Titanic

The story of the Titanic and the iceberg has grown into a legend of the sea. It took her discovery in 1985 to begin to find the truth behind the myth. One of the things that makes the Titanic so fascinating is that she represented the best of technology when she set sail on her ill-fated voyage in 1912, and it took the best of technology in the form of sonar, satellite tracking, and deep-dive technology to locate her grave 73 years later. In the early 1900's, waterborne transportation was the norm; today, satellites are taken for granted by our society. But we tend to forget the immense effort that these two technologies require to operate to their maximum potential. Until recently, the technology did not exist to locate, photograph, and explore this ship that rested two and a half miles down on the ocean floor.

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. At that time, she was the largest and most luxurious ship ever built. At 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, she struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada. Although her crew had been warned about icebergs several times that evening by other ships navigating through that region, she was traveling at near top speed of about 20.5 knots when one grazed her side.

Less than three hours later, the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking more than 1500 people with her. Only a fraction of her passengers were saved. The world was stunned to learn of the fate of the unsinkable Titanic. It carried some of the richest, most powerful industrialists of her day. Together, their personal fortunes were worth $600 million in 1912! In addition to wealthy and the middle class passengers, she carried poor emigrants from Europe and the Middle East seeking economic and social freedom in the New World.

The remains of the Titanic were found in 1985 by Dr. Robert Ballard, an oceanographer and marine biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. When he located the Titanic, he saw that, as some survivors reported, the ship had broken apart. He believed the weight of the water-filled bow raised the stern out of the water and snapped the ship in two just before it sank. Debris falling out of the ship was strewn over a 1/2 mile across the sea floor. The bow and the stern were found nearly 2000ft. apart.

Keeping her location a secret, Bob Ballard used GPS to find the Titanic again when he returned the next year. He hoped to prevent treasure seekers from finding her and plundering the ship for booty such as coffee cups inscribed with "RMS Titanic." On this second expedition, he visited the ship several times by submarine. On his last descent, he left a plaque honoring the 1500 victims and asking that subsequent explorers leave their grave undisturbed.

Find the Titanic again!

  1. Eventually Bob Ballard released the coordinates of the Titanic's location. He recorded her coordinates as, stern section sits on ocean floor at 41o43'35" N, 49o56'54" W, boilers at 41o43'32" N, 49o56'49" W, bow at 41o43'57" N, 49o56'49" W. Find these coordinates and trace the outline of the sunken pieces of the Titanic on a chart of the North Atlantic.
  2. How far is it from its plotted course? At the time of the accident, the ship was reported to be at 41o46' N, 50o 14' W. (She was found 13½ miles southeast of the position given in her lastdistress call.)
  3. Discuss the fact that satellite technology through GPS can pinpoint any position on Earth to within 30 feet. In 1912, navigation techniques of dead reckoning and celestial navigation could only give one an approximate location within several miles of one's true position.If theTitanic had had better navigational aids, could its passengers have all been saved? Could it even have avoided the iceberg?
  4. Track the route she took from England to New York in April, 1912.

She started from Southampton, England, and stopped at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland to pick up passengers. Her destination was New York. She sank 1000 miles due east of Boston, Massachusetts, and 375 miles southeast of St. John's, Newfoundland.

Unsinkable challenge

Build an unsinkable boat. What would it be made of? How would it be shaped? How will you test your hypothesis? How much weight ("passengers") could it carry? How far can it tip to the side before it flips?

Reliving the moment

Draw a picture of the Titanic on that fateful night, using literature connection references. Information that should be incorporated into the work: It was night. There were icebergs. As the bow sank, the stern lifted farther and farther out of the water."Just before the ship disappeared entirely," according to Bob Ballard,"Many eyewitnesses agreed that the ship in fact broke in two, the bow plunging down while the stern briefly righted itself before turning almost vertical and sinking a few moments later."

Detail what it might have been like aboard the Titanic between 11:40PM (when the ship gently grazed the iceberg) to 2:18 AM when it disappeared below the sea.

Or draw an illustration of Jason finding the bow of the Titanic at the bottom of the sea at a depth of 12,460 ft. The ship was found in several pieces. Draw what the Titanic might look like after another 100 years on the ocean floor.

Lifeboats

How many lifeboats were needed? The Titanic was owned by the British White Star Line, flew the British flag,and thus was under the rules and regulations of the British government. Although she was originally designed to carry 42 lifeboats, the ship carried only 20 lifeboats (four more than were required at the time by British regulations) for the 2,228 passengers and crew. (That number could supposedly hold 1,178 people.) The original designer of the Titanic had proposed 50 lifeboats, but the British owners of the White Star Line had decided against it. (If it had been under US Government regulation at the time, 42 lifeboats, enough to accommodate 2,367 persons would have been required for a ship that size.)

Only 705 people were rescued; 1523 drowned or froze to death in the icy water. Ironically, most of those who drowned were Americans. Assuming that each lifeboat could hold 65 people, how many lifeboats did they need? Unfortunately, the 20 lifeboats on board were launched in panic before they were filled to capacity, so the number of people rescued was even fewer than could have been accommodated.

Only 705 of 2,227 people on board survived. What percentage is that?

Women Men & Children Total
First class 94% 31% 60%
Second class 81% 10% 44%
Steerage 47% 14% 25%
Crew 87% 22% 24%

Analyze these statistics. What do these figures tell you about the policy of saving women and children first, how social standing and wealth influenced who was rescued, and the tradition that the crew usually went down with the ship? Many of the poorest people were not aware of the seriousness of the damage to the Titanic until shortly before it sank.

(chart source: The Titanic: End of a Dream)

Materials

Chart of the Atlantic Ocean with latitude/longitude, pencils, rulers, Robert Ballard's Exploring the Titanic or The Discovery of the Titanic 

More classroom activities on the Titanic: 

  • Learn more about the Titanic's last moments and how the Titanic was found using submarines in What's in a Name? 
  • Consider how many different professionals assisted in the finding of the Titanic inGet a Job!