How many men were actually employed building the Titanic


Mette McCall

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Mar 27, 2011
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At Harland and Wolff in Belfast, how many men did it take to build Titanic? I've read anything from 3,000 to 15,000 men..
Any input appreciated, thanks.
Mette
 
Dec 2, 2000
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They didn't commonly assign workers to any one ship as far as I know. The way the set up worked is that when you clocked in, they sent you to wherever your particular warm body was needed the most.

If you know how many people were employed by Harland and Wolff from the time the Titanic was laid down to the time she finished fitting out and put to see, you would not be far off base in stating that most all of them had a hand in it at some point.
 

Adam Went

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It would be nigh on impossible to give an exact figure, because aside from the things Michael mentioned, you also had the unemployed workers who turned up at the dockyards every morning hoping to pick up a day's work and a day's pay....so there probably would have been a core group of workers who spent a fair amount of time on the ship but then a large amount of others would have just been like a revolving door.

The best way is simply to state that it was several thousand.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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It doesn't help that the emplyment records which Harland & Wolff kept from that far back are no longer extant. If there was a core group...and it's very possible since I've seen this happen in a number of shipyards...the information regarding them is long since lost.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Just as an aside, it's interesting (or maybe not!) that the Titanic was built by men and boys (ie male employees under the age of 16), who made up a substantial number of the workforce. The rivet gangs, for instance, usually comprised three men and one or two boys aged 14 or 15. In the eyes of the law these youngsters merited a certain amount of protection as 'young people' - no longer children but not yet men.
 

Adam Went

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Michael:

Even if there was still original records existing which indicated a more accurate number, how much faith could we actually place in it? I say this because there was not the employment guidelines and stipulations and reams of paperwork to go through in the early 1900's that there is in 2011.

People went to work at dawn, got paid and went home at dusk, and that was that....

It's also interesting to note that a small number of deaths was basically considered acceptable in the process of building a ship on the scale of Titanic. Not an easy job at all.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Even if there was still original records existing which indicated a more accurate number, how much faith could we actually place in it?<<

Honestly, probably not a helluva lot. They may well have had some excruciatingly accurate lists if only to keep the accounting department happy. The problem is. as with any employer, people come and go all the time, either for "better" opportunities, retirements, and some who just plain get sacked.

>>It's also interesting to note that a small number of deaths was basically considered acceptable in the process of building a ship on the scale of Titanic. Not an easy job at all.<<

Indeed it's not. I've been through my share of shipyards, one for new construction, and two major overhauls as well as some lesser refits/availabilities. Shipyards are extremely dangerous places. Some of the things I've seen going on would scare the Devil himself!
 

Adam Went

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Michael:

Agree with you about the employment records - the same goes for most jobs, as you said, but particularly for the hard labour of shipyard work, staffing would have changed regularly (again, revolving door) and it would be very difficult to keep pinpoint accurate documentation of every worker who ever did any work on the Titanic, be it major or miniscule.

Of course these days we have all the Occupational Health & Safety lingo that workplaces have to comply with by law, but in Titanic's time it was basically a case of....well, if you want the pay, you've got to be willing to put your hand up for the job, no matter how risky.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Agree with you about the employment records - the same goes for most jobs, as you said, but particularly for the hard labour of shipyard work, staffing would have changed regularly (again, revolving door) and it would be very difficult to keep pinpoint accurate documentation of every worker who ever did any work on the Titanic, be it major or miniscule.<<

It doesn't help much that record keeping is not an exact science where you can test something, either it works or it doesn't, then publish the results for all to see.

You wish it was, but it's not.

With a shipyard, you have things like an accounting department, a drawing office, a personnel office, and the like with the relevant records scattered all over the place. Then there are records which the government keeps such as whatever authority minds the registry, any records which the Admiralty would keep, as well as anything kept in the offices of the line itself.

It's even worse when you have records which are disposed of over time. This is one of the reasons why librarians need training up to the level of a masters degree. It takes that much training just to be able to know where to look, how to look, what to look for and how to recover it.

>>Of course these days we have all the Occupational Health & Safety lingo that workplaces have to comply with by law...<<

Yeah, they do, but this is one area where the shipyards don't mind playing fast and loose with the rules if they can get away with it. One yard where I did duty received a safety award by the simple expediant of hiding accident reports!

I've been a part of availabilities where yard workers were {smoking} in spaces filled with fumes from Formula 151 primer and in another, I got off the ship as fast as my feet could carry me when I saw hundreds of gas cylinders standing up on end secured to absolutely nothing!

Doesn't that just give you the warm and fuzzies???
 
Dec 29, 2006
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In 1914 the Harland & Wolff yard at Belfast is said to have employed about 14,000 men, although they would not all have worked on the construction of the Titanic at the same time - ships being built to a set timetable. However, the elenent of doubt surrounding the question posed in this thread concerns the work carried out in places other than Belfast - the anchors, for example, were made by Hingleys in the West Midlands, while the steel was rolled in Scotland. Perhaps we might guess that something like 20,000 people built the Titanic?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Perhaps we might guess that something like 20,000 people built the Titanic?<<

More if you count subcontractors who would have provided certain furnishings, sundry stores such as dinner service, and equipment such as lifeboat davits. Harland & Wolff did as much as they could in their own yard, but they couldn't do it all.
 

Adam Went

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Michael:

Having worked (and still do) in an environment where there's different departments and different office clerks carrying out different tasks at any one time, I know only too well how thoroughly useless they are at anything resembling communicating with one another in order to keep everything in line. One person will know about something that another one won't and so on. And that's in 2011, in the digital age when it's so much easier to keep track of everything, and there's so many more rules and regulations in place - when you think of it like that, it's not hard to see just why exact figures, even if they did exist, would hardly be believable in an Edwardian era shipyard!!

