Smith let passengers on the bridge


In the 1996 TV movie Titanic, Capt. Smith lets a female passenger on the bridge and even lets her steer the boat for a few minutes and play with the knobs, etc. She was a hot chick though, so maybe that had something to do w/ it?

Another little known fact is that Isador Strauss, who owned Macy's, supplied all of the White Star officer's uniforms from his NYC flagship store. He at one time was a tailor himself, and was always bothering the guys on the bridge and asking them if everything fit OK, did they like the fabric, etc. This might have even contributed to the crash, as he left fabric swatches and other stuff all over the compasses and gearshift knobs/levers, etc. From the sounds of it he made quite a nusiance of himself.

The White Star that Macy's uses to this day in ads, signs etc is a tribute to Strauss and his untimely death on the Titanic.
 

Adam Went

Member
The rules on this sort of thing would surely have been much more lax back in 1912 without the modern day threat of potential terrorist attacks and the like. Much like, up until the events of the last decade or so, many airline pilots allowed children passengers up into the cockpit to see how the plane worked....the rules on that sort of thing have certainly been tightened, and understandably so.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
so maybe that had something to do w/ it?

Are you suggesting that this really happened, Scott?

Isador Strauss

You mean Isidor Straus?

supplied all of the White Star officer's uniforms from his NYC flagship store ...was a tailor himself ... was always bothering the guys on the bridge

Where did you get any of this information from?

This might have even contributed to the crash,

Say, what?

The White Star that Macy's uses to this day

Look at their web site, macys.com; the star there is red, not white. The star, not its color, seems to be the important element. Also, look at this 1921 ad; no stars at all.

is a tribute to Strauss

Oh?
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
>>The rules on this sort of thing would surely have been much more lax back in 1912 without the modern day threat of potential terrorist attacks and the like.<<

Don't be so sure about that. White Star took bridge dicipline very seriously. It was not for nothing that the bridge of any of their ships was so quiet and businesslike that they were referred to as the closest thing to a morgue.

The skipper of the Olympic for example got into some hot water for allowing the Prince of Wales onto his bridge. That he wasn't sacked was probably due in no small part to the fact that his guest was the Prince Of Wales. (Rank has a few priviledges!)
 
If bridge "discipline" was indeed serious, why was the Captain taking an after-dinner snooze while the boat raced into a known ice field in freezing temps in pitch black darkness?

It seems likely that, as the "Millionaire's Captain," Smith was more along the lines of what today is called a "cruise director" rather than an actual captain. He took his meals with the rich passengers, played cards with them & other leisure activities, etc. At no time did he seem to drive the boat himself or spend much time re: navigation. My impression is that he was a jolly old geezer who they kept around mainly for PR and entertainment purposes, not boring things like reading charts and steering. He no doubt had lots of great pirate stories and such from the old days, and liked a good cigar and a few cocktails to loosen up and hold forth.

Also, since he even passed important ice warnings around the supper table to non-crewman, who's to say he didn't do other things to keep the rich guys happy, like let them steer the boat once in awhile? Are you telling me that if Straus and Astor & other billionaires etc. wanted to take a turn at the wheel and play with the knobs for awhile, blow the whistle, etc. Smith would say "no"? Ismay sure wouldn't dig that.

After all, this tub had a top speed of about 20 mph and there usually wasn't anything nearby to smash into, so it really doesn't seem too farfetched. Esp. since at the time it was the biggest boat in the world, so it would be a big deal for the wealthy to say "I got to drive it!" when they got to NY and brag to everyone.

I'd personally demand a turn at the wheel if I was JJ Astor or someone else with all that dough. This rig had all sorts of neat equipment like a huge wood steering wheel, brass engine telegraph, compasses, etc. Wonder if smith ever let them even climb into the crow's nest and things like that?

Also I took a cruise to Bermuda about 15 yrs ago and we had a bridge tour, and the driver let a few kids play with some of the joysticks and knobs. It wasn't much fun though because everything today is plastic and computers, like a video game (that's why the kids liked it). To drive something where all the controls are serious and made out of brass and wood would be awesome, but kids today probably wouldn't like that as much as the electronic stuff.

Probably now post 9/11 no one can touch anything in the bridge period, like the poster above said about the airplanes. BTW here's a funny story: A gal I dated in college in the early 1990s, her father was a commerical pilot. She got to ride for free whenever there was extra seats, so one morning he tells he he's flying JFK to Frankfurt, Germany and does she wanna go?

