God himself couldn't sink this ship


Erik Wood

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I think the route of this discussion lies on perception. I am going to use Mark as an example (don't worry I won't be using your name in vain Mark). Mark and I can see the same ship, hit the same pier at the same time from the same place and get two completely different ideas of what happened, remeber two completely sets of circumstances that where involved. He will have his view as will I. Is one of us right and the other wrong??

Newspaper adds regardless of there wording are meant to represent the person or company adverstising better then its adversary. Using phrases like unsinkable or {unburnable} are attempts based partially in fact and partially in fiction by the company placing the add to draw attention away from the competetors add. Much like a pop company saying that Pepsi is the best and has the most flavor, according the person placing the add that is correct, to the rest of the public it is up to there own choice, and they have the right to choose what they want.

I would perceive it has a lot of talk, others would perceive it has the gospel truth and without doing further research rely on it as truth. I think another part of this discussion lies in the question on whether or not White Star willfully mislead it's customers to get more revenue. By putting it in that text, every company that avertises is guilty of that. They all intend to discredit one company and give credit to there own. That is the nature of business, both in shipping and otherwise.

If we are adding to that and saying that those who boarded the vessel based on there (the person buying the ticket) perception that the ship was unsinkable based off a newspaper report or advertisement where wronged or lied to, we are in my mind reaching. By that standard any product that does not meet the standards of someone who purchases it should have the right to sue for misleading adverstising. A line has to be drawn where something is acceptable based on the companies word even if it doesn't meet the consumers standard, and where the company has willingly mislead its customers knowing that danger was more then possible and probable to it's customers but didn't report them, and allowed unsafe practice to kill people for the purpose of making money. Is this what people think White Star did???

If we are saying people died who wouldn't have died, had the newspaper add said the ship isn't unsinkable but has a lot of safety features that other ships don't have, that too is a reach, but this is also unknowable.
 
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Tom Pappas

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What is interesting is how somehow, we got from "as far as it is possible to do so," "practically," and "it is claimed," to "Titanic is unsinkable." It seems to me that White Star, Shipbuilder, and the (responsible) press did all they could to avoid giving the impression that the ship couldn't sink, and yet the universal impression (shared by A.S. Franklin, a Vice-President of White Star, if we are to take his statement of April 15, 1912 at face value) was that she couldn't.

I suppose the fact that White Star did nothing to disabuse the public of its misconception, and even shouted down Alexander Carlisle when he proposed lifeboats for all, speaks volumes about where their true interests lay.
 

George Behe

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Hi, all!

This evening I received an email from Gavin Murphy regarding the original mention of the phrase "practically unsinkable" in describing the Olympic/Titanic.

My web article on this subject quotes Bill Sauder's statement that the Olympic/Titanic edition of "Shipbuilder" made wholesale use of White Star publicity material. Likewise, Gavin writes that, in regard to its use of the phrase 'practically unsinkable':

"...the Shipbuilder took this phrase right out of White Star Line promotional materials. I have a copy of a 1911 WSL publicity booklet .... which I actually referenced in my latest article posted last week on ET, and it says at p. 31: '[T]he Captain can, by simply moving an electric switch, instantly close the doors throughout, practically making the vessel unsinkable.' As you can see, the phrase started with the White Star Line and the Shipbuilder virtually lifted it out lock, stock and barrel. This also confirms Bill's comments in your article regarding the magazine copying WSL publicity brochures when it comes to the T."

I'm very grateful to Gavin for sharing this additional info with me. (Thanks, old chap!!)

All my best,

George
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Thanks for that George and to Gavin.

As I intimated earlier, the question really is not whether White Star's advertizing was misleading- as it undeniably was - but why a company of that immense stature would make such hyperbolic assertions and, even more crucially, why the engineering press of the day opted to hype the "unsinkability" angle rather than challenge this claim.

The point that keeps being made that WSL was within its rights to use beguiling, if not actually fraudulent publicity, merely because other businesses did the same, seems very shortsighted. I have not contended that WSL, out of sheer evil deviousness, mislead the public. That's ridiculous. I am saying rather that out of ignorance and ill-advised complacency, the company did so.

Whatever nonsensical or sensational hype another kind of trade might indulge in regarding its merchandise or services, I believe it was highly unethical for a leader in the ocean-going transportation industry, responsible for the safety of many hundreds of thousands of lives, to have made (or at least facilitated) such outrageous claims of invulnerability.

Randy
 

Erik Wood

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Tom said: I suppose the fact that White Star did nothing to disabuse the public of its misconception, and even shouted down Alexander Carlisle when he proposed lifeboats for all, speaks volumes about where their true interests lay.

