Encyclopedia Titanica

Titanic: Conceiving a Legend

How and why the decision was made to construct the Titanic


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The most common conception story of Titanic is that Lord Pirrie, chairman of the shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff, and Bruce Ismay, chairman of the shipping firm the White Star Line and President of the International Mercantile Marine (IMM) White Star's parent company, sat down after a dinner party in the summer of 1907 (with at least one modern source penning it down to July) and conceptualized the building of two mammoth ships; ships that would become Olympic and Titanic. Modern historians have, for the most part, begun dismissing this story due to varying factors, most of which merely show that, with the advent of the Cunard Line’s Lusitania and Mauretania, Harland and Wolff — being progressive — were preparing their shipbuilding yard for similar orders from one or more of their clients. What could be considered the most prudent of evidence against this conception story though, is that the order to proceed with hulls 400 and 401 (Olympic and Titanic’s hull numbers respectively), as it is written in a document entitled Particulars of Completed Ships, is given as April 30th, 1907, a whole season before the fabled summer dinner.

Bruce Ismay

Bruce Ismay

Lord Pirrie

Lord Pirrie

The story offered here, based on periodicals, offers a not-as-simple after-dinner conversation story. Instead, it offers one that involves the moving of a White Star Line service from one port to another, and the conception of two large, but different, vessels. Though there are still unknowns, this paper will offer the reader an alternative narrative as to when the decision to construct the legendary Titanic was made.

The Story

On Monday, January 7th, 1907, an announcement by the White Star Line was published:

The White Star Line has decided to transfer its Wednesday Royal mail service from Liverpool to Southampton. The reason for taking this important step is not due to any shortcomings in connection with Liverpool Docks or approaches, but simply and solely to meet the growing demand of travelers that facilities should be provided to enable them to embark and disembark at either a continental or British port, thus obliviating the necessity of crossing the English Channel. The leading German steamship companies have long recognized the desirability of meeting this demand, and, with this in view, their New York steamers have been calling at both a British and French port, and there is no doubt that they have thereby been materially assisted in competing with the British lines for first-class passenger business for which the competition is becoming keener every year.[i]

It was said of this move that, “Although the necessary negotiations must have been considerable, the secret has been well kept, for the announcement in its detail came as a complete surprise,”[ii]and that, “…it is very much to the credit of the loyalty of all concerned, that no inkling of the matter became public until the company were ready to make their official announcement.”[iii]

Thus it was the, “…decision of the managers of the White Star Line to transfer their mail service to the English Channel,” that would finally, “result in one British company touching at a French port,” and no longer allowing these particular ports ‘to be left entirely to foreign [author’s note: none British] steamship companies,’[iv] which had, “…hitherto enjoyed a monopoly of the traffic passing westwards through the ports on either side of the Channel.” [v]

The new route, after departing from Southampton, would cross the English Channel to Cherbourg, France and then to Queenstown, Ireland, “…where in order to carry out the company’s obligations to the Post Office, the ships will embark the mails, which will meet them on arrival, and having taken on board the Queenstown passengers, will sail for New York, avoiding the long detention at Queenstown, to which they have hitherto been subjected. Returning they will proceed direct from New York to Plymouth, thence to Cherbourg, and end the voyage at Southampton.”[vi]

Inaugurating the departure from this new port was to be the new White Star liner Adriatic (which was then being completed at Harland and Wolff) on its’ second westbound trip across the Atlantic on June 5th, as its maiden voyage, to take place on May 8th, would be from Liverpool. After which the White Star Line was to also allocate the steamers Majestic, Oceanic, and Teutonic, to thus establish a regular weekly departure in the sequence named.[vii]

On January 12th, it was reported that the, “Southampton Harbour Board at its meeting on Tuesday next will consider the correspondence which has passed between the London and South-Western Railway Company and the Works Committee of the Board regarding the proposed additional dock accommodation at Southampton. The company desire to provide a large new dock to run parallel with the new graving dock. To obtain the requisite length a basin to accommodate the largest vessels it will be necessary to carry out work beyond the company’s present boundary to the extent of about 150 feet. The Works Committee recommended the Harbour Board to give provisional assent to the proposal that the company be permitted to extend their boundary subject to conditions for the protection of the Board’s interests.”[viii] During its debate on Tuesday, the Board unanimously gave its consent to the proposal.[ix]

Construction of the new dock at Southampton

Southampton Dock

Southampton Dock
Southampton Dock Southampton Dock

On February 27th, 1907, Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Alexander Carlisle, when returning from America, would state that Harland and Wolff received an order from the Hamburg-Amerika Line for the largest twin-screw vessel in the world, which was to be called George Washington.[x] A large ship for the Hamburg-Amerika Line, that was to eclipsed the Cunarders in both size and speed, had been speculated about, and thoroughly denied by the Hamburg-Amerika Line, as far back as the first week of August 1906.[xi]

On the 28th Ismay, Pirrie, Sanderson (Vice-President of the White Star Line), along with well-known passenger agent Mr. Grentell, visited the Southampton docks to inspect the facilities. They each would express themselves completely satisfied.[xii] On March 2nd, 1907, it was reported that, “Speaking at the meeting of the Portswood Conservative Association last evening Mr. B.A. Farrow made the announcement that the well known shipping firm of Messrs. Harland and Wolff of Belfast, intended shortly to establish a large ship repairing yard at Southampton, in the vicinity, he believed, of the Platform.” Despite Pirrie’s visit to Southampton, it was believed that ’no decision’ had been made on the matter.[xiii]

