Titanic's Whistles


railsrust

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I've never been able to learn much about the manufacturer of Titanic's whistles, other than the name and that this series of whistles was the largest whistles ever made. One thing that's bothered me, being an avid whistle fan and starting collector, is how inaccurate the portrayals of these whistles are on the internet and in movies.

I think everyone has heard that infamous video of the Titanic's whistle blowing in St. Paul. It sounds empty and unspirited. They couldn't blow them under hot high pressure steam for fear or them blowing apart after sitting two miles under the ocean for decades. This is the defacto recording use for their Titanic videos.
Go to 0:20


This recording that wasn't released until recent years is much better and you can hear the power of the whistle better.
Go to 9:15

They made an odd blending of horn and whistle recordings for the movie in an attempt to sound authentic. For the average movie goer it was passable, and I can watch that part of the movie and not cringe. However, I wasn't satisfied with this.
Go to 2:36

During the 100th anniversary of Titanic leaving Southampton they played this. I understand them not knowing that this sound is wrong, most people and many historians really don't know the difference, but this is the least accurate portrayal of these whistles thus far.

I tried finding recordings of olympic's whistles for many years since she wasn't taken out of service until the 1930s. By that time audio equipment was somewhat readily available. Unfortunately, the power of the whistle is so much that it distorted the only recording I was able to find for a while. This isn't the original video that recorded her, this was just the first one I found with this clip.

It cuts me off with the media here, so I'll continue in the nest post.
 

railsrust

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Continued from bove...


As I found out, other ships had at least one set of whistles from the same manufacturer. To name a few were Olympic, Britannic, Normandie, Lusitania, Aquitania, and Mauretania. Apparently they were fairly popular for "super liners". One ship who's whistle still exists today is Mauretania's. It ended up on a brewery for a great many years, and when they demolished it a Mr. Rowland Humble bought them. Supposedly he owns a ship whistle museum and even blows these whistles occasionally. Here is an audio recording from such a time. This is much better! Not quite there, but you can really tell this is a ship.

At this point I had given up on the idea of any historical or modern clips would ever have a decent recording of a "super whistle." However, I came upon this clip of Mauretania in dry dock tooting her whistle. Somewhat distorted, but you can hear certain aspects of the whistle you couldn't make out, even in the more modern recording, specifically just how loud these whistles really were. Much louder than any modern horn.
Go to 0:18

I had heard recordings of the Normandie's whistle over time, but I wasn't sure how close her set was to the older sets. There was something like 20+ years difference in manufacturing differences, but as it turns out they're pretty close! It's pretty distorted as well, but at least there's clear video playing.
Go to 0:08

At this point, I was desperate to hear a good recording of one of these whistles without much, if any, distortion of the audio. I had heard that the replica of Titanic's whistles had occasionally been blown, but I've been unable to find any video or audio. What I did find, however, is a very clear recording of Aquitania's whistles blowing in 1930 while leaving New York. The audio is still somewhat distorted, but you really get a feel for the presence and the tone of these whistles. Quite epic! They blow it for a good long while, but I've set it to a timestamp of the best section.
Go to 1:54


I was a little late signing up for this, but the above video should give you a pretty accurate idea of how Titanic sounded when she blew her whistle for the last time.

I guess that leaves me one question. Can anyone tell me some of the information on the manufacturer, Smith Hyson Bros., or whatever the actual name is. I've been curious for a long time. I haven't been able to find out much about them other than a loose location.



EDIT:
Thinking about how I wrote this post, I realize this may be in the wrong section. I thought talking about the whistles would fit in the construction/design aspect of it, but perhaps it should have been in the web media section. To the moderators, I apologize for the mistake, if I do so.
EDIT 2:
I just realized I missed a section for funnels and whistles. I didn't expect a subsection just for that.
 
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Kyle Naber

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I think this simulation one is pretty close. It was made by the sound of a steam engine whistle which was deepened, duplicated, layered, and manipulated to match as closely as possible. It’s been approved by some historians like Ken Marschall, Bill Sauder, and Parks Stephenson.
 
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Aaron_2016

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I dubbed the Titanic's whistle over silent footage of the Olympic in 1922. I think the effect works quite well.

Skip to 1:00.




.
 

railsrust

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Kyler Naber, that actually sound very close to the Aquitania's recording. Not quite right because it still sounds like a whistle blown on air, but pretty good. Whistles never sound the same on air as they do on steam. That's the biggest problem with the common recording of Titanic's whistle from the 90's.
 
A

Aaron_2016

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There is a good shot of the Bremen's whistle being blown at 1:00. Not sure if it's steam though.





Here is a recording of two big ships blowing their whistles at each other.

Skip to 3:45





Here is a recording of the Leviathan's whistle in 1929.

Skip to 3:10




.
 
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railsrust

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The Breman's whistle is dubbed over, and while the Queen Mary had a steam powered horn, it is also dubbed over, oddly enough with a whistle. Kind of typical. It was VERY difficult to record ship horns/whistles at the time without it distorting the audio terribly. Well into the 1950s, videos of trains were usually dubbed over for the same reason.
 