She of course says yes, she had friends all over the world from getting to fly everywhere for free all the time since she was a kid.

They're somewhere over the Atlantic and her dad leaves the cockpit and walks back to chat w/ her. All the passengers go freakin' nuts and are like "What are you doing here- are we gonna crash!" He starts pulling their leg and saying "don't worry folks, we're on autopilot." (of course the 2nd officer was flying the plane in there). He then says "we're a bit shorthanded today so I'll be serving dinner momentarily."

Everyone got all weird and nervous and then he told them the truth, but I guess a few groucy Germans didn't speak English so they complained after landing and he got a reprimand.

Imagine a pilot doing that today! We were as reckless with that stuff as Smith was with the Titanic in 1912. 9/11 was our generations Titanic in many ways, only much worse.
 
Officially, passengers were not allowed on the bridge of any IMM or White Star Line ship. This is made clear in paragraph 8 of the company's rule book:

8. Passengers not allowed on Bridge. -- Passengers must not be allowed either on the bridge, in the Chart Room, or Wheel-house.


I'm afraid that old chestnut about Captain Smith snoozing while his ship sped to its doom is a total myth. We have direct testimony that he was on deck, on the bridge, and plotting both ice reports and his ship's position for about two hours prior to impact on the iceberg. The "snoozing" business comes from a complete misunderstanding of Smith's words to Second Officer Lightoller. The captain said he would be "inside" if needed. He went to his private navigation room which was located adjacent to the wheelhouse where he regularly consulted with Fourth Officer Boxhall throughout the evening.

Also, Smith's passing the ice warning message to J. Bruce Ismay indicated the importance the captain placed on that warning. He knew that some diversion from course would likely become necessary as the ship got near the ice. And, the captain knew Ismay wanted the ship to turn in a good maiden voyage accounting of itself. So, Smith was most likely preparing his boss for what might be coming -- a slower crossing because of ice.

In any event, the ice warning in question was retrieved by Captain Smith and posted in the officer's chartroom hours before impact. The story is only a curiosity, but has nothing to do with the ultimate accident.

-- David G. Brown
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
>>If bridge "discipline" was indeed serious, why was the Captain taking an after-dinner snooze while the boat raced into a known ice field in freezing temps in pitch black darkness?<<

Who said that he was "snoozing" anywhere? I'm afraid that what you're claiming about him playing cards and other liesure activities is more your own interpolation of the legend then the reality. Captain Smith was a lot of things but he was certainly no cruise director and far from the indecisive and incompatant rube he's often presented as in the popular histories.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
Er, I wouldn't really call "disciplined" what went down on those mail steamers in those days.

Hell, Lightoller was canned from another gig for firing off cannons and flying enemy flags, etc during the Boer War and scaring the wee-wee outta those Aussies. Lights loved a good prank and wouldn't let some silly regulations stand in the way of a hearty laugh. This probably is why he was never given his own boat to command. I picture him kinda like the Kramer character from Seinfeld, as he also loved get rich quick schemes like gold prospecting and such in addition to practical jokes/humor.

Then we turn to the Californian, with another "sleeping beauty" Capt. Lord, who knocked off early and left some real B-listers in charge. The dunces on that tub thought the distress rockets were a fireworks show or something. Apparently they mistook it for the 4th of July! Lord told these clowns they were "company signals," but never even bothered getting out of bed to see for himself. Next day their snoozing radio operator clogs up the lines gossiping like a schoolgirl and Marconi damn near throttled him when they got to NYC. Doesn't sound too "disciplined" either. Hard to blame Lord too much though, since he at least had enough sense to stop for the night when he saw icebergs all around his tub. Even if he had gone to help, his crew were so comically inept it's unlikely they'd have done much good anyway. I picture Groves kinda like Gilligan and Lord like the Skipper.

Personally I think Smith was in fact more "cruise director" than an actual seaman/authority figure by the time Titanic left port in 1912. He'd recently smashed up the Olympic, damn near hit the New York on the way outta Southampton, and seemed to be seriously losing his nautical skills, such as they were. Maybe that's why he left the driving to others and preferred hanging out with the passengers most of the time? Being 62 in 1912 would be like about age 90 today with the life expectancy of the time. I wonder if his retirement was something WSL secretly mandated, kinda like today where airline pilots gotta retire at a certain age regardless of health?