Shipping companies are not in the business of safe travel, shipping companies are in the business of shipping mass amounts of people from one place to another and making a profit on doing that. Any romantic idea to the contrary needs to be researched in depth. Updates (such as lifeboats for all in 1912) was an extra cost that companies didn't want to spend and some cases they didn't see a need to spend. This is why you are seeing older ships being kicked to the curb and newer ones being built. It is cheaper to build a new one, then fix an old one to meet new standards. This process temporarily puts the company in a large finanical hole.

The travel industry in general is only interested in making profits, I can relate several stories after working for Carnival Corp to show just how unineterested they are in safety and how interested they are in profits. It just so happens that in today's world you don't get profits without some degree of safety and a bigger degree of elegance. In China, Tawian and other countries from that area of the globe make money of herding hundreds more on a boat then it can hold. In reality ships of today are less structurally sound in some ways then the ships of Titanic's era. The navigation standards and aids have improved a thousand fold.

IMO, you can't place blame soley on White Star, every shipping company does it and has to in order to survive. Shipping industry is and always has been a cut throat industry. Carnivals take over of RCL is a perfect example.

Randy said: That's ridiculous. I am saying rather that out of ignorance and ill-advised complacency, the company did so.

This I agree with.
 
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Tom Pappas

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Agreed, Erik. For-profit ventures don't spend money needlessly. But the presence of the collapsible boats seem to carry some subtext, and I've never been quite sure what it is. At my most cynical, I think it could be WSL's effort at a "moral insurance policy." If there ever were an accident in which lifeboats came into play, the company could claim, "Well, look, we exceeded the BOT regulations, so you can't blame us." Or they may have just been a sop to Carlisle and other detractors.

(Does anyone see the irony in the designer of unsinkable ships pressing for more lifeboats?)
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Perhaps it was because the designers were under no such illusion Tom. Alexander Carlisle may have been a lot of things, but he wasn't brain dead.
wink.gif
A pity it took the loss of the Titanic to make the shipping companies pay attention.
sad.gif
 

Mark Baber

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For whatever it's worth, I add the following news clipping to the discussion of the history of the use of the word "unsinkable" preceded by an adverb. This is a heavily edited version of this article; the full article will be available online very shortly.

The New York Times, Sunday, 8 February 1903

THE LARGEST SHIP AFLOAT
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White Star Liner Cedric to Sail for This Port on Wednesday
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She is 700 Feet Long, Her Gross Tonnage is 21,000, She Has Nine Decks, and Can Carry 2,600 Passengers
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[Two paragraphs deleted.]

There are nine decks on the Cedric. She is built on the cellular double bottom principle, and has numerous water-tight compartments that make her practically unsinkable. [The remaining three sentences of this paragraph deleted.]

[Six paragraphs deleted.]

-30-
 

Dave Gittins

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Mark's find beats my own by a few years. I have a Stone-Lloyd ad from 1907 that describes Mauretania in the same terms.

The fact is, there was a general feeling that the major liners of the time were practically unsinkable when involved in storms or the average collision. Where I beg to differ from the popular accounts is when they depict Titanic as something new and unique in her safety. Neither were her wonders shouted from the housetops. In early 1912, most of the public didn't give a damn about Titanic. Compare photos of Titanic's departure with the film of Olympic's maiden voyage. Titanic didn't draw a big crowd to see her off.

Alexander Carlisle wasn't "shouted down" by White Star. This rather curious chap simply never put his case. In Mersey's court he distinguished carefully between what he thought and what he said. At the meetings where boats were mentioned, he said that Pirrie and Ismay did all the talking while he and Harold Sanderson were "more or less dummies". (Mersey sarcastically said that sounded truthful). Carlisle also went with the crowd when he served on a Board of Trade committee that considered lifeboat rules before the disaster. (So did shipbuilders, insurers, unionists and owners). They agreed to rules that would have reduced the boats carried, subject to the standard of subdivision of the hull. You don't have to "shout down" a mouse.

Harold Sanderson put the matter accurately. he said that the extra boats were decided on by "mere guess or rule of thumb". In other words, there was no serious thought, much less conspiracy. It was just business as usual. Titanic was sunk in accordance with tradition.
 

Mark Baber

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And here's an even earlier one, different from the others in that it's contained in a real news story about the American Line's St. Louis being overdue at New York, rather than in an ad or story touting the qualities of a new ship. This, too, is heavily edited; the full story appears here.

The New York Times, Friday, 16 January 1903

NO NEWS OF THE LINER ST. LOUIS
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Arriving Steamships Report That They Did Not Sight Her
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IS NOW FOUR DAYS OVERDUE
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Manager Griscom Says the Company is Not Apprehensive About Her---She
Left Cherbourg 17 Hours Late
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The American liner St. Louis, now nearly four days overdue, had not been
sighted at an early hour this morning. A widespread anxiety as to her
whereabouts was made manifest yesterday at the American Liner offices in
the Empire Building, into which poured a constant stream of inquiries in
regard to the missing liner.

