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Building Titanic


It is generally accepted that the concept for the Olympic-class liners – namely, the Olympic and the Titanic (the third sister Britannic following later) – was decided over dinner in Downshire House, the London residence of the Harland & Wolff chairman, Lord Pirrie, in the autumn of 1907. Present at dinner was the White Star Line managing director J. Bruce Ismay.

The Olympic–class liners represented a 50 percent increase in size over the Cunard vessels Lusitania and Mauretania, the largest and fastest liners in the world at that time. They were planned and designed by the shipyard’s principal architect, Alexander Carlisle, and intended to be the most luxurious vessels in the world. Registered in Liverpool, built by Harland & Wolff, Titanic and Olympic shared design plans and were near identical ships. The order to begin construction was given on 17 September 1908.

Building Titanic

Olympic’s keel was laid first, with Titanic’s following a number of months later. The sisters were built in close proximity – and, when completed, registered in at approximately 45,500 gross tons and measured 882ft 9in long and 92ft 6in wide at the maximum breadth of the ship. The cost for both ships was £3 million for the pair (£322 million in today’s money). Harland & Wolff’s usual arrangement with the White Star Line for ship construction was by their usual terms, ‘Cost plus 3 per cent’.

Titanic’s four huge funnels rose 72ft above the topmost deck, with the after one being a dummy used purely for ventilation. This gave the illusion of power and stability, which the public wanted, and also followed the four-funnel arrangement seen on some of the competitors’ ships. The engines were capable of giving a service speed of 21–21½ knots. The steam required to power the ships was provided by 29 boilers that comprised 159 furnaces. To feed these massive boilers, the coal bunkers had a combined capacity of 6,611 tons and, operating at 21–22 knots, could consume 620–640 tons of coal per day.

‘Practically unsinkable’

Titanic’s hull was divided into 16 watertight compartments, considered a safety feature that drew the phrase ‘practically unsinkable’. She could withstand damage sustained through any collision that was probable in the minds of the maritime community at the time. It was believed that the ship could remain afloat long enough to shuttle the passengers and crew to another ship using the lifeboats on board.

After successfully completing her sea trials on 2 April 1912, Titanic departed Belfast for Southampton. She arrived late the following evening and docked alongside Berth 44 just after midnight. Everything appeared to be exactly as it should be. Sadly her designers discovered the sad truth when the unthinkable happened and Titanic struck an iceberg. It took her just over two and a half hours to sink.

With thanks to Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall

Original footage of Titanic from British Pathé

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