Society - History
By: - at September 7, 2013

20 Little Known Facts About the Titanic

The RMS Titanic was an ambitious endeavor intended to revolutionize commercial sailing with the greatest of opulence. Rather, the vessel struck an iceberg on 15th of April 1912 and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. It served as a testament to the fallibility and short sightedness of human nature.


The tragedy fascinated the world both at the time of the disaster and in the many years that followed. Remarkably, even with the endless interest in the accident and all that is commonly understood about the event, there are still many surprising facts about the ship and its disaster that are largely unknown.

20)  As the Lifeboats Were Filled it was Women, Children and DOGS First
It’s well known that the Titanic wasn’t equipped with enough lifeboats to save all the ship’s passengers. Worse still, a number of the boats weren’t filled to their capacity – Lifeboat #1 had only seven crew members and five passengers, so only twelve of the potential 40 seats were filled.

Photograph of Rescued Passengers
life boat of the RMS Titanic

Even more ridiculous is the fact that at least three seats on various lifeboats were taken up by dogs, with the rich passengers who boarded the safety boats valuing the lives of their pets above those of fellow human passengers.

19)  The First Victim of the Titanic was the Last to Receive a Headstone
Samuel Scott was a fifteen year-old who had worked on the Titanic. He holds the unfortunate distinction of being the very first person to have died in association with the ship. He was killed in 1910. While helping build the vessel, he received a skull fracture that led to his death.

Grave of Samuel Scott in Belfast City Cemetery, Ireland
Grave of Samuel Scott

As a young worker his death wasn’t considered particularly significant, especially in contrast to the disaster that would later befall the Titanic. For over 100 years, Scott’s grave lay unmarked at Belfast City Cemetery. Ultimately, he was the last victim of the Titanic to receive a headstone.

18)  Edward John Smith was an Inappropriate Captain
Edward John Smith was the man who captained the Titanic. While he had acquired more than 35 years of experience on the sea, he wasn’t the most appropriate captain for the ship. He had worked for the company that owned the Titanic, the White Star Line, for over 25 years and he had intended the voyage across the North Atlantic to be his final job for the company. Despite his experience, however, Smith’s expertise related to captaining sail ships and steam ships.

Edward J. Smith's White Star Personnel Photograph
Edward J. Smith's White Star Personnel Photograph

He had never been in control of anything like the Titanic. There are conflicting accounts in regards to his actions as captain of the Titanic as the ship went down. While he went down with the vessel, some reports claimed that he was panic-stricken and hardly embodied the nobility expected of a captain under pressure. Far from a bad person, it appears that Smith was just way in over his head and ill-equipped to lead in a devastating situation.

17)  An Elderly Couple Depicted in the ‘Titanic’ film Were a Real Couple
One scene in James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ (1997) depicted an elderly couple, who opt to die together. The scene was based on the real life story of Ida and Isidor Straus, who were the owners of the store Macy’s. The couple were inseparable in life and this was no different when they faced death. The husband and wife actually made it to the lifeboats in time to board one of them. However, Ida would not get in, refusing to be separated from her husband.

Isidor and Ida Straus
Isidor and Ida Straus

In response, Isidor was given the opportunity to board the lifeboat, but he too declined and alternatively gave his spot to his wife’s maid. Having resigned themselves to certain death, the Straus’ reportedly made their way to a couple of deck chairs where they calmly sat, holding one another’s hands until they were washed away together by a large wave. There’s a memorial on the main level of the Manhattan Macy’s Department Store, commemorating the couple.

16)  The Titanic Sank Because Conditions Were Too Good
There’s some debate as to exactly what happened on the night that the Titanic sank. The general consensus is that the iceberg was spotted late and that the captain opted to smash through it, believing that the iceberg was no match for the ship. Other accounts have it that the crew didn’t known about the iceberg until they actually hit it. Whatever actually happened, one fact is clear – crew members saw the iceberg all too late. This wouldn’t have been the case were it not for the freak conditions of the night. While most boats that fall victim to the sea do so because of bad conditions, the Titanic was victim to the opposite scenario. The conditions were perfect. It was specifically the absence of waves that largely resulted in the Titanic striking the iceberg that sank it. There was no wind or waves. The water was dead calm. It was also a dark night.