[Fifteen paragraphs and the first sentence of a sixteenth omitted.] The idea
that she may have met a more serious fate is scouted, as her water-tight
compartments render her practically unsinkable, even in the event of a
collision and the total derangement of her machinery.

-30-
 

Mark Baber

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And now, for something completely different...an amazingly late use of the word, without any qualifying adverb.

The New York Times, 3 April 1913

THE OLYMPIC SAILS
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Begins Her First Voyage to New York After Her Reconstruction
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By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times
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LONDON, April 2---The White Star liner Olympic left Southampton to-day on her first trip for New York since she was fitted with the double steel bottom and additional bulkheads that are declared by her owners to make her unsinkable. A Southampton dispatch says that her departure recalled the scenes when her maiden voyage began.

The passengers include Judge Mortimer C. Addams, Lorenzo Daniels, Montague Glass, Charles Kiralfy, and William Church Osborn. A number of White Star officials went on an inspection trip to Queenstown.

-30-
 

George Behe

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Hi, Mark!

Congratulations on a very significant discovery!

Would you mind if I were to add that information to my own website's "How the Titanic Became Unsinkable?" page? (Your name would of course appear in the article's acknowledgements.) Thanks very much, old chap.

All my best,

George
 

Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 13 March 1913.

CALL OLYMPIC UNSINKABLE
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Builders Have Placed Inner Hull in White Star Liner
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By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times
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LONDON, March 12---A Belfast dispatch to The Evening News says:

"One of the most wonderful shipbuilding feats ever known has nearly been finished on the White Star liner Olympic. The nature of the work has thus far been kept secret, but I am now able to say that Harland & Wolff are constructing an enormous steel shell inside her hull. It extends nearly the full length of the ship, from No. 3 bulkhead forward to the rear turbine room aft.

"If she collided with an iceberg, as her sister Titanic did, and her hull were ripped open by a slanting blow she would not sink. The inner shell would keep her afloat almost as if nothing had happened. It would be the same if she ran into a submerged rock.

"Harland & Wolff's naval architects believe they have realized the quest of an unsinkable ship."

-30-
 

Mark Baber

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"Unsinkable" in 1913 again:

The Times, 3 April 1913

THE OLYMPIC AT SEA AFTER REFITTING
---
PROVISIONS FOR SAFETY

---
The White Star liner Olympic left Southampton yesterday morning on her first
voyage to New York after the extensive alterations which have been effected
in her with the object of rendering her so far as possible unsinkable. She
was withdrawn from service in October last, and during the winter the work
was carried out by her builders, Messrs. Harland and Wolff, at their Belfast
shipyard.

The vessel has been fitted with a new inner skin or shell, which extends
from the tank top to a point well above the water line, and, in conjunction
with the double bottom, forms in effect a second hull inside the exterior
one. Hence supposing, as happened with the Titanic, the outer skin is ripped
open by contact with ice, the inner one remains to keep out the water from
the interior of the ship. This inner skin is constructed of steel plating
strong enough to be capable of resisting extreme water pressure, the frames
are of heavy channel steel, and longitudinals giving increased strength to
the structure extend the entire length of the double skin. The space between
the two shells is subdivided both vertically and horizontally by retaining
the original bulkheads, which pass out to the outer skin and by introducing
intermediate watertight divisions between the two sells. Further, the top of
the structure and the upper longitudinals have been fitted as watertight
flats, so that each side of the ship has been converted into a series of
watertight compartments. Within the vessel the watertight bulkheads have
been increased in number and carried up to the B deck. As a further
precaution an extra line of piping of large diameter has been laid right
through the ship, and through this in case of emergency all the pumps can
draw. Thus any compartment which may be flooded can be pumped out by any of
the bilge or ballast pumps, the control of which can be effected if
necessary from the upper deck.

In addition to these precautions for the safety of the ship's passengers,
several improvements have been made in the accommodation. The restaurant has
been enlarged and redecorated and provided with a reception room, and a
large Café Parisien has been constructed next to it. Additional suites of
state rooms, with bath rooms, have been provided on the saloon and promenade
decks, and a range of dog kennels has been erected on the middle deck.

-30-
 

Eric Longo

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Hi Mark,

Many thanks for posting the last two bits - you posted the March article before and I quoted it (and credited you of course) in some thread or other here or at T-T - you'd think WSL would have learned some lessons after 1912! Anyway, it was speculated/suggested to me that these statements were not actually made as such by WSL but amplified by some eager press person.

Best wishes,
Eric
 

Mark Baber

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it was speculated/suggested to me...

Eric, I just report the news, not analyze it. In this regard, I leave it to others to theorize whether the term originated with White Star, H&W, journalists, gremlins, etc.

;-)
 
Jun 10, 1999
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...and "only if" the WSL had foresight into the preperations that the Japanese Navy were taking prior to 7 Dec. '41. A Japanese aviator was heard to say..."Anything that can float can be sunk".

Agreed, "practically unsinkable" is at the apex!

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 

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