of Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster alike, it might go down in history as one of the biggest publicity stunts of all time—provided it ever actually gets built or sets sail.

April 30, 2012

The same day he announces his bid for political office in his native Australia, mining mogul Clive Palmer reveals his plans to build a nearly exact replica of the Titanic, to be christened Titanic II. "It will be every bit as luxurious as the original Titanic but of course it will have state-of-the-art 21st-century technology and the latest navigation and safety systems," Palmer says in a press conference. He adds that he hopes the planned liner—to be built by Chinese company CSC Jinling Shipyard as the flagship of Palmer's cruise company, Blue Star Line—will set sail from England to New York in 2016.

October 2012

Titanic experts Steve Hall and Daniel Klistorner, co-authors of Titanic: The Ship Magnificent and Titanic in Photographs, are appointed to work on the forthcoming ship. Descendants of Titanic survivors Joseph Bruce Ismay and Margaret "Molly" Brown later join the ship's advisory board.

February 26, 2013

Palmer releases blueprints for the design of Titanic II at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. The proposed ship will have first-, second-, and third-class accommodations and the capacity to carry 2600 passengers and 900 crew members, with enough lifeboats for all those aboard. Additionally, it's revealed that the ship will serve meals from the original Titanic menu and that crew members will don uniforms similar to those worn in 1912. Structurally, Titanic II will differ from the Titanic in key ways: It will be diesel-powered but have four smoke stacks to recreate the look of the original liner and have an enlarged rudder and bow thrusters, so as to better maneuver around whatever obstacles might come its way.

April 16, 2013

Finnish engineering firm Deltamarin signs a deal with Blue Star Line to manage the development of Titanic II and ensure it meets modern-day safety regulations and construction guidelines. "Deltamarin will be responsible for coordinating the various parties involved in the project including the shipyard, architects, interior designers and operations managers," Palmer says in a statement.

September 16, 2013

Palmer files a U.S. federal trademark for "Titanic II Blue Star Line," as well as "Titanic Two" and "RMS Titanic."

September 19, 2013

A wooden prototype of the Titanic II is tested at the Hamburg Ship Model Basin in Germany at speeds up to 23 knots per hour.

May 2014

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) partners with Blue Star Line to promote Titanic II from within China, with plans to launch the ship from the country.

March 2015

Deltamarin, the Finnish engineering firm responsible for the development of Titanic II, reveals that work on the project has come to a halt, as a spokesperson for Palmer claims that he has retired from business to focus on his political career. Workers at the CSC Jinling Shipyard tell The Australian that little work has been done on the project, with one saying: "That ship was just a proposal. It's never been carried out and the project has never launched."

March 21 and 26, 2015

The U.S. federal trademarks for "Titanic II Blue Star Line," "Titanic Two," and "RMS Titanic" are classified in status as "Abandoned - Failure to respond or late response," per Trademarkia, a search engine for trademarks held in the U.S.

August 2015

A spokesperson for James McDonald, the global marketing director for Blue Star Line, reveals that the launch date for Titanic II has been pushed back to 2018, two years after it was originally planned.

April 2016

Queensland Nickel, a nickel refinery that Palmer purchased in 2009, alleges amid financial troubles that close to AUD $6 million was taken from the company for the marketing and development of Titanic II; Palmer denies these allegations.

September 27, 2018

Palmer reveals in a statement that work on Titanic II was suspended because of a financial dispute between the Chinese government-owned Citic Limited and Mineralogy, the parent company of Blue Star Line. He adds that the dispute has since been resolved and the building of Titanic II will resume, with plans to offer a two-week maiden voyage to Dubai, and offer another from Dubai to Southampton.

October 2018

Titanic II, which has still yet to be built, is set to make its maiden voyage in 2022, officially starting in China and traveling to Singapore and Dubai, from where it will sail to Southampton, and then follow the Titanic’s original 1912 route all the way to New York City.

November 9, 2018

Deltamarin confirms it has recommenced work on the project; in January 2019, the engineering firm reveals Blue Star Line has contracted the company to further handle the design for the proposed ship.

April 16, 2019

The official Twitter account for Titanic II—as linked to by the official Titanic II website—posts about a gala dinner held in honor of the proposed ship in February 2019. This is the last public post made from the account as of April 2022.

August 21, 2019
A group of explorers make the first crewed dive to Titanic in over a decade and find that the wreck is rapidly deteriorating. "Titanic is returning to nature," historian Parks Stephenson tells the BBC.

October 1, 2019

Palmer files a U.S. federal trademark for "Titanic II."

January 21, 2020

RMST Inc. announces plans to dive to Titanic to retrieve the Marconi radio from the wreck. In May, a judge rules that the salvage trip can proceed, against the wishes of NOAA, UNESCO, and many archaeologists.

January 2021

Funding and logistical issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic derail plans to dive to the wreck for the radio.

June 30, 2021

The U.S. federal trademark for "Titanic II" is classified in status as "Abandoned - Failure to respond or late response," per Trademarkia.

April 2022

As of April 8, the Titanic II official website notes: "Tickets are not yet available for purchase. Ticketing information including the date of the maiden voyage and ticket prices will, when released, be made available on this website."

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