Iceberg Off of Newfoundland
Iceberg Off of Newfoundland

With the combination of these factors, the iceberg was practically invisible from the ship. Had there been waves there would have been a bright phosphorescent line around the base of the iceberg due the tiny plankton dinoflagellates that glow with the faintest disturbance in the water. On the night the Titanic sank there wasn’t even the slightest wave to warn the ship’s crew of the iceberg. The conditions were incredibly rare for the North Atlantic at the time of the year. On pretty much any other night the iceberg would almost certainly have been spotted and contact could have been avoided.

15)  James Cameron’s Film About the Disaster was more Expensive Than the Boat
Both of the epic projects to build the Titanic and James Cameron’s efforts to produce a film about the disaster were incredibly expensive. While the boat itself cost $7 million (approximately $170 million by today’s standard) to build, the film cost $200 million.

Director of 'Titanic' James Cameron
Director of 'Titanic' James Cameron

14)  Titanic’s Band Actually Played as the Boat Sank… Then Got Billed
In another scene in James Cameron’s film about the Titanic, the ship’s band plays while the vessel sinks. The scene was based on another real life event. While they were under no obligation to do so, the musicians made the decision to continue performing in attempt to calm the frantic passengers as they rushed for the lifeboats. None of the band members survived the disaster.

Leaving the Sinking Sea liner
Leaving the Sinking Sealiner

Numerous accounts confirmed the actions of the musicians. The bodies of only three of the musicians were ever found. One was John Hume Law. Horrifyingly, two weeks after the disaster, Law’s father was billed by C.W. and F.N. Black, the employment firm that had employed the musicians in the group. The bill was for the uniform that Law was wearing when he died.

13)  Similarities with ‘Futility or The Wreck of the Titan’
Fourteen years before the sinking of the Titanic, Morgan Robertson wrote the book ‘Futility or The Wreck of the Titan’ (1898) in which a ship very much like the Titanic, named the Titan, hits an iceberg and sinks. Both the fictitious and real life ship were 800 feet in length, they were both reported to be unsinkable and encountered disaster in the North Atlantic.

The Wreck of the Titan

Furthermore, neither boat had anywhere near sufficient amounts of lifeboats for their 3000 passengers aboard. The only significant difference between the fictional tragedy and the real life event was that fewer people died during the sinking of the Titanic.

12)  A Survivor Was One of the First People Killed by A Car in The U.S.
Douglas Spedden was only six when he was saved from the sinking of the Titanic. He was one of the first people to board the lifeboats as the ship went down. Despite his fortune on that night, he was tragically struck and killed by a car just three years later. His death was one of the first recorded fatalities involving an automobile in the U.S.

very early automobile accident, car accident historical

11)  The Discovery of the Titanic’s Remains Was Part of a Covert Mission
In 1985, the oceanographer Bob Ballard found one of the most famous wreckages, the Titanic. The discovery came about as part of a secret U.S. government mission. Ballard had been employed by the government because of the submarine he owned, equipped with advanced robotics. Ballard was employed to determine the status of 2 nuclear submarines – the USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher – that had sunk back in the 1960s. As the U.S. didn’t want to arouse suspicion from the Soviets, the government figured that premise of searching for the remains of the Titanic would serve as an adequate excuse for the increased presence of U.S. vessels in the region.

Captain Smith's Bathroom - Photo From Ballard's Expedition
Captain Smith's Bathroom - Photo From Ballard's Expedition

For his services, the U.S. agreed to provide money for Ballard's endeavor to actually find the Titanic, plus fund a documentary relating to the search. He only had 12 days of his Navy contract to find the sunken ship after he’d found the two subs. With what he’d learned in the locating of the nuclear subs, Ballard was able to employ the same expertise to find the Titanic.

10)  Titanic Wasn’t a Big Deal Until It Sank
Despite the ship’s history that saw it become a household name much of what is known about the Titanic are myths. Most notable is the fact that the company behind the Titanic the White Star Line never actually claimed the Titanic to be “unsinkable”. Furthermore, the Titanic wasn’t ever intended to be the pride of the company’s fleet. The Titanic’s sister ship the Olympic was. In fact, little fanfare was actually made when the Titanic set sail. It wasn’t until after the ship sank that the media paid attention to the vessel.

RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic in Dry-dock
RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic in Dry-dock
By trialsanderrors [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

No actual footage was taken of the Titanic leaving on its ill-fated voyage. All the purported images of the event are actually footage of the Olympic with the name scratched out on the reels, given that both ships were practically identical in design.