By March 11th, however, the Liverpool Journal of Commerce would report that their Belfast correspondent heard confirmation from Pirrie that Harland and Wolff had, “…definitely decided to build extension works adjacent to some South of England port, where the graving dock accommodation would be ample for vessels like the White Star liner Adriatic and the Hamburg-American streamer Amerika.” It was further noted that, “Since the collapse eighteen months ago at Belfast of two large graving docks absolutely no progress had been made, the task of reconstruction being in Lord Pirrie’s opinion a hopeless one.”

By the following day though the Liverpool Echo would read, “A Belfast telegram states that the plans for Messrs. Harland and Wolff’s repairing works at Southampton have been completed, but negotiations with London and South-Western Railway Company for site are still proceeding.”

During the same month the columns would read:

So busy are Messrs. Harland & Wolff that they will not have a slip available for the gigantic new liner which they have received orders to build for the Hamburg-Amerika Line till the end of June or beginning of July.


Regarding the new Hamburg-Amerika liner, it is understood that her designs have undergone several alternations, and further changes in her internal construction are expected to be made while building operations are in progress. The intention of the owners is, avowedly, to eclipse anything in the way of floating palaces afloat.

The outstanding feature will be the swimming bath – the first to be introduced on an American liner.

The name of the ship, which it was supposed would be the George Washington, will in all likelihood be the President Grant.[xiv]

On Wednesday, March 20th it was reported that, “Inquires made at the Queen’s Island to-day show that Messrs. Harland and Wolff have no intention of transferring any portion of their shipbuilding business from Belfast to Southampton. The arrangements regarding the establishment in Southampton of a repairing establishment in connection with the firm are not yet definitely settled.”[xv] The following day, however, would see Pirrie leaving for London with two men who had arrived in Belfast representing the Southampton Docks and Railway Committee. Pirrie would say upon leaving, that he would be headed to Southampton in a day or two.[xvi] By the next day Pirrie sent a telegram from London to Harland and Wolff that, “…all arrangements had been completed with the London and South-Western Railway Company for the erection of their new repairing and engineering works… and that the building, etc., are to be proceeded with at once.”[xvii]

Also, on Friday the 22nd, arriving in Liverpool onboard the Baltic (which set out from New York on the 15th), was JP Morgan, founder of the IMM. It was reported that Morgan, whose name -due to him traveling incognito- would not be listed on the passenger list, was to attend a conference on Friday the 29th between the White Star Line, other associated lines, the Southampton Harbour Board, and the South-Western Railway.[xviii] Morgan would deny such conference, while also denying knowing anything about Hamburg-Amerika Line’s Chairman Herr Ballin’s concern about renewed troubles in the passenger traffic. Morgan would merely state that he was there for his annual pleasure trip. Morgan would stay in Liverpool to watch the Grand National Steeplechase,[xix] though by the 27th he was reported to be in London.[xx]

Albert Ballin

Albert Ballin

J.P. Morgan

J.P. Morgan

Meanwhile, at the White Star Line headquarters in Liverpool, Sanderson would hear concerns raised about White Star moving the disembarking of US mail from Queenstown to Plymouth. To make the case to keep Queenstown were representatives from the Cork Corporation, Cork Harbour Commissioners, Queenstown Town Commissioners, Cork Chambers of Commerce and Shipping, Dublin, Londonderry, Liverpool, Burnlay, Bradford, Leeds, Blackburn, Belfast, and Waterford Chambers of Commerce. Absent was the South-Eastern Railway Co., who regretted not being able to be represented, and Bruce Ismay who could not attend due to family illness.[xxi]

This family member would most likely be Ismay’s mother, who would later pass away in her residence in Cadogan-square, London on April 9th.[xxii] Ismay while in London, would stay at the Claridge’s Hotel.[xxiii] Though there is no evidence that Ismay, Pirrie, and Morgan met while all three were in London, it seems uncoincidental that all three men were present in London at the same time a rumored meeting about the Atlantic traffic trade was said to be taking place. However, if the meeting that was rumored to be taking place on the 29th did occur, it did not involve the presence of Morgan, who on the 28th was reported to have left from Drover to Calais at noon. In his company was Sir Thomas Lipton, and Ambassador to Paris Sir Francis Bertie.[xxiv] On April 30th, it would be documented that Harland and Wolff was given orders to proceed with hulls 400 and 401.[xxv]

As scheduled, the Adriatic made its maiden voyage from Liverpool on Wednesday, May 8th, 1907. On board for this trip would be Bruce Ismay, who once reaching New York, on Thursday, May 16th, was put to task dealing with the Longshoremen strike. On May 22nd, the ship set out back to England on its return maiden voyage where on May 30th, it inaugurated White Star’s new route with its stopping at Plymouth at 2:45am.[xxvi] There Lord Pirrie and his staff would join the ship to receive the report from the Harland and Wolff’s representatives onboard known as the Guarantee Group. It was customary for Harland and Wolff to send such a team with their ships on the preliminary voyage. It was reported that the new features of the Turkish and electric baths had been well taken advantage of, and all went well as far as appointments, speed and machinery.[xxvii]

After leaving Cherbourg though, one of Adriatic’s high-pressure cylinders broke down[xxviii] causing the vessel to limp at a speed of 8 knots towards Southampton, delaying its arrival by three hours.[xxix] By 7:35pm, an hour and a half after dead low tide (though berth No. 38 never had less that 32ft of water, and the ship was drawing 28ft 10in) the Adriatic was quayside. Twenty minutes after the gangways were connected the baggage was off and the call “all clear” was given. The custom officials quickly examined the baggage and by 8:40pm the first train left.

