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Common Misconceptions About the Sinking of the Titanic

Updated on December 1, 2010

It's really not surprising that there are so many myths surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. It was a tragedy at the time, and is still compelling today. There was the hubris of the White Star Line, the fame of the ship before she had even left Southampton, the premonitions of tragedy that should have warned all passengers before they had even boarded. All these things are known by those that know the legend. The question you have to ask is how much of that is actually true, and how much has been woven into the story in retrospect? It is these questions that this article will attempt to answer.

Specifically, it will look at legends surrounding her building, asking the question: Was she really famous before her maiden voyage and was she really advertised as unsinkable? These are, perhaps the two biggest myths surrounding the ship, but not the only ones.

This is a lot of ground to cover. In fact, I'm sure that someone could make a great book on just this subject. This article won't be as exhaustive as that, for certain, but instead will attempt to look at the Titanic in a slightly different way, and perhaps question some of the 'known facts' you've always relied on as part of the Titanic's legacy.

Titanic and Olympic

Titanic and Olympic on the slipway at Harland & Wolff. As the first of her class Olympic is in the white livery for launch.
Titanic and Olympic on the slipway at Harland & Wolff. As the first of her class Olympic is in the white livery for launch.

RMS Olympic - Construction

Was the Titanic Really Famous Before Her Maiden Voyage?

It is true to say that the citizens of Belfast looked on with awe as the Titanic was built, but they also looked on with awe and even more anticipation at her sister ship Olympic. She would be the first ship of the class to sail, and would be the largest ship afloat.

The RMS Olympic was almost identical to the RMS Titanic. In the picture beside this section you can see the ships side by side on their slipways. The Titanic is the black ship, but her sister, Olympic is painted in white, as she was to be the flagship of the fleet, and the ship that would blaze the way for those that followed.

Today we would call it branding, and it was in its way just that. The ships were meant to be instantly recognisable as sisters, in the same way that the Luthsitania and Mauretania were almost identical. The third ship of the trio was, likewise, planned to look similar. All the ships would have similar names, all ending in the characteristic 'ic' of the White Star Line: Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic. All named after Greek mythology, further differentiating the 'brand' of ships.

Olympic's shakedown cruise, which lasted several days, was timed to coincide with Titanic's hull being launched for fitting out. Needless to say, Olympic's maiden voyage was almost completely booked out, unlike Titanic's eight months later. Perhaps curiosity had been sated by the first of her class to be launched, and now that they had sailed aboard the largest ship to sail on the seas, Titanic wasn't as novel. Who knows? The blaze of publicity at her first sailing and continued service was enough to get people excited, that's for sure. Certainly publicity for the Titanic did reach fever-pitch just before her sailing, but no more than for her earlier sister. After her sailing, though, it would be a different story.

Eventually, the Olympic would be known as the 'Old Reliable'. The first, and only ship of her class to survive the heady days before World War 1 and beyond.

Titanic in the Thompson Dry Dock being fitted out for service.
Titanic in the Thompson Dry Dock being fitted out for service. | Source

The Titanic was Advertised as Unsinkable

"The Captain, may, by simply moving an electric switch, instantly close the doors throughout and make the vessel practically unsinkable ," gushed The Shipbuilder magazine about the Titanic and her sister ship Olympic . They were already well under construction, and looked magnificent on their slipways. They had sixteen compartments, all of which could be sealed up with the flick of a switch. Add to this a double bottom, and the ability to remain afloat with four of her compartments full of water, they did seem almost invincible.

To date, none of these large ships had been put to the test. When, with a similar design, the SS Florida and the SS Republic collided in thick fog in 1909, both remained afloat long enough to evacuate all the passengers. Wasn't this proof enough that, despite the loss of the Republic, that the ships themselves were their very own lifeboats? There was further proof to be had when, in the first year of operation, the Olympic collided with the RMS Hawke , punching a large hole in the ship. It was barely felt in some parts of the ship, and eventually returned to drydock in Belfast under her own steam for repairs. Heady on the success of the bigger and bigger ships coming out of the shipyards, it seemed that The Shipbuilder was right.

Needless to say, when other papers and magazines picked up on the story and repeated the claim, the White Star Line did nothing to suppress the story or claim that they were wrong. Perhaps they believed their ships were practically unsinkable as well. And, after all, any publicity is good publicity.

The fact of the matter is, that none of these modern ships held a candle to the SS Great Eastern , the ship built by Brunel almost fifty years before. The safety features built into that ship had made it commercially non-viable. The Great Eastern had survived a 50 foot long gash in her side, and limped back to port under her own steam. She was very much her own lifeboat. The Titanic was not. But, commercially, she was more viable. And never advertised as unsinkable.