9)  Numerous Ships Could Have Saved Passengers of Titanic
Typically, while the Titanic was sinking the crew sent out numerous distress calls to any and all ships that might be nearby. None responded – not until it a significant amount of lives had been lost. But there actually was a ship that could have arrived earlier and saved countless lives. The SS Californian was only around fifteen miles away when the Titanic collided with the iceberg. Although crew members of the SS Californian spotted SOS flares from the sinking Titanic lighting up the sky, the distress signals were ignored.

SS California
SS California

When the crew woke up the captain, he dismissed their concerns and went back to sleep. There was also another ship that likely heard the Titanic’s distress calls, the Samson. It was only about eight miles away. However, the crew members of this ship were illegally hunting seals and opted to save themselves from prosecution than save lives. Ultimately, both the Samson and the SS Californian were significantly closer that the Carpathia, which was the vessel that ended up rescuing the survivors of the Titanic – while so many others perished.

8)  The Titanic May Have Sank Because of a Mummy
Not only is it believed that the mummified corpse of Priestess of Amun-Ra who lived around 1050 B.C. was on board the Titanic, but some have speculated that it may have been the cause of the disaster. As legend has it, after the mummy was unearthed in the 1890s numerous instances of misfortune befell anyone who had the corpse in their possession. First, the original owner was so ill-effected by the mummy that he donated it to the British Museum. There, both museum staff and visitors encountered mysterious experiences.

Sarcophagus of Amun-Ra
Sarcophagus of Amun-Ra

Unconcerned with the mummy’s reputation – believing that they were just superstition – the corpse was finally purchased by journalist William Thomas Stead. He claimed to have concealed the mummy underneath his car, concerned that it wouldn’t have been allowed onboard otherwise, due to its reputation. Nevertheless, Stead did reveal that presence of the mummy aboard the Titanic at his last dinner on the night the ship sank. Whether or not a mummy was indeed on board the Titanic is debatable. Stead was a pioneer in tabloid journalism, so it remains a mystery whether he was telling the truth about the mummy or whether he, like any tabloid journalist, was just making up a good story out of nothing.

7)  The Nazis Made an Anti-British Film About the Titanic
When James Cameron produced the film ‘Titanic’ it ultimately went on to be one of the highest grossing films in the history of cinema. Of course, Cameron certainly wasn’t the first person to make a film about the disaster. In fact, numerous films have been made about the ship – some successful. Others were not so well known. One film that many people aren’t aware of is that Nazi Germany produced a film about the sinking. ‘The Titanic’ (1943) was piece of anti-British propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s Propaganda Minister was the mind behind the film’s production.

Movie Poster For the Nazi Propaganda Film 'Titanic'
Movie Poster For the Nazi Propaganda Film 'Titanic'

The film depicted the tragedy in an attempt to satirize and discredit the capitalistic ideals of Britain and America. The film was originally scheduled to first screen early in 1943 but the theater that it was to screen at was bombed the night before. It ended up being shown in late 1943. Ironically, the ship on which the film was shot, the SS Cap Arcona, was later bombed by the British Royal Air Force. The attack caused three times more fatalities than the Titanic.

6)  A Key Could Have Avoided the Titanic Tragedy
Charles Lightoller (30th March, 1874 – 8th December, 1952) was the most senior member of the crew to survive the disaster. He served as the second officer on the Titanic after a last minute change in crew that could have indirectly caused the crash. With the changing of the crew the original second officer, David Blair, left the ship – taking with him the only key to unlock the case in which a pair of binoculars were kept.

Charles Lightoller (Left) and Herbert Pitman After the Sinking
Charles Lightoller (Left) and Herbert Pitman After the Sinking

The result of this was that no one on board the ship had access to binoculars during the voyage; the iceberg that sank the ship was seen too late. Lightoller had planned to purchase binoculars when the ship reached New York, as the piece of equipment didn’t seem crucial at the time. Had the crew had access to a pair of binoculars during the ill-fated voyage, the disaster could have been avoided and thousands of lives saved.

5)  The Remains of the Titanic Could be Gone Within Twenty Years
Due to recently discovered bacteria that consume rust, experts believe that the remains of the Titanic could be gone soon. Although the ship has already lasted over 100 years, the micro-organisms could reduce the wreck to nothing within fifteen to twenty years.

