Did people and the press really marvel so greatly at Titanic?


Blimp Edwards

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Hi all, my name is Dan and this is my first post. I've been fascinated all my life by Titanic and the subject enthralls me. Compared to you guys I am merely a casual fan, however. I know a lot more than your average Joe but that's probably about it. Still, I often fall asleep thinking about her, and wake up thinking about her.

I was always confused about something, though, and I'm hoping you guys can shed a little light on it. Whenever you read about Titanic or watch a documentary, they always start out by saying how people at the time simply marveled at her incredible size and magnificence. They say that people at the time called it the "Wonder Ship" or the "Ship of Dreams" and all that. Now I understand the desire for good story telling, and I know it doesn't sound as interesting or romantic to say that there are ships today that nearly dwarf Titanic, like the Oasis-class liners, and it most definitely does the story no favors to remind people that Titanic had two sister ships that were very similar in size and luxury.

My confusion is, is this just good story-telling, or did people and the press really marvel so greatly at Titanic (before she sank, that is). They claim that the world was in love with Titanic even before the incident, and it seems mentioned far too often for me to totally blow it off as an untruth. I can't figure out why the building of Titanic and her setting out on her maiden voyage would have been such an earth-shattering event (again, even before the catastrophe) when Olympic had already been in service for nearly a year. You'd think an "unsinkable ship" of Titanic's size and luxury would be somewhat old news being that it followed the birth of Olympic.

Just hoping someone can clarify this a little, or set me straight if I have things wrong somehow. Just good story telling, or is it true?

Thanks!

Dan
 

Anna Simpson

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Titanic was slightly larger than Olympic (882 ft 9 in) and attracted a large amount of media attention. Her interior was different and more luxurious. According to baker Charles Burgess, she was "Like the Olympic, but so much more elaborate." He goes on to say that the Titanic had carpet in the dining saloon while Olympic had tile. Walter Lord states she was 1,004 tons larger. I have not yet found evidence to support this statement, however. Many wealthy/famous/"high society" people were on board which may vary well have added to the attention.
 
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Walter Lord states she was 1,004 tons larger. I have not yet found evidence to support this statement, however. Many wealthy/famous/"high society" people were on board which may vary well have added to the attention.
Titanic was 1,004 tons larger mostly because of the enclosed A deck promenade. This increased the amount of enclosed space on Titanic, compared to Olympic, and in the context Walter Lord was referring to, tonnage (Gross Tonnage, to be exact) referred to enclosed volume, not weight.
 

Blimp Edwards

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Understood. It is true that modern-day storytelling would have you believe that Titanic was the world's first "unsinkable" ship, however, and that its size blew everything built up to that point out of the water. Wouldn't you more or less agree with that? Neither of those things actually being true, of course. I was just talking to someone yesterday that had no idea Queen Mary was larger than Titanic, and he had stayed on it as a guest a dozen times. He, like so many people these days, thought Titanic was the largest ship ever built, before or since, because that's what the hype would suggest.

That's a slightly different story, though. My curiosity is not why the hype exists today, but why it seems to have existed at the time, when it seems that people should have known better. Would you say that White Star considered Olympic more of a stepping stone towards Titanic, and that even though she was roughly just as large, luxurious, and "unsinkable", that they had their eyes set on Titanic being their crown jewel from the beginning and got the press to go along for the ride, by one means or another? Was the hype at the time mostly a well-played marketing scheme by White Star?

Dan
 
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>>That's a slightly different story, though. My curiosity is not why the hype exists today, but why it seems to have existed at the time,<<

Actually, it really didn't. The Olympic class was promoted as being practically unsinkable but this was no different from similar claims which were made for other ships of the period. No builder or owner ever asserted that any of their ships were completely unsinkable. This kind of thing took hold with some of the public, but that was more a case of a legend taking on a life of it's own.