Interviewed at one of the trains would be Ismay:

“I should like to hear your impressions of our facilities, Mr. Ismay?” – “They’re excellent. The way everything has been handled is splendid, especially when you consider that it is the first time, and the Adriatic had such a heavy load.”

“Then you are satisfied?” – “Perfectly. I am very pleased, too, at the reception given us. It is extremely kind of Southampton. I’m afraid the Mayor and his colleagues must have got very wet in the rain.”

“But it didn’t damp their enthusiasm?”… “No,… it didn’t”

“Are you going to London by this train?”… “No; I’m staying.”

“Then you’ll see the town’s celebrations?” – “Unfortunately, no. I have to go away to-morrow.”[xxx]

Part of the celebrations mentioned would be a dinner on Saturday, June 1st held on board the Adriatic. Presiding over the dinner, due to Ismay’s absence, was Sanderson. During the dinner a letter written by Ismay after Adriatic reached New York was read, “Of all ships that Harland and Wolff have turned out for us I can honestly say the Adriatic is the most satisfactory and most complete in every detail.”  Pirrie’s name would then be brought up in the toast, prompting Pirrie to give a little speech himself.[xxxi]

On Monday the annual meeting of the IMM took place in New York. In their report it was written, “The company has arranged for nine new steamers to be built… among them will be included a fast steamer for the North Atlantic trade which is to surpass anything hitherto attempted as regards size and luxury of appointments.”[xxxii] The following day, when inquired by the press about the construction of the nine steamers, Harland and Wolff would state that several of the nine steamers were already in works at their Queen’s Island yard, while they also had no doubt the remaining ships should also be built there.[xxxiii]

Pirrie (who on June 27th, 1907 was elected a director of the London & South-Western Railway Company[xxxiv]) would enter negotiations with Ballin, in Germany on Saturday, June 29th. The ship proposed was reported to be 50,000 tons and 6 inches wider than the Cunarders. Though as one newspaper pointed out, “Due to recent developments it is interesting to see if the ship will be built in Queen’s Island or the Clydebank.”[xxxv]

Carlisle would be reported in the Londonderry Sentinel, as saying on the same day:

The tonnage dimensions of the next marine leviathan-viz., the George Washington, for the Hamburg-America Line, as given in the companies’ annual report are 29,500. This is the vessel which Lord Pirrie and Herr Ballin discussed recently at Hamburg and Kiel. Displacement between 40,000 – 50,000 tons, making it the heaviest vessel in the world.

...the Right Hon. A.M. Carlisle, managing director of Harland & Wolff, informed a Daily Mail correspondent at Belfast on Saturday Night.

“The dimensions of the new Hamburg-America boat could not be given at present, because they had not yet been definitely decided, nor had the model been made, but she will be 760ft. Long.”


Speaking of big steamers, he added that he expected one of the vessels about to be ordered by the International Mercantile Marine Company would be even larger than the coming Hamburg boat. “As the model and dimensions are not yet definitely settled,” added Mr. Carlisle, “I am able to give you neither size nor tonnage.”[xxxvi]

In August of 1907, IMM General Manager John Lee would speak of two vessels:

When asked if the White Star Co. had lodged an order with Harland & Wolff of Belfast to build two turbine steamers to compete with the new Cunarders Lusitania and Mauritania, Mr. Lee said:

“We have two new steamers building for the Southampton-Cherbourg service of the Oceanic class, but they will not be any faster. The tendency now for the passenger traffic is to build large steamers with moderate speed.

“We shall wait, however, and watch the developments of the Cunaders, and if they are a success it may make a difference in the machinery and speed of our new steamers.”[xxxvii]

On Thursday, September 12th, the Belfast Weekly News would report that, “We understand that the report that an immense Atlantic liner is to be constructed for the White Star Company by Messer. Harland & Wolff, Limited, is quite true. Her dimensions have yet been definitely settled, but she will be between 50 and 100 feet longer than the Cunard R.M.S. Lusitania, which has a length of 785 feet, and in all probability she will be driven by a combination of quadruple-expansion engines and turbines. On inquiry we were informed that at present there is no slip vacant at the Queen’s Island, and that it will therefore be some time before the keel of the leviathan is laid.”