Alvin (DSV-2) Gets Refitted With a New Bubble Prior To Exploring the Wreckage of Titanic
Alvin (DSV-2) Gets Refitted With a New Bubble Prior To Exploring the Wreckage of Titanic

4)  An A-list Celebrity Survived and Exploited the Tragedy – Just Days After it Happened
Dorothy Gibson (17th May, 1889 – 17th February, 1946) was a superstar in the silent era of film. When she dramatically survived the sinking of the Titanic, production for a film detailing her ordeal – ‘Saved from the Titanic’ (1912) – began within just five days of the disaster. Gibson co-wrote the script and played a fictionalized version of herself as she recounted her experience.

Portrait of Dorothy Gibson
Portrait of Dorothy Gibson

Gibson even wore the same clothing that she’d worn during the disaster. The film was incredibly successful, though some condemned her for not just exploiting the tragedy but doing it so soon after it happened. It’s speculated that some copies of the film may still exist, given how successful and popular it was. However, all known copies of the movie were destroyed in a fire in 1914.

3)  Conspiracy Theorists Believe that the Titanic Never Sank
With over 100 years of studies it would seem that the events that surrounded the sinking of the Titanic are pretty clear cut. Robin Gardiner, however, thinks otherwise. In his controversial book, ‘Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?’, Gardiner details a theory that suggests that the vessel that crashed and sunk was the Olympic, not the Titanic. The Olympic was the Titanic’s sister ship, and Gardiner suggested that it had been made up to look like the Titanic and intentionally sank as part of an elaborate insurance scam. Like every good conspiracy theory, Gardiner makes the unbelievable sound kind of plausible. Months before the Titanic disaster, the Olympic had been involved in an accident with a Royal Navy Warship, incurring significant damage.

Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?

As the Olympic was at fault, insurers refused to pay, which cost its owners a huge amount of money. As the conspiracy theory goes, a plan was hatched to make the insurer pay up by disguising the damaged and essentially worthless ship as the Titanic. The ship was then sunk to cash in on the tragedy, while blaming the disaster on an iceberg. The actual Titanic was then disguised as the Olympic and utilized for commercial use for the next 25 years. While the overwhelming majority of Titanic experts deride Gardiner’s theory, conspiracy theorists embrace it despite the story's entire lack of likelihood.

2)  A Japanese Man Lived in Shame for Surviving the Tragedy
Masabumi Hosono (1870 – 1939) was the sole Japanese survivor on the Titanic. He was an employee of the Japanese Ministry of Transport, who had been on an assignment. He was traveling as a second class passenger. He was awoken when the Titanic hit the iceberg. He reached the deck and found room on one of the last life boats available. After arriving in the US, the American media dubbed him the "Lucky Japanese Boy". Japanese media also celebrated his survival – at least at first. Shortly after appearing in a variety of publications, the public turned on the survivor, with many regarding him as a coward.

Masabumi Hosono - Sole Japanese Survivor
Masabumi Hosono - Sole Japanese Survivor

There were even allegations that he’d disguised himself as a woman in order get on board the lifeboat. Ultimately, Hosono lost his job and was branded by the media as a coward for surviving. School textbooks were even produced that defamed him as dishonorable. This was all due to the cultural attitude in Japan which felt that Hosono had shamed the Samurai spirit in regards to the notion of self-sacrifice, which dictated that he should have went down with the boat. Not only did Hosono live the remainder of his life in great shame, but his legacy went on to sully his family as well.

1)  The Titanic was a Drug Mule
When the Titanic sank a lot of valuable cargo went down with it. Not all of it legal. There were four cases of opium on board the Titanic. The drugs belonged to John Jacob Astor IV, whose family had made their fortune largely due to the sale of opium. Seven years before the ship sank, the U.S. Congress had outlawed the drug. Despite the law, opium was still widely used, though it was now no longer easily available.

John Jacob Astor IV
John Jacob Astor IV

While it certainly wasn’t uncommon for opium to be shipped to America regardless of the laws, it was in direct and blatant violation to the U.S. laws. It’s unclear whether officials of the White Star Line knew of the drugs that were aboard or whether Astor was smuggling them. Whatever the case was, it was well and truly illegal, with the Titanic serving as perhaps the most famous drug mule ever.

Even before James Cameron’s film that bought the tragedy of the Titanic’s maiden voyage to the big screen in remarkable detail like never before, the disaster fascinated the world at large. As much that is known about the disaster, chances are that there’s still many more mysteries waiting to be discovered about the Titanic by an enthusiastic public and the scientific community alike.





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