Further to the point, the Titanic's inaguration into service wasn't even treated as big deal. She was the second sister and recieved the usuaal treatment for second sisters. it was the Olympic as the lead ship which was the star of the show and remained as such for most of her career. Had the Titanic not sunk on her first trip out, she would have gone down in history as a footnote.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Olympic got all the attention back then - Titanic was just more of the same. That's why most of the documentation made at the time was of the earlier ship. Neither was particularly luxurious or finely decorated by the standards of the time, and they were hardly representative of the cutting edge of engineering or design. They were more stable than many of their rivals so more comfortable in that sense, and noticeably bigger than their (faster) Cunard rivals, but there were even bigger liners already under construction in Germany in 1912, so the Olympic Class was just a stage in the general evolution of size, not a sudden leap forward like Brunel's Great Eastern which, half a century earlier, had been five times bigger than anything else afloat and remained so for 40 years. The White Star Line's promo material back in 1912 sang the praises of the Olympic Class rather than the individual ships. The hype which blurs the truth about the Titanic as opposed to its sisters is a creation of the years following its loss - as is the concept that such hype existed before its loss. it heightens the drama if the ship sinking on its maiden voyage was perceived at the time as by far the biggest, most advanced, most luxurious, eighth wonder of the world, etc etc. In truth, when the Olympic departed from Southampton for the frst time the Press and sightseers were there in great numbers, but they were thin on the ground when her younger sister cast off. If the Titanic hadn't sunk it would be regarded as just another vessel, now little known, which very briefly held the title of largest liner afloat but had no claim to be the fastest, safest, most advanced or most luxurious - except in popular culture.
 

Blimp Edwards

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Thanks for the honesty, I guess I was right to be confused. You've confirmed exactly what I assumed, that it is all just good story telling.

I've no doubt that people didn't marvel at her size, but you can marvel at the size of a Cadillac if you want to. And who here knows what the world's largest building is? I know I've lost track. So why should we think that everyone knew or cared what the world's largest ship was in April of 1912? Some of these documentaries I've seen, however, have literally said that "Titanic" was on the breathe of every man, woman, and child in the free world when she launched, and I could never quite believe that (not after learning of her older sister, especially).

This obviously doesn't make it any less of an incredible tragedy. And she was, indeed, the largest moving object at that time, so that adds a little legitimate "romance" to the story.

My personal theory is that Titanic's story gets more popular as time goes by precisely because people who are many decades too young to know the difference buy into so much of this legend. I guarantee that if I polled most people out in public I would find that many of them are under the distinct impression that Titanic was a large evolutionary step in technology, size, and elegance. Why not? It's more or less what we've been told. And when a ship that was such a huge "evolutionary step" founders on her maiden voyage, that's just seen as far too interesting a tale not to lend an ear to. Though I'm still enthralled by the subject either way, and when 1500 lose their lives, it really doesn't matter even if it happened on an average-sized, ordinary ship on what should have been a mid-life voyage.

Dan
 

TimTurner

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Titanic was a perfect storm of PR events:

Sinking on her first voyage.
Contrast between the wealthy and the poor
Contrast between the opulence and the tragedy
Contrast between the confidence and the magnitude of the disaster
The contrasted nobility and scandal of the various people onboard
Sinking when she was "unsinkable" and "God himself couldn't sink it"
The ease with which the sinking could have been avoided (i.e. "if they'd only done this...")
The number of people who survived was enough to bring us many good and detailed stories from the sinking, but enough people died to leave many intriguing questions unanswered.

For all these reasons, the Titanic appeals to the human mind and makes great story material. And like fishermen and their fish, stories often become bigger and more embellished with time. Therefore, Titanic isn't just a big ship, she becomes The Biggest. And not just a luxurious ship, but the Most Luxurious.
 

Adam Went

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It can probably be best summed up by saying that the Titanic was the Edwardian ideal, a follow on from the major technological achievements of the Victorian era and now the large and glamorous results were being shown for it. She attracted the most famous and influential people in society, which didn't diminish the interest either. There are so many stories within the story of the Titanic.

In modern times I think we think of it, without even realising it, as the end of an era as well - just two years later World War I broke out and the world has really never been the same again since.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Many of the staterooms in First Class on the Titanic were unoccupied, and she was carrying rather less of the millionaires, movers and shakers than could normally be found on a large transatlantic liner. Those who expected the very best knew from experience that they probably wouldn't get it on a maiden voyage, when there were teething troubles to be overcome and many of the assembled crew, particularly in the victualling department, would be unfamiliar with the ship's layout and facilities and not yet working as a fully co-ordinated team. The Olympic, or any of the other great liners which were well established in service, would have been a more attractive prospect.
 

