The time from the start of the 20th century to the outbreak of World War II was the “golden age” of ocean liners. One of the most popular routes was the transatlantic crossing, for which shipping companies built ever more luxurious vessels. The best-known was the RMS Titanic. It was commissioned by White Star Lines in September 1908 and took two and a half years for Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff to finish. It was deemed “unsinkable”.
It began its maiden voyage on 10 April 1912. Before it had left Southampton harbour, it narrowly missed another ship, the SS New York. After stopping at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown in Ireland it sailed out into the Atlantic to begin the main leg of its journey to New York.
But on the night of 14 April, after ignoring repeated warnings, the Titanic hit an iceberg. The impact ripped a hole in the hull (partly due to poor-quality rivets), letting in water. It took less than three hours for the ship to sink.
Rescue attempts were hindered by a delayed response from the captain and one nearby ship not responding to distress calls. Due to outdated regulations, there were only enough lifeboat spaces for around half the crew and passengers. As a result, between 1,490 and 1,635 people died. The convention of “women and children first” was taken seriously – more third-class women passengers survived (46%) than first-class men (32.6%).
The disaster led to many safety improvements, including an increase in the number of lifeboats.