Perhaps because at the time, they thought they could see any danger in enough time to avoid it. Don't underestimate the desire to pinch a few pennies either. The shorter the route, the less fuel burned. The less fuel burned, the lower the costs.
Also, Wells, Captain Smith "turned the corner" (setting the ship's course to aim for New York) at a more southerly point that was normal at that time of year. So yes, even then the crew of Titanic knew that there was an iceberg danger to be considered.
In fact, the delayed turn was purely due to the limitations of the navigation of the time. Titanic was only about 4 miles off track, which in those days was very good work. This was known in 1912 but the supposed precaution has become part of the legend.
Michael has summed things up pretty well. Excessive faith in the Mark 1 human eyeball is at the bottom of the tale.
You'd certainly think so, but with inherently-flawed human beings, it's always a tightrope dance between safety and getting the job done. If one becomes too safety conscious, they're bound to hear complaints about "inefficiency" and being "too slow." On the other hand, bend too far in the other direction and you have a "Titanic" on your hands.
Charles M. Hays, as quoted by Colonel Gracie, summed up the 1912 situation pretty well. Here's the good colonel's first version of that quote, from April 19:
"Before I returned [to my cabin]," said Col. Gracie, "I had a long chat with Chas. M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk R. R. One of the last things Mr. Hays said was this:
"'The White Star, the Cunard and the Hamburg-American lines are devoting their attention and ingenuity in vieing one with the other to attain the supremacy in luxurious ships and in making speed records. The time will soon come when this will be checked by some appalling disaster.'
"Poor fellow, a few hours later he was dead."
Perceptive, but hardly as polished, as symmetrical, or as uncannily prophetic, as the same quotation became when it re-emerged a year later in Colonel Gracie's book:
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TITANIC
By Colonel Archibald Gracie (published posthumously, 1913)
. . . This was the prophetic utterance with which, alas, he [i.e., Mr. Hays] sealed his fate a few hours thereafter: "The White Star, the Cunard and the Hamburg-American lines," said he, "are now devoting their attention to a struggle for supremacy in obtaining the most luxurious appointments for their ships, but the time will soon come when the greatest and most appalling of all disasters at sea will be the result."
Nothing is as clear as the future once it has become manifest as the past.
But, put it into perspective. Someday, somebody reading this message will meet with a tragic accident in an automobile. Does this prediction mean that all of us should stop driving or riding in cars on the highway? Certainly not. In fact this is not a prediction, but a statement of the nature of human existence. Life is not without danger.
Hays was not predicting Titanic, he was simply stating the obvious. In 1912, new ships were becoming rather enormous compared to anything seen previously. And, the safety record of trans-oceanic travel had been unusually good over the same period of time. It didn't take a genius to imagine that the industry would experience some sort of disaster, and that disaster would be larger than previous shipping casualties.
We could say the same thing about the current race to build super-sized aircraft with huge crowds of passengers. "The time will soon come when the greatest and most appalling of all disasters...in the air...will be the result."
At this point I have to get out my well-worn soapbox for one more reminder of the evils of temporocentrism. This is a fallacy of logic embodied in the line of thinking that because we know in 2006 that Titanic met a disastrous end, Captain Smith and his officers should have known better and taken some other course of action back in 1912.
Captain Smith had the same crystal ball that rides around in everyone's purse or pocket. You know, that thing you have that tells you about the future so you can pick lotto numbers, avoid traffic jams, and such. Oh, don't you have one? Sorry 'bout your luck.
Of course, Captain Smith was bereft of such a device as well. He did not have any more information about the next minute than you do. It is patently absurd to suggest that he should have chosen some other way to conduct the voyage just because the ship ran over an iceberg. "He should have known better" is the sort of argument that belongs only in a court of law where truth has no standing and not in a historical discussion.
