Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Kaylinn from AL. Kaylinn Wonders, “Why did the titanic break in two?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kaylinn!
If you've seen many movies that take place on the ocean, you know how large and powerful the oceans of the world can be. It's hard to imagine a manmade vessel that could withstand absolutely anything the oceans of the world could throw at it. But that's exactly what many people thought about a ship called the Titanic.
When the Titanic left Queenstown, Ireland, on April 11, 1912, with over 2,200 passengers and crew members bound for New York, most of those on board probably believed the common myth that had been floating around for months: the Titanic was unsinkable. Based upon news articles about the ship and advertisements from its owner, the White Star Line, it's clear that those who built the ship had designed it to be unsinkable.
When it was built and launched, the Titanic was the largest ship afloat. At 882.5 feet long, 92.5 feet wide, 175 feet high, the ship displaced 66,000 tons of water. It was the largest movable object ever made. With newly-designed watertight compartments and remotely-operated, electronic watertight doors, it's easy to see why engineers believed the ship was practically unsinkable.
The Titanic, in addition to being exceptionally huge, was designed to be the ultimate in luxury travel. Never had a cruise ship had such magnificent features, including a gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, restaurants, and luxurious cabins. The Titanic'spassenger list for its maiden voyage included some of the wealthiest people in the world.
The first few days of the Titanic's voyage went smoothly. On April 14, 1912, however, the Titanichit an iceberg at 11:40pm. At that time, the ship was approximately 375 miles south of Newfoundland in the northern Atlantic Ocean.
Although the ship had been designed to stay afloat even if four of its 16 watertight compartments were breached, the iceberg's glancing blow caused the ship's hull plates to buckle along its starboard (right) side, and water soon began to fill six of the watertight compartments. Less than three hours later, the ship would break apart and sink over two miles to the ocean floor.
Approximately 705 people survived by boarding lifeboats. Unfortunately, outdated maritime regulations had not forced the ship's designers to include enough lifeboats to ensure the survival of all passengers and crew members. In fact, the Titanic had only enough lifeboats to save a little more than half of its passengers and crew, if properly loaded. The lifeboats weren't properly loaded and approximately 1,517 people perished in the disaster, making it one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history.
If the “unsinkable" Titanic had been able to stay afloat longer than a couple of hours, many more lives could have been saved. When it sent out its distress call, though, the first ship to respond — the Carpathia — was more than three hours away. By the time it arrived, the Titanic was on the ocean floor.
Another ship — the Californian — was actually closest to the Titanic when distress signals were issued. However, it was not clear what the actual situation was, and Captain Stanley Lord did not order the Californian to assist.
Experts who have studied the disaster, including the ship's remains that were discovered on the ocean floor in 1985, have concluded that no one single factor is to blame. Instead, they believe it was a series of factors, called an “event cascade," that caused the Titanic to sink so quickly.
For example, experts believe the ship was sailing too fast for the icy conditions. Moreover, they think Captain Edward J. Smith paid too little attention to iceberg warnings that had been received. Some iceberg warnings might not have even made it from the radio room to the ship's bridge. Finally, the crew members watching for icebergs from the crow's nest didn't have binoculars.
All of those factors help to explain why the Titanic collided with an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. Why it then sank so quickly can be explained, in part, by the unfortunate use of some lower-quality construction materials.
Metallurgists who have studied the disaster believe that, despite the Titanic's advanced technology and luxurious accommodations, its hull was fastened together with poorly-cast wrought-iron rivets. When the ship hit the iceberg, they believe these rivets popped off, effectively “unzipping" the hull at the seams.
The holes created in the ship's hull allowed six compartments to flood, causing the allegedly “unsinkable" ship to not only sink, but to do so quickly. The Titanic disaster shocked the world and led to several new maritime safety regulations, including ensuring enough lifeboats to carry everyone on board.
Division of the History of Technology, Transportation Collections, National Museum of American History, in cooperation with the Public Inquiry Mail Service, Smithsonian Institution, "The Titanic," http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmah/titanic.htm (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, May 1997).
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Refrigerator, Mister, "R.M.S. Titanic," http://www.scv.net/~fridge/index.htm (May 1998).
Rogers, Patrick, Anne-Marie O'Neill, and Sophfronia S. Gregory, "Sunken Dreams," People, vol. 49, no. 10 (March 1998), pp. 44-51.
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Author's Note: When she wrote this report, Vicki Bassett was a senior in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin. (Back to Beginning)