Your accounts of shipyards is shocking and somewhat unnerving, but sadly, hardly surprising. A lot of places of that nature look to take shortcuts where they can.

Personally i'm not a huge preacher of some of the finer points of OH&S, but there's certainly limits....

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Having worked (and still do) in an environment where there's different departments and different office clerks carrying out different tasks at any one time, I know only too well how thoroughly useless they are at anything resembling communicating with one another in order to keep everything in line.<<

Try to imagine how it is with records of any kind when trying to track down a single person, never mind up to 14,000. Resources like the Public Records Office are a godsend to researchers but the problem is that records are not kept in any one place. Vital statistics can be kept in any place from parish records for births, deaths, baptisms, marraiges to public repositories, then a person can have multiple employers after having attended a veritable raft of schools.

Just for laughs, do a google search on your own name and see how many hits it generates. (Mine gave me 124,000!)

Now imagine trying to run somebody down when all you have available are paper records scattered all over Hell's half acre!

>>Your accounts of shipyards is shocking and somewhat unnerving, but sadly, hardly surprising. A lot of places of that nature look to take shortcuts where they can.<<

Oh, believe you me, I kept my head on a swivel whenever we were in the yards. That's the only reason I still have a head on my shoulders. I recall seeing the rosy cheeks of a crane operator at Naval Air Station North Island and you didn't have to be a pathologist to know that there was more "fuel" in the crane operator then there was in the tanks of the bloody crane!
 

Jim Currie

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Most shipyards had clocking-in systems so that the counting-house could calculate hours worked as well as keep track of the employees in the yard.
Harland & Wolff used workers were issued with a 'time board' and can be seen here http://www.whitestarmemories.co.uk/harlandandwolff.htm
as well as the following quote:

"This was a workers clocking in card. Each card had an individual number stamped on it. They[workers] were given this board each morning as they entered 'the yard.'
The time Office's also used this board in exchange for certain tools from the stores. Tools had to be returned at the end of the day, otherwise you had no time board to hand in.

At the Time Offices, no time board handed in meant no pay for that day.

It was also used during the day when you would use the canteen or go to the toilet. Workers would hand this to the attendant who would time you. Once time was up, it was back to work!"

JC
 

Adam Went

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Michael:

Yep, all very true, which wouldn't have made life easy a hundred years ago and doesn't make live easy now either for us humble researchers. It's all the same, employment records, census records, postal records, etc etc - from that era they are invariably inaccurate, incomplete or completely non-existent.

Don't blame you for fearing for your life in circumstances like those you describe, and wouldn't blame you at all for not wanting to be part of it ever again. Reminds me of the stories of rivets, tools and other material seemingly dropping from the heavens on and around shipyard workers patrolling the yards, as their counterparts were working on the scaffolds above.

Jim:

Very pleased that you posted up the info and photo on that time board, because up until you had done that, though i'd not seen one before, I was thoroughly convince that the abomination that is the time keeping machine at my workplace must surely have been dragged from the depths of a Victorian/Edwardian era workplace. Evidently, it must be closer to circa WWII.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
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>>Don't blame you for fearing for your life in circumstances like those you describe, and wouldn't blame you at all for not wanting to be part of it ever again.<<

Oh, I wouldn't trade it away for all the universes and alternate realities which are out there to be found. it was quite the learning experience, even if it was damned scary at times.

>>Reminds me of the stories of rivets, tools and other material seemingly dropping from the heavens on and around shipyard workers patrolling the yards, as their counterparts were working on the scaffolds above.<<

I've seen that happen. This is the reason shipyards are hard hat areas!!!! Ironically, the very safest place in The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was the time I took a stroll down in the drydock underneath an 80,000 ton aircraft carrier! You were a lot less likely to get brained by somebody dropping a monkey wrench or a paint bucket!
 

Jim Currie

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It's th same the world-over Adam. I have worked in shipyards all over the world. Things get just that little bit more sophisticated... time and motion studies... yugh!

JC
 

Adam Went

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Michael:

It really is fascinating how so much of workplaces such as those have changed over the years but just how much also remains the same.

You mentioned the requirements of headgear and occasionally earmuffs/earplugs as well, but let's not forget the fluoro high vis jackets and vests that are required in such places these days. One can get into serious trouble for ambling about their work without one of those on. I don't believe such were required in Titanic's time....

I never knew my great grandfather but have heard the stories about his being stone deaf due to working in mills and factors back around the Edwardian days. You could yell at him from inches away and he couldn't understand a thing you said, yet if you placed him in an environment where there was a lot of noise, and then spoke to him, he could hear you perfectly well. I believe that's what they call "industrial deafness".

Jim:

It all gets a bit too much at times. I have no sympathy for office workers who bemoan a broken printer or broken computer, what's wrong with pen and paper? Computers have only been useful for a small fraction of history, ink and parchment did the job perfectly well for millennia.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>> I don't believe such were required in Titanic's time.... <<

I don't think they even existed in Titanic's time. Every photo I've seen of every shipyard of the period points to people wearing street clothing with very little if any protective gear. Various parties make a much about the few odd deaths which occured during the construction of the ship, and missing the fact that the really amazing part is that more people weren't killed.

It's not as if it was unexpected because it wasn't. Far from it. They actually planned for it.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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>> Every photo I've seen of every shipyard of the period points to people wearing street clothing with very little if any protective gear. <<

I seem to remember something about the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville being quite impressed by the fact that ordinary British working men were the very same clothes as their aristocratic "betters" - that is to say shirt, trousers, waistcoat and jacket, as opposed to the blue blouses worn by his own countrymen. He considered that this was evidence of a fundamentally egalitarian society, in which all citizens were equal under the law".
 

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