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Titanic History

The Maiden Voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic

Built in Belfast, Ireland, by Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders, it took two years, 3,000 men and $7.5 million (about $140 million in 2004 dollars) to build the R.M.S. (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic. The ship was 882.5 feet long—as tall as the 11th floor of the Chrysler Building—and had four funnels (or smokestacks), but only three were functional. The fourth one was there for aesthetic reasons and was used merely as an air vent.

The Titanic set sail from the White Star docks of Southampton, England, en route to New York at noon on April 10, 1912. At 6:35 p.m. that evening, the 46,000-ton Titanic docked in Cherbourg, France, where 274 passengers boarded, including the famous Mrs. James Joseph (Margaret) Brown, otherwise known as Molly. The Titanic departed Cherbourg at 8:10 p.m. and arrived in Ireland at noon the next day, April 11. There she took on sacks of mail and additional passengers and departed that afternoon at 1:30 p.m. In Ireland 120 passengers boarded the ship, but a few actually left, including Belvedere College teacher Frances M. Browne, who shot some of the last photographs ever taken of the Titanic's ill-fated voyage.

Over the next three days, the Titanic, commanded by Captain Edward J. Smith, received several warnings of heavy ice ahead. On April 14 alone, there were six ice warnings that described an ice area of more than 78 miles.

The Titanic Hits an Iceberg

At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, just as passengers and crew were climbing into bed after a long night's celebration, the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Newfoundland. The iceberg tore several holes in the hull, totaling only 12 square feet, but the holes were torn over a distance of 248 feet, damaging the first four compartments and a portion of the fifth. It is estimated that 16,000 cubic feet of water entered through those holes in the first 40 minutes after impact.

At 12:45 a.m. on the morning of April 15, the first lifeboat was lowered to the water from the Titanic. Although each lifeboat was able to hold 65 people, poor training and lack of information cause the crew to fill the first lifeboat with only 28 passengers. Surprisingly, many of the 2,227 passengers and crew initially miscalculated that the sinking ship was safer than one of the departing lifeboats. It was not until 1:15 a.m., when the ship began to go under, that passengers and crew quickly filled the lifeboats.

Becoming one of the first ships in history to use the new "SOS" international distress signal, the Titanic sent its last message before the final light went out and the bow sank to the bottom of the ocean by 2:20 a.m.

Dr. Ballard finds the Titanic

In July 1985, Dr. Robert D. Ballard launched an expedition to find the Titanic with a team of American explorers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), with additional assistance from the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Navy, in partnership with French explorers from the IFREMER. Aboard the vessel Le Suroit, the team searched the area unsuccessfully for six weeks, when Ballard suggested searching just north of the site where the Carpathia had rescued many of the 705 survivors.

Argo—a submersible search vehicle equipped with video cameras and side scan sonar—was lowered from the Woods Hole research vessel Knorr to the bottom of the ocean, and the expedition slowly searched the 150-square mile area.

At 1:05 a.m. on September 1, when the crew had just about given up hope, they located an enormous and unmistakable boiler from the Titanic 12,460 feet below the ocean's surface. In July 1986, aboard the WHOI vessel Atlantis II, Dr. Ballard and a National Geographic film crew returned to the site with the goal of further exploring the wreck. During this expedition, the powerful deep-sea imaging robot Jason Jr., equipped with high-resolution cameras and strong lights, was able to descend to the first few decks of the Titanic.

The bow was buried in more than 50 feet of mud, and both anchors were still in place. A chandelier hanging in the grand staircase also remained, and the infamous crow's nest from where the iceberg was first spotted was still attached to the mast that lay fallen across the deck.

JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic