Why was Olympic painted white and then changed

Dec 2, 2000
Okay, stupid technical question here, could these various types of protective paints and their use or lack thereof been a contributing factor in how the steel reacted to colder temperatures and the rivets as well? (with the heat from the coal fire and what not) IS it ever possible for a wrong primary coat to be appied?

Just curious.

Dan Cherry

Active Member
Mar 3, 2000
An aerial photo of Olympic after launch shows that below the regular photographer's eyeline, the inboard hull and superstructure was steel black/gray.

Parks, do you know of any reason why Titanic's bow name plates weren't installed by launch time? Olympic's were on her bow and stern, likely for the same reason as the gray/white coat of paint - to boldly announce her presence. However, I do note that Titanic's stern name plate WAS installed before launch. The letters were not painted. Leo Marriot's book, I think, is the book which shows a picture of this. I'll have to go an dig the book out to be 100% sure. Right now, I am 99.5%.

Shelley, FWIW I have seen one picture of Titanic at Southampton before her last minute touch-ups. The fore hawser hole at the tip of the bow shows paint scraped off and some lighter color visible underneath.

Just a few mindless ramblings...

Apr 11, 2001
Hmmm, Mo, well, there's a new thought about paint. One wonders about acids and flammability of course. I have been following the Hindenburg research which has established that the so-called protective and reflective paint on her skin was in essence the stuff black powder and ammo use in manufacture- she was a flyng bomb in fact and not just because of that hydrogen. The theory is that static electricity may have ignited her hull. Fascinating stuff -this. I know many deck paints and varnishes have been culprits in fires at sea before shipbuilders got smarter. Have put a call in to the Mystic Seaport library about the Olympic-Hawke thing. They have a lot of info on that there stored in numerous boxes. I read that Titanic was supposed to make her Maiden Voyage in late March, she wasn't ready because of the Hawke-Olympic collision, back Olympic went to the builder's, crews were taken off Titanic to rush her back into service. The incident was deadly to PR for White Star, the line's new ship, and Capt. Smith. Titanic was delayed- all this stuff is documented. In fact many authors have suggested that it is one of the many what-if's leading to the disaster. If only she had sailed ontime and the Hawke-Olympic hadn't happened. After years of hanging wistfully around Navy drydocks watching, I know time is money and if one crew can't work at something, the company will put on whatever can be done in another area. My thinking was that perhaps the preliminary coats of paint were applied since she was there in place and it made sense to keep busy.
Mar 3, 1998
Wait...don't go too far with the paint thing. First of all, paint will not change the molecular properties of the steel, so it had no effect on the collision or eventual breakup. The Hindenburg is not a good comparison...you're talking about the flammability of the lacquer used to coat the envelope's fabric, which is an entirely different subject. As far as the different colours used to paint the hull...that could be a simple matter of what paint they had on hand at the time of launch.

Dan, as far as the name plates are concerned, I don't want to steal the thunder of someone who knows the reason better than I, nor do I want to put him on the spot. Hopefully, if he's willing to share his thoughts, he'll chime in.


Eric Sauder

Nov 12, 2000
Hello, Dan:

You asked: "...do you know of any reason why Titanic's bow name plates weren't installed by launch time?"

I'm not sure what name plates do you mean. Unlike most other ships which had applied letters, the outlines of the letters of the names on White Star vessels were cut into the steel, and the letter was then filled in with paint. The milling was used only as a painter's guide. There were no name "plates" so to speak.

"However, I do note that Titanic's stern name plate WAS installed before launch. The letters were not painted."

I think what you're seeing in the Marriott photo is a shadow raking across the name that had been etched into the steel but not yet painted.

Eric Sauder
Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
Mo, I don't beleive the paints made any difference as to how the steel reacted to cold water. It was the chemistry of the steel itself which made for it's brittleness in cold.

The rivits I beleive to be a red herring in Titanic research.(I'm inclined to think brittle steel is a straw horse as well. Even ships with modern steels couldn't have withstood what the Titanic suffered.) Certainly some of the rivets recovered were bad because of too much slag which was introduced to the metal, but with only 20-30 some odd rivets recovered and tested out of 3,000,000 actually used in the hull, that small number is useless for perposes of statistical sampling.

Michael H. Standart
Apr 11, 2001
Yes- I did realize Titanic and Hindenburg was comparing oranges and apples, and I agree that the paint used would not have made any difference in the outcome under the circumstances as we know them. I was thinking actually about other disasters, like the Morro Castle where paints and varnishes used contributed greatly to the spread of fire and release of toxic fumes which sometimes killed people before fire and smoke did. It was also a great surprise to learn after nearly 60 -odd years that somebody finally thought of doing serious testing on the composition of the skin paint used on the canvas of zeppelins. One would have thought that this would have been the first thing done. We've come a long way in safety.

jean leysman

Strangely enough the name was painted on the bow of Titanic while she was still under construction. I've seen photo's of it. Does anybody know why they removed it?
There was absolutely no name on the ship, wether applied or cut into the steel, after launch or on the maiden voyage. Why? I'm sure it was custom at White Star to mark their ships appropiately.
Who knows?

Jonathan Payette

Olympic was painted in white for her launch because that color made her look longer.

Brent Holt

It is obvious that White Star did cut Titanic's name into her. They then painted the letters gold. There are photos where the name on the ship is obvious. (I am not counting the name cut into the negative on some images)
The specification book for Titanic also listed the procedure for cutting in the name
A couple books have made mistakes and said that Titanic's name was not cut into her. This was true before launching, but not by the latter part of construction.
Apr 23, 2002
Her name and port of registration were cut into the hull on her stern at the launch.
There is a picture of her stern in Leo Marriot book where you can (just) see this.
The only picture where her name stands out clearly is the stern view of her in Queenstown.
Sep 2, 2009
Greg Wrote:

"The only picture where her name stands out clearly is the stern view of her in Queenstown"

Greg, there is an other fantastic picture in which the name "Titanic" and port of Registration "Liverpool" can be made out quite clearly.

This image would be the stern view of her at Southampton from the Bob Forrest Collection. This is shown on page 62 lower right corner of Eaton and Haas: "Titanic Triumph and Tragedy" 2nd ed.

However, since this is a small image and not a first generation copy from the original glass plate negative the name can't be seen clearly in this image as it appears in "Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy"

I know there are are several other "ORIGINAL" images that the name can be seen quite clearly that are in private collections. Joe Carvalho has several of the Olympic in which the name can be seen quite clearly on the bow and stern.

First off you, need to have a "first" generation print off the original glass plate negative to see the details such as the name. Not a copy of a copy, of a copy, of a copy of the image, which is what most books and web-sites have to offer today.

As for the various images I am speaking of I can't post any of them as they are copyrighted or in private collections. And if I did I wouldn't be able to trade "first" generation images with the various collector's I deal with.

Michael Re Grey

To Answer the question The Olympic was painted white because That was the best colour for the photographers It being the first I guess white star wanted to make as much publicity as possible.
which might explain the differences in colour between the other two.

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