This misconception has proved to be the most unsinkable of them all, despite all evidence to the contrary. They were, though, the "Largest and Finest Steamers in the World," or so the White Star Line advertised them.

Conclusion, or just the beginning?

The amount of misconceptions regarding the sinking of the Titanic have grown over the years, and there are many more I could have covered in this article. In fact, there were many more I considered covering, such as was Ismay really a coward? Could the SS Californian have made it, even if they'd acted on the first signal? Was there really low grade steel used in the construction of the ship, and was this the real reason why she sank? Were the prophesies of her sinking well known, and is this why people stayed away? There are as many questions as there are myths about the ship. Truly, if they were to be covered in the amount of depth they deserve, it would take a book or two to cover them all.

What I do hope is that in reading this, you may want to find out more, and make up your own mind about some of the stories which have been handed down through the generations about the Titanic, those that sailed on her, those that built her, and those that came to the rescue of her passengers.


Submit a Comment

  • Just History profile image

    Just History 

    7 years ago from England

    A great hub, thanks for the interesting read

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Australia

    By the time of the Titanic and Olympic the electric doors were a common feature on these ships. They made it easy to operate the ship, and in theory easy to seal up a compartment. If you were trapped in one you could climb out via one of the ladders, as on the Titanic and Olympic the compartments weren't sealed at the top. This is one of the contributing factors to the sinking of the Titanic, actually. Their sister ship Britannic (the erstwhile Gigantic) sank faster when she hit a mine due the fact that she had these doors open during operation when they should have been closed in a war zone. These ships had come a long way from their sail powered ancestors 50 years before.

    Thanks for reading!

  • barryrutherford profile image

    Barry Rutherford 

    8 years ago from Queensland Australia

    Interesting read. I would have thought that switches to close waterproof doors by the flick of a switch would either be impractical or not invented/ or rather be developed at that time.

    I find all water/sea stories/films very interesting.

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Australia

    Thanks, Yenajeon. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. History is such a fascinating subject. I'm glad you had the chance to study it in college, because even when you don't use it directly you can indirectly.

    Thanks for reading!

  • yenajeon profile image

    Yena Williams 

    8 years ago from California

    I loved the hub! I've always been curious about what it would've been like to sink on a ship. I'm a total history buff as well, since I majored in it in college. It's too bad history is not longer a part of my working life or career!

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Australia

    I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for reading!

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Kitty Fields 

    8 years ago from Summerland

    Awesome hub...I've always had an interest in the Titanic and picture what it would have really been like had I been on the boat. I've been so drawn towards it that I used to wonder if I had died on the Titanic in a previous life...recurring dreams add to my theory. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Australia

    It's very true! If the Titanic hadn't sunk, it may have taken a lot longer for the regulations to change. In a strange way it was a very innocent era, where the regulations had not kept up with the pace of change, and perhaps people did not want to imagine what might happen.

    I was surprised, too, how few people knew about the Titanic and about the era of the Liners. If you are interested in the era at all, there was a series done on it called "The Liners" which I know can be picked up at, which is well worth watching.

    The people who perished, and those that survived and had to live with the memory, both should be remembered.

    Thanks for reading!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    8 years ago from Washington

    I think the Titanic was just one of the most tragic events and that's what our fascination is with it. The movie of course brought it everyone's attention. I honestly couldn't believe how many people I talked to who didn't even know about it. I wonder if we will ever know all the stories but I guess we do all the folks who perished a great honor in remembering it. I read somewhere that because of it, the present day boating safety precautions are in place. Well done~

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Australia

    I think it's like any life changing event: over time the stories change and evolve. But I think that it does add rather than detract from the whole story. Thanks for reading!

  • ricomambonito profile image


    8 years ago

    Nice hub. It's also nice to note that in time, parts of the truth can be just as interesting as the myth surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. It adds to the mystique of the myth.


    Rico :D

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Australia

    It's amazing how the truth changes and evolves over time. As I said in the conclusion I could have easily added more to this article and considered doing so, but it would have been too long and unwieldy. The movie added more dimensions to the myths to be sure, and reinforced some of the older ones as well.

    Thanks for reading, Lynda. :-)

  • lmmartin profile image


    8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

    What a fascinating hub! Like everything else in history, the Titanic is shrouded in myth and legend, and now that it's been a blockbuster movie -- the truth in the minds of most of us include Kate and Leonardo and a huge diamond. Great read for the morning coffee. Thanks Lynda


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