The next day the publication Engineering would read, “New Building Berths at Messrs. Harland and Wolff’s Belfast. – Our Belfast correspondent writes: - Messrs. Harland and Wolff are making preparations for the construction of two exceptionally large Atlantic liners, and it is understood that one of these will be 860 ft. long and over 50,000 tons gross register, and the other over 40,000 tons gross register. In connection with this work two new building-berths are to be specially prepared… The structure of the two new berths, which are to be side by side, as to be erected by Sir William Arrol and Co., Limited, of Glasgow...”[xxxviii]

Alexander Carlisle in another interview, would confirm that two ships were ordered, one by Hamburg-Amerika Line and one by White Star Line. When asked about speed, he would state that any talk of size or speed was premature, and that, “All I can say is that the orders have been received, and just now there is nothing more to add. We are making preparations to commence, and will construct two new gantries of a very powerful type.”[xxxix]

On Thursday the 19th, the Liverpool Journal would report, “Considerable interest centres [sic] in the announcement that Messrs. Harland and Wolff are at present engaged on the plans for two very large steamers, on for the Hamburg-America Co. and the other for the White Star line…”[xl]

In October an update to the Hamburg-Amerika liner was given, saying, “The new vessel for the Hamburg-Amerika line, which, as already announced in our columns, is to be built by Messrs. Harland & Wolff Ltd. will be named the Europe. Her tonnage will be 48,000 as compared with the Lusitania’s registered tonnage of 32,500, and her other dimensions will be – Length, 790 feet; beam, 88 feet. Her construction will occupy at least two years.”[xli]

On Friday, November 10th Ballin embarked at Plymouth aboard his company’s vessel Kaiserin Auguste Victoria returning to Germany. Before boarding[xlii] he would state to the press, “There is no secret about the nature of the business which has brought me to England. I came over to have a conference with the shipbuilders concerning the new steamer which is being built for us by Messrs. Harland and Wolff, and to go over the Lusitania. I saw Mr. Watson, the chairman of the Cunard Company, but no reference was made to the rate war. Nothing was even said about a conference. The fight is likely to go on.”

When asked if this new ship was to compete in speed, Ballin would respond, “If we went one better, it would only be a question of the deepest pocket, and England is the richest country in the world. As far as the Hamburg-American Line is concerned, we are certainly not going into the arena in the matter of speed, but it will be our aim to enable passengers to travel with every luxury and comfort that experience and human ingenuity can devise.

“One of the greatest problems to-day is the extraordinary growth of the Atlantic traffic. It has made a startling advance in the last few years, and I am inclined to believe that this is largely due to the fact that people can now cross the ocean with as much ease and comfort as if they remained at home.”[xliii]

Meanwhile in Belfast it was reported that, “A series of new buildings is in course of erection, and in the electric station on Queen’s-road new machinery of a powerful and up-to-date type has been installed, indicating the necessity, under the new conditions, of extra power on a lavish scale. The lengthening of the slips for the new mammoth lines for the White Star and Hamburg-America lines has also entailed a number of important extensions.”[xliv]

It further stated, “At the rear of electric station there has been erected a large and splendidly equipped stablishment [sic], measuring 370 feet in length by 68 feet in width, which is to be utilised [sic] as a fitting shop, wherein the bolts and nuts which play so important a part in ship construction will be manufactured by machinery of the most advance type.

“The lengthening of the slips for the new mammoth liners for the White Star and the Hamburg-Amerika Lines, has also entailed a number of alternations and important extensions to the works. Chief of these is the construction, which is now almost finished, of a new platers’ and machinists’ ‘shop,’ which is situated in the south yard, being 600 feet in length, proportionately wide, and providing with the most mechanical appliances.”[xlv]

The 1908 IMM publication Facts for Travelers would state of the White Star Line, “Among other vessels in course of construction and projected for the Company’s numerous services… may be mentioned (1) an express mail, passenger and freight steamer for the North Atlantic route, which will far surpass in size and luxury any ship now afloat…”[xlvi]

On Saturday, February 1st it was reported that “The formal opening of Messrs. Harland and Wolff’s new repairing works at Southampton may be said to have taken place…. There was no ceremony of any kind, but the firm were informed of the fact that the works had reached the completed stage. The offices, shops, drawing, and design lofts, &c., are a very compact suite of buildings, and the dock in which the Suevic was reconstructed comes right up against an immense repairing shop, which runs the entire length of the works.”

It was also reported that, “In Belfast the firm is going ahead with the conversion of the three outside slips in their north yard into two for the construction of the Europa, and the new White Star liner of 50,000 tons. The name of the latter has not yet been divulged, but it would not be surprising if Lady Pirrie, with the consent of the owners, christened it the Titanic.”[xlvii]

On February 8th, the possible name of the ship would change, “To enable Messrs. Harland & Wolff, of Belfast, to proceed with the construction of the steamships Europa and Gigantic, of 45,000 and 48,000 tons gross register….”[xlviii]

The Hampshire Independent, on Saturday, March 7th, 1908, would read, “At Messrs. Harland and Wolff’s yard Belfast work has been commenced on some new slips, which will allow the building of liners much greater dimensions than any yet designed. In twelve or fifteen month’s time, it is expected, the keel of a mammoth White Star boat for the Southampton and New York passenger trade will be laid. The vessel in question will mark an epoch in the world’s shipbuilding an engineering. The new slips will allow of the construction of vessels of the enormous length of 1,000 feet, with proportionate beam, depth, and weight.”

