There have been larger liners since and, in today’s world, larger cruise ships, and there have been shipwrecks that caused greater losses of life (General von Steuben, Wilhelm Gustloff, Doña Paz, to name but three), so why is Titanic so special?
At the time of her loss, on 15 April 1912, not only was she the largest liner in the world, but she was new and she was on her maiden voyage. Titanic was special because she was the very visible epitome of British engineering, an engineering that had dominated the world for decades, producing 50 per cent of the world’s ships, railways and bridges. Great Britain’s Royal Navy was, through a deliberate policy, as big as the next two largest navies combined and the appearance of any new engineering feat that would be a worldbeater (an attribute that had come to be expected from Britain’s industrial might) in speed or size was therefore eagerly awaited by the world-wide citizens of ‘The Empire on which the sun never set’.
The disaster that overtook the Titanic represented not only a great loss of human life but also the loss of an empire’s prestige and self-confidence. The new legislation that resulted from her loss was far-reaching and improvements on that initial legislation are still being made today. Titanic was a sharp lesson in human behaviour and the self-assured arrogance of wealth that gave this era its label of The Gilded Age. Never again would mankind be so sure of its achievements and the materially based security that came as a result. The First World War that erupted two years after the liner’s loss would finally ram this lesson home in a brutal and bloody way.
Extracted from The Titanic Story by David Hutchings