Also the fact that Smith died nearly broke and his wife had to seek public relief shows he probably lost a good bit of dough playing cards and all.

Also, regardless of the so-called official "rules," I don't think it's hard to imagine Smith letting passengers on the bridge to check out the controls and maybe steer for awhile or blow the whistle, climb up the crow's nest, etc. Esp. with Ismay on board.

One can easily picture the millionaries asking technical questions after dinner and Ismay saying "Capt. Smith here would be delighted to give you a private tour of the bridge," kinda like how today the rich get "backstage passes" at rock concerts.

I could see this exclusive little group being led by Ismay, drinks in hand, like a little entourage from the smoking lounge to the bridge. JJ Astor might even borrow Smith's coat & hat and "take the wheel," while Sir Cosmo called out compass orders and tooted the whistle w/ a highball glass in one hand. Seems like pretty harmless fun since it only goes 25 mph tops and there's nothing to smash into for miles & miles around most of the time. Talk about great PR - wouldn't you love to have this collection of elite people say "yeah, I got to drive the Titanic after dinner one night- man is she smooth," things like that.

Hell, they DID put passengers in charge of lifeboats, like the one fellow who was a yachtsman. He slid down the rope and right into the boat and was no spring chicken either. So it seems the line between crew and passengers wasn't so strictly observed in reality. Back then most men had more common sense than people today, and many were what you'd call "jack of all trades."

EDIT: Here is the clip from the 1996 TV documentary where the lady gets to drive the boat. Note how her & her boyfriend are both shooting the breeze w/ Smith and it looks like others passengers are hanging around the bridge too. The door to the promenade deck is open and it looks like anyone can just walk in & say hello as the whim strikes them. FF the clip to 8:10 for the scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nm7_SyPWH0s&NR=1
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Wow. It's hard to take most of this seriously. Anyway...

Lightoller was canned from another gig

No, he wasn't.

Then we turn to the Californian

Californian was not a mail steamer.

I think Smith was in fact more "cruise director" than an actual seaman/authority figure

Hardly.

He'd recently smashed up the Olympic, damn near hit the New York

In both of these cases the Southampton pilot was in charge, not Smith.

he probably lost a good bit of dough playing cards and all.

What evidence is there for this statement?

I don't think it's hard to imagine Smith letting passengers on the bridge to check out the controls and maybe steer for awhile or blow the whistle, climb up the crow's nest, etc.

Oh?

JJ Astor might even borrow Smith's coat & hat and "take the wheel,"

What?

while Sir Cosmo called out compass orders and tooted the whistle w/ a highball glass in one hand.

Oh, my.

EDIT: Here is the clip from the 1996 TV documentary where the lady gets to drive the boat.

It's not a documentary and the fact that this clip shows this proves only that that's what was written in the script.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
He (Smith) also had his own personal bathub, which there is film of from the submarine dives.

So it's also possible that he was taking a bath when they hit the iceberg. Actually this is the most likely scenario, as the splashing water would've tipped him off like it did for that 3rd class lady in the movie. Most people never really felt the collision unless they had a drink that splashed or some other liquid to observe.

Also back then it was common to bathe before going to bed. You'd have more hot water at night when the kitchens weren't using it all for dishwashing, making soups, etc. Laurence Beesley said as much in his memoir.

Also FYI, the old man who plays Capt Smith in the TV movie is the same guy who played Col. George Patton, "old blood & guts."
 
I think that's correct Pearson. For the tight river channels and such there were apparently special drivers who could "thread the needle" and get the big tubs out to the ocean proper. Those guys really had to concentrate and thus passengers had to clear outta the bridge areas during this leg of the trip. These special pilots didn't take the whole trip, the British one got off at Queenstown and the American version got on near Ellis Island. I heard these guys got paid a lot more than the regular crew because they had to know the river literally like the back of their hand- depths, rocks, dock footings- they were like the Indian guides of yore.

But out in the open water there wasn't much to do re: driving the rig. Those mail ships had a sort of primitive auto-pilot where the steel hull was magnetized via static electricity to true north, so all the pilot had to do was follow a little indicator arrow on the point of the bow, kind of like a weather vane.