Also, in this first week of March the Hamburg-Amerika Line released its financial report for the year of 1907, in which stated, “In view of the present conditions of trade, we have for the present suspended the building of the sister vessel to the Amerika, ordered of Messrs. Harland and Wolff.”[xlix] Thus, as per this report, “The Hamburg-American Company have ordered Messrs. Harland and Wolff Belfast to stop work upon their new leviathan Europe on account of the economic situation.”[l]

The Dublin Daily Express[li] would read, “In announcing as a measure of economy the abandonment of the building of the great 25,000 ton Atlantic liner, to have been called the Europa, for which an order was placed with Messrs. Harland and Wolff, at Belfast, Herr Ballin informed the shareholders of the Hamburg-American Line on Saturday that the step had involved neither forfeit money nor other costs as only plans of the vessel had been drawn.

“The report of the Hamburg-American Line, published some time ago, made reference to the Europa, but simply stated that the building of the vessel had been postponed.”

Ismay, who arrived in New York on March 1st, where he met his wife who was staying with Mrs. Gustav Amsinck[lii], while also dealing with the affairs of the Mercantile Marine Co.,’[liii] would head back to England on Wednesday the 11th. On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal would report that, Ismay during his annual trip, reviewed the results of the IMM from ‘the past year with the local officers and plans were laid for the future.’[liv] Part of these plans were laid out to the public by a ‘Special Correspondence of The Washington Post’ on March 13th, via an interview with Ismay, who seemingly looks to have taken advantage of the now empty slip caused by the cancelation of the Hamburg-Amerika vessel:

But now, while one is yet marveling at these new marvels, the cables bring announcement that the White Star Steamship Company has contracted for the construction of a steamship that is to have the amazing length of 1,000 feet, a length 210 feet greater than that of the Lusitania and 320 feet more than was the length of Brunel’s great failure-the Great Eastern.

Such was the word the cables brought the other day. Mr. Bruce Ismay, the general manager of the White Star Line, who arrived from England a few days ago, not only confirmed the report, but added still further interest to it by the statement that the company was planning to build not one but two of these giant vessels; to send one down the ways six months after the other had gone overboard, and to place both of these great vessels in New York-Southampton service.

“These two steamships,” said Ismay, “are intended to be far ahead of anything yet designed. They are to be approximately 1,000 feet in length, perhaps a few feet more or perhaps a few feet less. But if not exactly 1,000 feet it will be but a trifling difference from that figure, one way or the other. That length will make them considerably greater than any vessel yet projected. I do not know what beam has been decided upon, but this will naturally be commensurate with their length.

“This is the first time in its history that the White Star Line has been able to enter the field of ship construction without a handicap. Hitherto we have been restricted by the limitations of our former home terminal – that of Liverpool; and in planning for new ships it has always been necessary for us to keep in mind the fact that our vessels must be kept within certain limitations. But now that we have moved our terminal to Southampton, that restriction no longer exists, and so, for the first time, we are now able to enter the field without any handicap of this nature. Southampton being a spacious harbor and its waters so wide and deep that so far as that port is concerned we may build ships of any size. It is true that docking facilities on this side must be considered. The longest piers on the North River, where our vessels now dock, are but 850 feet in length, but we are quite sure that longer ones will be considered.”

When pressed about any ‘new or unusual features’ the new vessels would have, Ismay stated, “I may not tell you that for if I did all of our competitors will know, but I will repeat what I just said, that they will be far ahead of anything that has yet been projected.”

Ismay would, however, elaborate on speed, “Extraordinary speed will not be sought for these larger vessels. About twenty knots an hour, I should say, will be their gait. We have some very good reasons for not filling them up with engines and coal bunkers. There is always a certain percentage of people who are always in a hurry, but we do not believe that that percentage is large, nor is there any reason to believe that it is considerably increasing. To the ordinary voyager a day more or less is not a matter of extreme importance to the operating company. That the vast majority of ocean travelers are not insistent on high speed seems to be proved by the popularity of such vessels as the Amerika of the Hamburg-American Line and our Adriatic.”[lv]

The Liverpool Echo, on Thursday, March 19th, would, however, report Ismay speaking of only one ship, “Mr. Bruce Ismay arrived from New York at Plymouth yesterday by the Oceanic, and in the course of a conversation he said (according to to-days ‘Daily News’) that the White Star Company, notwithstanding the decision of the Hamburg-American Line, were going on with the construction of a vessel which was to be bigger than the Adriatic.”