Blimp Edwards

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I guess there's people that dress up in clothes of the era and "make believe" (for lack of a better description) that they are on Titanic, talking about 1912 events while using old-fashioned dialects. Though people have long found the events of that night interesting, it surely took many decades before the era itself became seen as old-fashioned and romantic. It can only add to the appeal of the ship's story to today's generations, an appeal that wouldn't have existed even for the largest Titanic enthusiasts until I'm guessing at least the second half of the 20th century.

Dan
 

Bob Godfrey

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The Edwardian period as a Golden Age of confidence and lost innocence was probably first looked back upon fondly from the trenches of the Great War, by those who'd very recently lived through it and were already missing it.
 

Blimp Edwards

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Well I guess there is a fad, especially among college students, of having 80's-themed parties, and that wasn't so very long ago. Or are 90's-themed parties now the rage? :eek:

Dan
 

Adam Went

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Nah 80's themed parties are still the go, you just can't beat 'em!

The fact that there's constant talk of a Titanic 2 is testament to the interest that's been carried through the generations.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Bob Godfrey

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At my age, 80s and 90s parties are all the rage. We don't mind younger people coming, but preferably nobody under 70.
 
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Adam Went

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Most of the bands from the 60's and 70's would be welcome at your party then, Bob. ;)

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Blimp Edwards

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Titanic was slightly larger than Olympic (882 ft 9 in)
Old topic, but is this length of 882' 9" agreed upon? Wikipedia says 882' 6" for both Olympic and Titanic, and other sites have 882' 9" listed, also for both. I know the Titanic was heavier, but was it actually slightly longer than its older sister (by inches, no less)?

Thanks,
Dan
 

Jim Currie

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Hello all you young 'uns(except Bob)!

This is a really interesting topic to an old codger like me and many others, the lives of which have spanned the period 1930's until the present day.

As far as the events I remember are concerned, most of the modern-day discussions, TV series and films about near-history suffer from a surfiet of over-active immagination. Having said that, real life, in any era is normally very, very boring. It must be much more so to-day. Otherwise, why is there such a fascination with earlier times? Have we now reached the ultimate in boredom?

Back in 1912, a wireless (radio) in the home was unheard of. All news was received via newspaper. However, there was a great thirst for knowledge among the common people. Those who could do so, read avidly. They had the choice of three types of literature. What are today known as 'classics'.. The Bronte sisters, Robert Lous Stevenson, Walter Scott, Charles Dickens etc., newspapers which were unfettered by silly things like moral responsibilty or proper regulation and "Penny Dreadfuls." The last were little booklets produced in huge numbers at a price affordable by the masses. 99% of them were designed to take the working man (emancipation was in it's infancy) out of the dreary drudge of working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Bob, you used the term 'golden' to describe the Victorian and Edwardian ages. Believe you me, these were not terms used by what was called 'the common five-eight' (A term used to describe an ordinary man).
My uncle, aunt and my father-in law and his 5 brothers served in the trenches during WW1. The last group volunteered as part of Kitcheners first 100K. Remarkable as it seems, all but one survived the entire war. (Punt for my wife's new book which comes out next year).
All of these individuals clearly remembered Titanic but only spoke of it to me because of my occupation. It was no big deal for them at all. In fact, most people completely forgot about Titanic until the film 'Night to Remember' was released. When it was, the cinema was in its hey-day and Kenneth More was a mega-star so it got maximum exposure. But only for a year then it disappeared and everyone completely forgot about Titanic once more until Ballard found the wreck. Then once more, it disappeared from poular discussion until it , dare I say it, rose to the surface once more with a daft film about raising her. And so on. Titanic rises from the depths every few years when some group of financiers think they can make a buck or two out of her. I suppose if the White Star Company was still here and had all the rights to that vessel, Titanic would have been the greatest single investement ever made by a shipping company.
Incidentally, in all of the 50+ years I was active in the business, I never once heard the name Titanic mentioned.

By the way Bob. Not to stretch a point; Titanic was 882-6" on a cold day and might possibly have been over 883 feet long in a heat wave.(or is that hot wave?)

Jim C.
 

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