Mr George Achilles Harder was born on 22 October 1886 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Victor Achilles Harder (1847-1914) and Minnie Mehl (1853-1934).
His father, a manufacturer of plumbing materials, was born in New York to French parents. He had first been married in 1867 to Amelia Musse (b. 1848), also of French ancestry, and they had two surviving children: Victor Achilles (1869-1941) and Emelia Julia (1872-1924, later Mrs Sylvester James McNamara). Victor became a young widower when Amelia died on 15 January 1876. He was remarried to French-born Minnie Mehl (b. 1853 in Alsace) around 1884 and with her had two children: George Achilles (b. 1886) and Hortense (1890-1980, later Mrs Sidney Smith Whelan).
George was shown on the 1905 census living with his parents in Brooklyn and was described as a college student. He graduated from the Pratt Institute and in 1909 joined the Essex Foundry, of which his father was President, later part of Central Foundry of which he was chairman until 1938. The 1910 census shows him living on 8th Avenue, Brooklyn and by now he is described as a realtor.
George was married to Dorothy Annan (b. 1890) in New York on 8 January 1912. Following a three-month-long honeymoon in Europe, the couple boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as first class passengers. They occupied cabin E-50 (ticket number 11765, which cost £55, 8s, 10d).
Mr Harder later described the events of the sinking, speaking of the collision itself:
“It was not so heavy as to even wake up a great many passengers, and I might say right there that many of them never knew of the collision, and I believe sank while asleep. Some women have said that they were not even called by the stewards. Others, and these constitute the great majority, were told that there was no danger, not to hurry and not to be even the least bit perturbed. I went on deck, however, as I did not like the scraping sound that followed the thud, and when I reached there, they told me I had better get my life belt and I returned with my wife, both of us with belts on.
When I went to our berth and told people that I had been told to put on our life belts they laughed at me and said it was a joke. There was no more actual realization of conditions or danger than if we had hit a small rowboat. The steamer was actually progressing at the time. Once on deck I found that one boat had already put off and then my wife and I go into the second with about thirty others, including Karl Behr...
Mr. Ismay helped us get into the boat and he acted splendidly. In our boat was a big box and a keg of water. Unlike the other boats, we had no lights at all, and we pulled away from the boat some distance, later taking turns at the oars. I was on the starboard side, the boat having listed that way. I am told the lowering of boats on the other side was a much more difficult proposition...
Mr Harder went on to describe the scene following the launch of his lifeboat:
... We pulled away from the immediate vicinity of the Titanic as she was starting to list considerably and her bow was slowly tilting – but all the time the lights were burning brightly and the band was playing the “Star Spangled Banner”. I did not hear any pistol shots, and although we were gradually pulling away from the boat I think we should have heard them... Five minutes before she dropped out of sight the lights went out. Then the bow dug deeper into the water until she was inundated right to midships, when she suddenly dove straight down, and thus made less suction that would have occurred had she sunk in the ordinary way. Just before she sank an awful screaming, ghastly and piercing, rent the air, and it was caused by a handful of steerage passengers, women, who had huddled into the aft end of the boat, just as an ostrich digs his head into the sand...
The couple were rescued in lifeboat 5. According to George's grandson, Mr and Mrs Harder saved three things from the Titanic (apparently taken from the cabin and still owned by the family today): Mrs Harder's fur coat, a bottle of brandy, and a button hook for Mrs Harder's shoes.
Following their rescue the couple were the subjects of a well known photo taken on the Carpathia. The photograph shows them in discussion with Sallie Beckwith.
Whilst returning to New York on the Carpathia, Harder and some other survivors (Frederic K. Seward, Karl Behr, Margaret Brown, Mauritz Björnström-Steffansson, Frederic Spedden and Isaac Frauenthal) formed a committee to honour the bravery of Captain Rostron and his crew. They would present the Captain with an inscribed silver cup and medals to each of the 320 crew members. Mr Harder was one of the Titanic survivors who testified before the US Senate Investigative Committee.
The Harders were frequently asked to lecture about the Titanic disaster but they refused. Like so many other men who escaped, George Harder found the stigma of surviving the Titanic disaster difficult to live down. He and Dorothy made their home in Manhattan and went on two have two daughters: Dorothy (1913-1973, later Mrs Barclay Kountze Douglas) and Jean (1915-1991, later Mrs Clendenin James Ryan).
In 1916 he and his wife visited Asia, including China and Japan, returning home from Hong Kong aboard the Empress of Asia in December 1916. At that time their address was 43, 5th Avenue, Manhattan. His passport, obtained that year, described him as standing at 5' 11", with brown hair, grey eyes, of fair complexion, with a small nose and an oval face. In May 1925 George made a voyage aboard Olympic.
George's father, Victor Harder died in New York in 9 August 1914, and his mother, Minnie Harder died on 1 December 1934. In the following years his wife Dorothy suffered from kidney ailments and she died young in 1926.
On 28 February 1928 George was remarried to Elizabeth Peebles Rhodes (b. 14 January 1901) who hailed from Pennsylvania. From this second union he gained two sons: George Achilles (1930-1989) and James D. Rhodes (1931-2009).
Still slighted for many years from the adverse reaction to male Titanic survivors, George only opened up about his experiences in his last few years, then only to his daughters. The last years of his life were spent living at 531 East Seventy-second Street in New York City. He died there on 26 May 1959 aged 72 and was buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, just a few hundred feet from the grave of Wyckoff Van der Hoef, a fellow Titanic passenger who perished in the sinking.
His widow Elizabeth later died in 1980 aged 79. His last surviving child, James died in 2009 in Massachusetts.