By March 24th excellent authorities were claiming that Harland and Wolff had not received any report of the intention to cancel the order of the Hamburg-Amerika vessel, while probable alterations would instead be made.[lvi] On April 2nd Harland and Wolff were still holding their ground as it was reported that, “Some days ago it was stated the Hamburg-Amerika Company had cancelled the order for their big boat, but this Messrs. Harland and Wolff positively and indignantly deny.”[lvii]

It was subsequently announced, again by ‘excellent authority,’ that the White Star Line were planning to construct two record liners[lviii], each one a thousand feet long, which were to be launched six months of each other.[lix] When replying to inquiries to the report, the White Star Line, “…said it was certainly true that they were going to build, at all events, one immense steamer for that trade [author’s note: Southampton-New York]. The name of this vessel would, probably, be Olympia.”[lx]

The name of Olympia, giving the ship the Cunard suffix ‘ia,’ was given in several accounts, however, far more aware columnists would correctly note that, “Of course, no name has been assigned to either of the projected vessels. But the White Star Line will undoubtedly follow its old system of nomenclature, and when these two come out the names given them will in all probability end with the clicking ‘ic’ which has so long distinguished the vessels of this fleet.”[lxi] This would ring true with other reporters putting the ship’s name as being Olympic.[lxii]

One such report would state, “Some months ago it was announced that the White Star Company were contemplating constructing two steamers of the Oceanic type and a third vessel of the Baltic type, only longer, possibly 1,000 feet. Upon enquiry at the White Star office, I learnt the facts of the whole matter as it stands at present. The company are discussing plans and designs for a very large steamer, not necessarily 1,000 feet in length, to be called, probably, the Olympic. No order has been placed with any shipbuilder as yet. There is certainly no intention to build two phenomenally large steamers, and for present the original purpose to build two others of the Oceanic type is to be allowed to remain in abeyance.

“Another correspondence adds that the company are to build, at all events, one immense steamer for the New York-Southampton service.”[lxiii]

This sentiment was seemingly echoed by Harland and Wolff as it was written, “The rumored project of the White Star Line to have constructed by Messrs. Harland & Wolff two mammoth vessels for the Southampton-New York service has been much discussed. Some journals have gone so far as to state that the name of one of the leviathans will be the Olympic, and that both are to be 1,000 feet long. As we previously pointed out there is not in the world a graving dock which could accommodate a ship of such colossal dimensions, and on inquiry this morning at Messrs. Harland & Wolff’s we were distinctly informed- ‘We know nothing whatever about the matter.’ On the other hand, publicity has again been given this morning to the statement that the White Star Line announce their intention to build at all events one immense steamer for the Southampton trade.”[lxiv]

By April 23rd though, all speculation appeared to be quenched as noted in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph:

A Liverpool correspondent telegraphs: The White Star Line decline wholly to confirm the statement from Belfast respecting their steamship building plans. Up to the present they intended to build two large steamers at once. Yesterday, however, they stated at their head office in this city that two steamers of vast size were to be built for them, but added that the dimensions named in the Belfast message were incorrect. They at present do not see their way to divulge what the correct dimensions will be. With regard to the names mentioned, the Olympic and Titanic, the first was correct, but they had not even thought of a name for the second. The speed stated was not correct, as it was intended that the new steamers should steam not less than twenty-one knots.

On the other hand, a news agency states: The White Star managers at Liverpool stated officially yesterday that two steamships, which would be the largest in the world, were to be built for the company at Belfast. The keels will be laid down within the next two months, but the exact dimensions are meantime being kept secret. Both turbines and reciprocating engines will be supplied and a speed of not less than twenty-one knots guaranteed. Information from Belfast states that the new vessels will be 840ft. long and 78ft. broad.

This will make them about 40ft. longer than the two largest existing Cunarders, and give them an estimated tonnage of 45,000 to 50,000 gross.

The Belfast statement the above article refers to is made clear in the Liverpool Journal of Commerce on May 7th:

According to a statement, attributed to a leading official of the Queen’s Island shipyard a day or two ago, the newspapers across the channel seem to know more about the size of the big White Star boat we have been commissioned to build than we do ourselves. The statement, he continued, which was circulated a fortnight ago by the Liverpool representative of a London newsagency [sic], to the effect the managers of the White Star Company had authorised [sic] him to state not only that two mammoth liners had been ordered, but that their dimensions would be so and so, is so much bunkum. The managers of the company referred to, continued the gentleman alluded to, know their business too well to indulge in any such gossip…. Evidently, he resumed, the newsagency yarn was based upon a statement which obtained currency in Belfast, and which was telegraphed to the Liverpool papers, but unfortunately one of the dimensions given, viz., the width as being 78 feet, ought to have been 88 feet. Any one interested in such matters may, he went on to say, have noticed that in nearly every case all these big steamers are just under ten times the length of their breadth dimensions. Consequently, a vessel of 840 feet with only a width of 78 feet, would be out of the usual proportions of a Queen’s Island ship, and for all useful purposes would not be anything like so suitable from a commercial or other standpoint. But to be frank, the firm has actually two designs under consideration – one is a steamship of 840 feet by 88 feet by 56 feet; the other of 820 feet length, 92 feet beam, and of about the same depth, and each would work out between 48,000 and 50,000 gross tonnage. By the time the new slips are ready we will, he concluded, have probably made up our minds. They may be both to one design, or as an experiment we may try both ideas, or a combination of both in each case.