Unlike modern sonar, however, the system couldn't distinguish nonmetallic objects like ice, so that really threw a wrench into the works. It's also possible that the electrical short in the Marconi system on April 13 damaged the wiring for the auto pilot. There was a strict rule that the Marconi kids weren't to fiddle with the boat's wires, but like modern computer geeks they couldn't resist tinkering with it when it broke down. They were actually passengers technically speaking- their hats had a Marconi "M" and not a White Star badge.
Maybe it was this guilt that led them to stay even after Smith excused them from duty?
Bottom line is everyone involved put too much faith in "modern" technology, and paid a heavy price for it. Kind of like how today people rely solely on GPS and cars don't even have map pockets anymore. I myself am a "belt and braces" kind of guy, but I don't even know how to swim so I'm always extra careful on the water.
 

Adam Went

Member
Michael:

I've got no doubt that they took discipline seriously but I also don't think they would necessarily have objected to one or two passengers, particularly children, particularly children of the wealthy and influential, being allowed up on the bridge for a few moments - much like, as I said in my last post, children were, up until recently, regularly allowed into the cockpits of aeroplanes.

I mean, let's be honest, there's not much damage somebody can do by taking the helm of the ship for a minute in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the crew and officers. And Captain Smith need not fear that the child was some agent of a terrorist organisation....

The skipper of the Olympic probably attracted attention to himself by allowing the Prince Of Wales on deck - again, allowing a child on the bridge would hardly have caused a murmur.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
>>He (Smith) also had his own personal bathub, which there is film of from the submarine dives.<<

So what? The bathtub you mentioned was included in the design of all the Olympic class as a matter of course. I seriously doubt that either Harland & Wolff of White Star gave a flip who ended up using it.

>>I've got no doubt that they took discipline seriously but I also don't think they would necessarily have objected to one or two passengers, particularly children, particularly children of the wealthy and influential, being allowed up on the bridge for a few moments <<

White Star's and IMM's rules clearly state otherwise. It's there.

>>much like, as I said in my last post, children were, up until recently, regularly allowed into the cockpits of aeroplanes.<<

Perhaps but White Star would have niether known nor cared about that.

>>I mean, let's be honest, there's not much damage somebody can do by taking the helm of the ship for a minute in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the crew and officers. And Captain Smith need not fear that the child was some agent of a terrorist organisation.... <<

If White Star reacted as negetively to such a courtesy being extended to the Prince Of Wales...and they did...it's hardly likely they would have been more kindly disposed to the presence of children on the bridge.

>>And Captain Smith need not fear that the child was some agent of a terrorist organisation....<<

I don't think anybody gave terrorist organizations that much thought. However, navigational safety was an issue.
 
If White Star reacted as negetively to such a courtesy being extended to the Prince Of Wales...and they did...it's hardly likely they would have been more kindly disposed to the presence of children on the bridge.
_____________________________________________

Let's not forget that this wasn't just any old sailor in charge, this was the "Millionaire's Captain," the one & only EJ Smith. It's likely he could get away with stuff ordinary captains couldn't, such as badly smashing up the Olympic yet still getting a brand-new boat to drive and, ultimately, destroy.

Remember that most of the rich muckety-mucks on board refused to cross the pond unless EJ was at the wheel. His flamboyance and obvious personal charm must have been damn near legendary.

So I think it's pretty safe to assume that if Smith chose to allow passengers on the bridge to steer for awhile or just look around/hang out, he could do so w/ no fear of getting in any trouble. Stop and think about it: if during dinner JJ Astor or Ben Guggenheim said "Boy, I'd sure like to take the helm, I've never been on a mail ship's bridge before and it would REALLY make my day," do you think Ismay is gonna say "sorry it's against the rules- no dice fellas."

Of course not. These guys were paying the modern equivalent of 250 K each for a one-way ticket. If they (or their kids) wanted a turn at the wheel I highly doubt the owner is gonna tell them "no."

And if they asked Smith directly he'd pretty much have to agree, or else they'd complain to Ismay and he'd make Smith do it anyway.

We all understand the "White Star Rules," but let's not forget that what we really mean by that is "Bruce Ismay's rules."

I could see these passenger tours/turns at the wheel being limited to daylight hours, however.

Personally I'm fascinated by boats and all things nautical, so if I was a rich passenger I'd pester them all the time to drive the boat for awhile, and maybe even whine that the "Cunard boys" let me steer all the time, so maybe I'll stick with them next time," little digs like that. Betcha they'd have me behind the wheel in no time.
 
Top