Flashlights used on Titanic


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Terry L. King

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Greetings all! The use of flashlights by Titanic's crew as depicted in the various Titanic movies, has always intrigued me. I never thought about flashlights existing in 1912. In Cameron's movie, they were depicted as being bulkier, almost like a battery-operated lantern. In ANTR or Titanic (with B. Stanwick), they were depicted as the tubular form we are so familiar with now. (If my memory serves me correctly)

So I did a little research on flashlights, and here is what I've found so far:

1879 - Edison invented the carbon filament incandescent bulb.

1888 - German scientist Carl Gassner encased wet cell chemicals in a sealed zinc container to make the first truly portable battery. It was the first "dry cell".

1896 - "D" cell developed.

1897 - American Electrical Novelty & Manufac. Co. of N.Y. (later known as "Eveready") patented several flashlights.

1898 - Tubular flashlights become instant success with New York city police.

1906 - Tungsten bulbs replace carbon filament. Much brighter, efficient, and longer lasting than carbon filament.

The name "Flashlight" caught on because the early models with carbon filament bulbs and primitive batteries couldn't stay on very long without extinguishing the bulb or battery. So a momentary switch was used, thus the "flash" moniker. I recall as a kid, hearing old timers calling them torches, as I believe the British call them.

If this is already covered in a thread, I missed it and apologize in advance.

Does anyone know anything about the flashlights used on board? Exact model, etc.?

Terry.
 

Bob Godfrey

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This subject has been covered, Terry, but the posts are scattered around in several threads. To summarise, in reality there were no electric torches on Titanic except a few carried by passengers or the personal property of crew members. Harold Lowe's torch, which is prominent in Cameron's film and is shown as the tubular type, was given to him by assistant surgeon John Simpson, but we have no idea what kind it really was. In the same scene (looking for bodies), a seaman holds what seems to be a powerful lantern-style electric lamp, but in reality only oil lamps were provided for the boats. The only brand name which can be tentatively identified is Ever-Ready, who made a 'Cane Light' which sounds very like the device which Mrs White was waving around and which caused much annoyance to crew members trying to maintain their night vision.
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Bob Godfrey

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This is the business end of the Ever-Ready Cane Light, which was a Baby Ever-Ready torch mounted on the end of a walking stick. This was a true 'flashlight' with a spring-loaded button switch (overlapping the narrow brass band). It was powered by two C-type batteries, which didn't last long if you didn't release the switch after a short burst. Lightoller and his hard-pressed deck crew would have been very happy if Mrs White's batteries had died an early death:

Arriving in safety on board the Carpathia, she tried to make out that someone had stolen her wretched stick, whereas it had been merely taken from her, in response to my request that someone would throw the damn thing overboard.
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Terry L. King

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Bob,
Thank for your "enLIGHTening" response... oh that's pitiful I know (A thousand comedians out of work, and I'm making jokes!).

Sorry about repeating a subject. I have been studying this site for a few weeks before I made my first post recently. I guess I should have opened some of those older archives.

I do find your post interesting though. Think about it. The only flashlights were passenger's or crew member's personal property? The Titanic was truly "state of the art". It had the Marconi wireless, electric elevators, exercise room, etc. And though not the fastest, it was among the faster.

One would think flashlights (torches) would be provided officially on a "state of the art ship". Especially since they had been around for a few years by then. Perhaps they could not see justification for the extra expense.

On the other hand, seems like I read about someone lamenting over a shortage of binoculars.

Thanks again Bob for your post.
Terry.
 

Bob Godfrey

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No worries about bringing up an old topic, Terry, there are so many threads in this forum now that nobody can know what's in all of them. Besides, when old questions crop up again there's generally something new which can be added.

Regarding the lack of electric torches as standard equipment, I suspect that could be due at least partly to a view that they were more of a hindrance than a help at a time good night vision was crucial for safe navigation. The prospect of having people wandering about on deck and flashing intense directional beams, especially in the vicinity of the Bridge, would not be too popular. I'm sure our professional mariners could address that issue better than I can.
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Terry L. King

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Good point Bob about "conflicting with night vision". I've read many postings by Michael the "Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon", about the use of artificial light vs. experienced natural eyesight.

Perhaps they could have been handed out only to properly trained officers or crew members to be used discreetly and when needed.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>The prospect of having people wandering about on deck and flashing intense directional beams, especially in the vicinity of the Bridge, would not be too popular.<<

Trust me, it still isn't. Being dazzled so that your night vision is trashed doesn't go down well with the watch team at all.

The only time I recall bright white lights being allowed out on deck at night was when I was on the U.S.S. Comstock. We were conducting a search and rescue operation for a CH-53 helicoptor that crashed in the Persian Gulf, and the white lights...ranging from flashlights to the ship's searchlights...were used to scan the sea for wreckage. Unfortunately, we didn't find jack diddly squat that way. When the aircraft was finally located, the operation changed to recovery of the bird and four bodies from the seabed.