Though by June 11th it was ‘not possible yet to learn anything about’ the dimensions of the ‘two new mammoth steamers’ and how much they would ‘exceed the great tonnage of the express Cunarders,’[lxv] a recently published[lxvi] ‘neatly printed,’ ‘well illustrated,’[lxvii] and ‘handy’ booklet by the White Star Line would state:

With the entry into a new sphere of activity the White Star Line will not cease to devote the same unremitting forethought and attention to that branch of its operations which has ever been the basis of its reputation with Transatlantic travelers. As a proof of this, it may be stated that the company is arranging to build two steamers for its New York service which, in point of size, will eclipse everything afloat, whilst the numerous innovations devised for the comfort of passengers will come as a revelation, even in an age that has already produced such veritable wonders of the sea. The advent of these two gargantuan steamers will doubtless be awaited with the keenest interest by the public, and it can only be affirmed here that the managers will give such consideration to every detail of ttheir [sic] construction as will ensure the fulfillment of the most sanguine hopes that may be formed of them. The first will probably be named the Olympic.”[lxviii]

On Wednesday, July 1st, it was reported that Lord Pirrie, who had traveled[lxix] to Belfast to witness the launching of the Lapland the Saturday before, had returned to Downshire House, London.[lxx] Reported to have also recently arrived in London, supposedly from New York, and staying at the Ritz Hotel, was Bruce Ismay and his wife, though no exact date is given.[lxxi]

Also in London, to commemorate the opening of the new building for the offices of the Royal National Pension Fund for Nurses at Buckingham Street, Strand, on July 4th was Morgan.[lxxii] The Junius S. Morgan Benevolent Fund, which was associated with the national fund, was, as the name suggests, founded by Morgan’s father.[lxxiii] Morgan would be reported as staying in London at 13, Princes-gate and Dover House.[lxxiv]

Lord Pirrie would leave London on either the 24th or 25th.[lxxv] By the 28th Pirrie was in Dublin at the Viceregal Commission on Irish Railways held in the Shelbourne Hotel.[lxxvi] It is unclear as to how long Ismay or Morgan stayed in London, though it was noted that Morgan’s stay abroad, “…usually continues through the summer.”[lxxvii] It would be reported that Mrs. Morgan, who having spent the summer at her camp in Adirondacks, sailed to England to meet Mr. Morgan on Wednesday, August 12th.[lxxviii]

On the 29th, it has been written[lxxix] that Bruce Ismay along with other representatives of the White Star Line traveled to Belfast to view general arrangements titled “Design D” for a ship that was to be “850’x92’x64’-6”.” The only hull number on this plan would be 400. Impressed with this plan, on July 31st, 1908, a contract to build not only hull 400, but also 401, which was to become the legendary Titanic, was signed.[lxxx]