This doesn't mean that as captain he was not responsible for the consequences of his actions or inactions. And, it certainly does not mean that all future mariners should not be required to learn from Captain Smith's errors. It is only to say that being responsible as the captain of a ship for what happens is not the same as being blamed for not having a crystal ball.
I also have to address the "greed" issue. White Star certainly did not stand to make a great deal of money sinking its ships and killing its passengers in mid-Atlantic. And, the single biggest expense of running a fast ship is fuel. It costs a helluva lot less to run at 8 knots or 10 knots than 22 knots. Greed would have motivated a slow, almost painfully safe crossing, but only if passengers were hog-tied and forced to ride White Star ships.
You see, the speed of trans-Atlantic liners was not a function of White Star's greed. It was a demand of White Star's customers. Even Mr. Hays understood this. To my knowledge, he voluntarily purchased a ticket on Titanic and not on some 13-knot ship which presumably would not have crashed into the ice with fatal results that night. Jet planes replaced propeller-driven flying machines for the same reason. And airplanes replaced steamships simply because ticket buyers demanded speed, speed, speed.
Titanic was making 22 knots not because White Star was greedy, but because people demanded fast passages. In those days they weren't going for a cruise to nowhere. The boat ride was simply a necessary part of getting from one continent to the other. Nobody wanted to lose one more minute at sea than necessary. The same is true today. Who hasn't complained when a flight is a few minutes late...or who hasn't pushed the speed limit on the highway...just to shave a few minutes off the trip?
>>But I would have
supposed that those entrusted with so many human lives would have chosen to err on the side of safety over speed.<<
In their eyes, I'm sure they did just that. It wasn't enough but that's something we can see with the crystal clarity of 20/20 hindsight. The officers and crew of the Titanic we're not knowingly and malevolently reckless. They ship was navigated and handled in a manner consistent with the practices and understanding of what prudent seamanship was in that day and age. Unfortunately, a some crucial pieces they thought they knew was wrong, but as David said, they didn't have a crystal ball to see that.
All they had was the sum total of all their experiences which told them what worked and what didn't. When you get down to it, that's all any of us has so then as now, we just have to make do and hope we don't make that fatal mistake that nobody had thought of before.
>>Hays was not predicting Titanic, he was simply stating the obvious. . . . It didn't take a genius to imagine that the industry would experience some sort of disaster, and that disaster would be larger than previous shipping casualties.
Dave, this wasn't the first time I've found Col. Gracie inflicting "improvements" on other people's words. Emily Ryerson, in her Senate affidavit, gave a clear description of the Titanic breaking up, but you'd never know it from the way Gracie "adapted" her words for his book.
I agree that, per the original Hays quote, Hays was preaching to the choir. Gracie, writing in retrospect, saw an easy way to make his words more Titanic-specific. Hays was no more prescient than Morgan Robertson, and for the very reasons you mentioned. Most folks, I think, would call it simple "irony" and leave it at that.
OK, So here's another. We all know that Titanic
broke up before sinking, so I am left to wonder
why some of the ship's officer's steadfastly
proclaimed that she was "absolutely intact" as
she sank ? What was to be gained by painting
a false picture ? Was it some kind of strange form
of pride ? ( Why, MY ship wouldn't split !! )
>>so I am left to wonder
why some of the ship's officer's steadfastly
proclaimed that she was "absolutely intact" as
she sank ? <<
Because as far as some of them knew, it was. Remember that it was dark out and that some such as Lightoller were literally too close to the problem to see the whole of the picture. They didn't paint a false picture.
Apart from the point made by Michael, it was just about unheard of for a ship to break like Titanic while sinking in the open sea. Such things often happened when a ship straddled a rock but but Titanic's case was most unusual. Few would have expected it. Of those who thought she broke, few agreed on the breaking point, such was the darkness. That's one reason both inquiries found she sank in one piece.
Notice that some passengers thought she sank intact. They had nothing to hide.
Read my e-book for some new information on the breakup and a possible whitewash.