>>Perhaps they could have been handed out only to properly trained officers or crew members to be used discreetly and when needed.<<

In a mariner's eyes, there ain't no such animal as a discreet white light. When flashlights are used on deck at night, they have the clear lenses replaced with blue or red filters. Part of keeping a good watch is to be able to see what's ahead of you and around you. Safety demands nothing less, and that's just not possible when all you can see are black spots on top of black after being dazzled.
 

Noel F. Jones

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Torches should certainly have been de rigeur for the engineers. In my experience all deck officers and engineers, including juniors, had a torch (usually their own property) hanging on a panic hook in their rooms. I think there was usually one on the chartroom inventory for use at the discretion of the O.O.W.

The deck officers would also need torches for 'rounds', stowaway searches and searching cargo compartments during turnrounds. The electricians routinely carry a torch in their toolboxes for obvious reasons.

Masters-at-arms and senior catering officers should have had torches for clearing passenger decks and crew quarters in an emergency.

Further, anyone whose duties could take them into stores flats, freezer and chill compartments outside of normal working hours would be advised to take a torch with them.

According to The Shipbuilder, emergency lighting "deriving currents from the emergency dynamos" was installed below decks in Titanic "at all points where the passengers and crew would congregate" and "anyone could find their way from one end of the vessel to the other at night by means of the lights on these circuits."

All very well but that's only as good as the integrity of the circuiting. Collision, fire or explosion could interrupt that. I believe local battery-powered emergency lighting is a relatively modern development.

Noel
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>All very well but that's only as good as the integrity of the circuiting. Collision, fire or explosion could interrupt that.<<

You got that right! Been there done that, and a lot more often then I could count! I always had a Maglite, either a large or a small one, on my person in case I needed it. Working in a supply rating kept me below decks most of the time and there's nothing darker then the inside of a ship when the lights go out. I tended to be the target of some teasing because of that, but when the lights went out for some reason...or no good reason at all...guess who everybody in my division wanted to have around?

For any use out on the weatherdecks, I always had a blue or a red filter on the thing so I didn't dazzle anyone.

>>I believe local battery-powered emergency lighting is a relatively modern development.<<

Well, maybe not *that* recent. U.S. warships have had such lights...referred to as battle lanterns...in one form or another since at least the Second World War. Handy things to have around when they worked and if some idiot didn't gundeck the scheduled preventive maintainance, they usually worked quite well. When they didn't, I always had my own personal back up right on my hip.
 
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Guessing about "torches" or "flashlights" is unnecessary. When the boiler room lights went out, the engineers did not use flashlights to perform their duties. Instead, they sent men aft to the engine room to obtain oil lamps.

Check the testimonies of Barrett and Hendrickson on the fetching of lamps. From the number of men carrying these lamps, the ship must have been prepared with quite a number. This, in 1912, would have been proper emergency procedure. The flashlights of the day had light output durations measured almost in seconds rather than minutes or hours. Oil lamps, however, would provide light for up to two 4-hour watches before needing refilling.

Check the testimonies. Electric "torches" or "flashlights" (the latter being a U.S. term and not British) are just not mentioned.

-- David G. Brown
 

Bob Godfrey

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Exactly. Thus my statement above: "there were no electric torches on Titanic except a few carried by passengers or the personal property of crew members". Even the night watchmen in the passenger areas carried colza (oil) lamps, and not for nothing was there a lamp trimmer on the payroll. Now for a bit of guesswork. I suspect that the surgeon's torch given to Lowe was very small, and perhaps its normal use was to provide a brief burst of light for retinal examination. Only in the film version does it become a portable searchlight worthy of comparison with the Eddystone lighthouse.
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May 3, 2005
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In ANTR, after Lightoller goes off duty from the bridge and is making his rounds, he seems to have some sort of "torch" or lantern...It is shown when he is inspecting the lifeboats and then again when he shines in on a couple snuggling together on the boat deck.
 
May 3, 2005
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>>Only in the film version does it become a portable searchlight worthy of comparison with the Eddystone lighthouse.<<

And in "Titanic 1997" they have halogen light bulbs with a bright white light and a bright white beam .
 
J

Jordan Tancevski

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ok, so I got the lanterns in the lifeboats covered...


but did they have any on the boat deck during the sinking? or was it just the lifeboats?
 

Bob Godfrey

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There would not normally gave been any use for lanterns on the boat deck, but those intended for use in the boats were stored not in the boats but in a locker onboard, so certainly there would have been crewmen holding (lit) lanterns on the boat deck while the boats were being prepared and loaded.

Hemming (lamp trimmer): "Then I lit the lamps and brought them up, four at a time, two in each hand. The boats that were already lowered, I put them on the deck, and asked them to pass them down to the end of the boat fall. As to the boats that were not lowered, I gave them into the boats myself."
 
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