[i] The Standard – Monday, January 7, 1907
[ii] The Standard – Monday, January 7, 1907
[iii] Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday, January 7th, 1907
[iv] Daily Telegraph & Courier (London) – Monday, January 7, 1907
[v] The Standard – Monday, January 7, 1907
[vi] Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday, January 7th, 1907
[vii] Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday , January 7th, 1907
[viii] Belfast News-Letter – Saturday, January 12th, 1907
[ix] Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday, January 16th, 1907
[x] Irish Times – Thursday, February 28th, 1907
[xi] Pall Mall Gazette & Globe – Tuesday, August 7th, 1906
[xii] Portsmouth Evening News – Monday, January 28th, 1907
[xiii] Hampshire Independent – Saturday, March 2nd, 1907
[xiv] Larne Times – Saturday, March 16th, 1907
[xv] Irish Times – Wednesday, March 20th, 1907
[xvi] The Irish Independent – Thursday, March 21st, 1907
[xvii] Hampshire Independent – Saturday, March 23rd, 1907
[xviii] Liverpool Daily Post – Tuesday, March 19th, 1907
[xix] The Scotsman, The Daily Mirror, the East and South Devon Advertiser – Saturday, March 23rd, 1907 and March 25th, 1907
[xx] London Evening Standard – Wednesday, March 27th, 1907
[xxi] The Scotsman – Thursday, March 28th, 1907
[xxii] London Daily News – Wednesday, April 10th, 1907 On the 19th Mrs. Ismay would be laid to rest in Thurstaston (Cheshire) Church yard. – Larne Times Saturday, April 20th, 1907
[xxiii] The American Register – March 30th, 1907
[xxiv] Manchester Evening News – Thursday, March 28th, 1907
[xxv] Particulars of Completed Ships
[xxvi] It was reported in the Moring Post – Friday, May 31st, 1907, that the town of Plymouth would have much inspired to celebrate the arrival of the Adriatic and the White Star Line but, “…such things are not to be accomplished at a quarter of three in the morning…”
[xxvii] Lloyd’s List – Saturday, June 1st, 1907 & Leeds Mercury – Friday, May 31st, 1907
[xxviii] It is unclear if this was the starboard or port engine due to various reports.
[xxix] Daily Mirror – Friday, May 31st, 1907
[xxx] The Hampshire Independent – Saturday, June 1st, 1907
[xxxi] Hampshire Independent – Saturday, June 8th, 1907
[xxxii] Belfast News- Letter – Thursday, June 4th, 1907
[xxxiii] Aberdeen Press and Journal – Wednesday, June 5th , 1907
[xxxiv] Daily Mirror – Friday, June 28th, 1907
[xxxv] Larne Times – Saturday, June 29th, 1907
[xxxvi] Londonderry Sentinel – Thursday, July 4th, 1907
[xxxvii] Marine Review Vol. 36; August 1907 (pg. 34)
[xxxviii] Engineering Vol. 84; 1907
[xxxix] Irish News and Belfast Moring News – Saturday, September 14th, 1907
[xl] Liverpool Journal of Commerce – Thursday, September 19th, 1907
[xli] Belfast Weekly News – Thursday, October 24th, 1907
[xlii] Lloyd’s List – November 9th, 1907
[xliii] Birmingham Daily Gazette – Saturday, November 9th, 1907
[xliv] Wexford People – Wednesday, November 27th, 1907
[xlv] Dublin Daily Express – Saturday, November 23rd, 1907
[xlvi] Facts for Travelers; 1908 (pg. 5)
[xlvii] Liverpool Journal of Commerce – Thursday, February 6th, 1908
[xlviii] Fermanagh Herald – Saturday, February 8th, 1908
[xlix] Lloyd’s List – Saturday, March 7th, 1908
[l] Mirror – Monday, March 9th, 1908
[li] Dublin Daily Express – Tuesday, March 24th, 1908
[lii] New-York Daily Tribune – Sunday, March 1st, 1908
[liii] Wall Street Journal – March 2nd, 1908
[liv] Wall Street Journal – Thursday Morning, March 12th, 1908
[lv] The Washington Post – Sunday, March 15th, 1908
[lvi] Belfast Telegraph – Tuesday, March 24th, 1908
[lvii] Liverpool Journal of Commerce – Thursday, April 2nd, 1908
[lviii] Though there is some evidence that the White Star Line were proposing to build two ships as early as August of 1907 by IMM General Manager John Lee, it is clear from the evidence presented in this paper, that if a second ship was considered, it was not in the works and was to be built later as the other available slip in the new gantry was to be occupied by the Hamburg-Amerika liner. This may be suggestive of two possibilities, the first being that hull number 401 may not have been originally Titanic’s but instead for the Hamburg-Amerika’s leviathan or perhaps it may have gone to another ship altogether. It also suggests that the date of 4/31/07, as listed in the document ‘Particulars of Completed Ships’, for when Harland and Wolff received orders to proceed with hulls 400 and 401, is not wholly accurate. Instead, this order to proceed may solely have been in reference to hull 400, or what would be the Olympic, and since hull 401 (as far as that number being in reference to Titanic) would subsequently be built from the same design (Design D), once it was realized two ships would be built instead of one, by default, this date would also apply to the second ship, hull 401, though this ship was greenlit later.
[lix] Manchester Courier – Friday, April 17th, 1908
[lx] Irish News and Belfast Morning News – Friday, April 17th, 1908
[lxi] The American Marine Engineer Vol. 3 No. 4; April 1908
[lxii] Daily Mirror – Friday, April 17th, 1908
[lxiii] Newcastle Evening Chronicle – Friday, April 17th, 1908
[lxiv] Belfast Telegraph – Friday, April 17th, 1908
[lxv] Manchester Courier – Saturday, June 13th, 1908
[lxvi] Some publications state to have received an advanced copy.
[lxvii] Belfast News-Letter – Friday, June 12th, 1908
[lxviii] Liverpool Journal of Commerce – Thursday, June 11th, 1908
[lxix] The Tyrone Constitution – Friday, July 3rd, 1908, would state that Pirrie traveled from Dublin.
[lxx] Irish Times – Wednesday, July 1st, 1908
[lxxi] American Register – July 18th, 1908 Could the dinner party at Pirrie’s Downshire house, that afterwards is believed to have been when Olympic and Titanic were conceived, have taken place in July of 1908 and not 1907? This would mean that the after-dinner conversation was not necessarily the conception of the Olympic, nor the germination of a second ship, but perhaps a conversation that both ships were to be of the same design, and/or about Design ”D” itself which would shortly be approved.
[lxxii] Evening Star – Monday, July 6th, 1908
[lxxiii] Bradford Daily Telegraph – Monday, July 6th, 1908
[lxxiv] London Evening Standard – Saturday, July 25th, 1908 & The Sun – August 2nd, 1908 All three men in London again at a pivotal moment, as they had been before the order to proceed was given, seems rather coincidental, though there is no evidence that these men met each other.
[lxxv] The Irish Independent – July 24th, 1908, “Lord and Lady Pirrie will leave Belgrave square to-day for Braemar.” The Globe – Saturday, July 25th, 1908, “Lord and Lady Pirrie left London to-day for Ormiston, Strandtown, Belfast.” The Belfast News-Letter – Monday, July 27th, 1908, would state that the Pirries were guests at Lady Allendale’s garden party yesterday (implying this took place on the 26th), and that Lord Pirrie was to go, “straight to Braemar when [he] can leave his parliamentary duties.” The Westminster Gazette – Wednesday, July 15th, 1908, “One of the last events of the season, but not the least important or interesting, will be the garden-party which Lady Allendale proposes to give at her residence, 144, Piccadilly, on July 24…”
[lxxvi] Northern Whig – Wednesday, July 29th, 1908
[lxxvii] The Greenville Democrat – July 29th, 1908
[lxxviii] The Washington Post – Friday, August 14th, 1908
[lxxix] This author cannot substantiate this claim.
[lxxx] Document held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2022) Titanic: Conceiving a Legend (Titanica!, ref: #696, published 4 November 2022, generated 7th December 2022 02:01:37 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-conceiving-a-legend.html