A

Aaron_2016

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The Breman's whistle is dubbed over, and while the Queen Mary had a steam powered horn, it is also dubbed over, oddly enough with a whistle. Kind of typical. It was VERY difficult to record ship horns/whistles at the time without it distorting the audio terribly. Well into the 1950s, videos of trains were usually dubbed over for the same reason.

It depends on the quality of the film reels that were used, and the standards of preservation and restoration that was used. There are many fine quality pieces from the 1910's, 1920's and 1930's. Some are even in colour and are so sharp you can almost step right into the film. The 'outdoor' sound film reels from the late 1920's were primitive by the standards of the 1930's as technology was advancing at an incredible pace. It all depended on the quality of the reels that were used.

e.g. Movietone newsreels would be distributing hundreds of news broadcasts around the country and their reporters would be given primitive sound cameras (perhaps sold and distributed in mass). Whereas the high standard British, German, and Hollywood film makers would desire the very best quality in film and cameras. As this was the 1930's during the Great Depression the newsreel makers were accustomed to more affordable reels of film which did not last long and degraded over time, where as the bigger production companies could afford the more expensive quality reels which had excellent sound quality, and no doubt the wealthy classes were using them also. I believe the Bremen and Queen Mary whistles are absolutely genuine. Here is another recording of the Queen Mary's whistle recorded in the 1950's on LP record.




I own hundreds of gramophone records from the 1900's - 1940's. The age of each record really has little effect on the sound quality. It all depends on the quality of the material and how professional the recording process was during each recording e.g. 1920's records with the label Metropole or HMV Columbia sound much more crisp and clear than 1930's Parlophone records and 1940's Decca records. It all depends on the quality that was used, how much expense they were willing to go to, and also the type of preservation and restoration that was carried out to keep the original piece in excellent condition.


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Dec 4, 2000
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Beware of sound in movies. Look up early film sound man Jack Foley.

Something else I've noticed -- most often the number of long and short (today "prolonged" and short) blasts heard do not match any of the standard whistle signals used by ships. Hmmm....

-- David G. Brown
 
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Aaron_2016

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Beware of sound in movies. Look up early film sound man Jack Foley.

Something else I've noticed -- most often the number of long and short (today "prolonged" and short) blasts heard do not match any of the standard whistle signals used by ships. Hmmm....

-- David G. Brown
I think that has to do with editing techniques with film scenes that are too long and are changed around, or end up on the cutting room floor to save time. e.g. One or two blasts of the ship's horn is enough for the audience to know the ship is departing and instead of continually showing the whistle they edit the footage of the ship departing so that 30 minutes of actual events occur in a fraction of that time owing to filming constrictions and time limits e.g. like filming a TV commercial which takes weeks to complete but only lasts a few seconds.


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Maneuvering signals are given on whistles, no matter what their physical construction.

The only "horn" is the fog horn which is usually the same as the maneuvering whistle. Go figure.

Departing a berth is a maneuvering situation. On US "Inland" waters this requires a prolonged blast before getting under way. International Rules don't require the prolonged blast, but it is permitted for vessels not in sight of one another. In both sets of rules when astern propulsion is used three short blasts are used. So, the hodge-podge of Hollywood whistle grunts, groans, toots and shrieks are just the imagination of the sound mixer.

Even so, I must point out that until the coming of magnetic stripe sound film after WW-2 it was a real chore to shoot "synched" sound. The cameras and recording gear were beyond clumsy. It was possible to shoot something similar to what we call a "sound bite" in those days, but only at great expense. The sound was always recorded on a separate machine from the camera in a process known as "double system." Shooting silent B roll continued right through the film era in news coverage and is still common today. It took only a single cinematographer and his camera and tripod. "Wild," or unsynched sound was recorded on a disk, wire, or (later) 1/4-inch tape.

Because putting natural sound to picture on location required a lot of work, studios tended to collect libraries of sounds which were used over and over from feature films to documentaries. The same big, throaty steam whistle sound might blast from Olympic on this picture and from Berengaria on the next. Economics rule.

So, don't believe you are hearing the real McCoy when you see an image of steam spewing from a whistle. The sound could have been recorded years apart and miles away from the picture.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Eliza

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I always thought the funnel whistle on the Titanic was made by John Danks & Son, in Melbourne. It's sister whistle is said to be in Wonthaggi, Victoria, which was a coal mining town until 1968. The 3-chambered mine whistle still blows in the town centre at 12.00 noon every day.
 
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I always thought the funnel whistle on the Titanic was made by John Danks & Son, in Melbourne. It's sister whistle is said to be in Wonthaggi, Victoria, which was a coal mining town until 1968. The 3-chambered mine whistle still blows in the town centre at 12.00 noon every day.
Well according to this article the whistle was as of the same design as Titanic's but not that they made Titanic's whistle. Plus the mine whistle was made a year after Titanic sank in 1913. But if you find anything different let us know.
http://wonthaggihistoricalsociety.org.au/files/plod/Mine_Whistle.pdf
 

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