20 Amazing Facts That Often Get Overlooked About the Titanic
We bring you surprising bits of trivia and Titanic facts you've never heard.
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The ship of dreams
One of the most famous disasters in history, the April 15, 1912, sinking of the RMS Titanic continues to captivate modern imagination over 100 years later. Its biggest fascination may be in that the Titanic represents so perfectly humans' hubris in the face of nature: The ship was an engineering marvel deemed "unsinkable," but it did just that after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage. The Titanic's sinking, which occurred just a couple of years before World War I, also marked the beginning of the end of the glamorous and forward-looking Edwardian era, which as the 1997 movie Titanic showed, was also an era of class differences and repression. But as much as you think you know about this now-mythic ship, the Titanic continues to surprise us. We uncovered these little-known tidbits about the unsinkable Titanic you've never heard before.
Finding the Titanic was a front for a Cold War mission
Explorer Robert Ballard explained that looking for the Titanic in 1985 was actually a cover for his recently declassified mission to explore two sunken U.S. nuclear submarines. Ballard, who wanted to find the Titanic wreck, secured the funding from the U.S. Navy in exchange for completing research on the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion, which coincidentally were located in the same general area. Plus, the search for the Titanic provided the perfect cover story. "They wanted me to go back and not have the Russians follow me, because we were interested in the nuclear weapons that were on the Scorpion and also what the nuclear reactors [were] doing to the environment," Ballard told CNN in 2018. The secret mission left him with only 12 days to find the Titanic afterward—which he did. Learn about 10 more secret U.S. government operations, revealed.
The Titanic had more than one fatal flaw
You may have heard of one of the design flaws in the Titanic was that the airtight bulkheads weren't totally sealed on top, allowing water to flow from compartment to compartment and eventually sinking the ship. But according to Scientific American, the ship was poorly designed in other ways as well. The steel of the ship's hull and the iron of its rivets fell victim to "brittle fracture" due to cold temperatures, high sulfur content, and high speeds. Because of this phenomenon, the steel basically shattered, and the rivets popped out easily—all of which sunk the ship 24 times faster than expected. Ironically, if the Titanic had hit the iceberg head-on instead of trying to avoid it and scraping it along the starboard side, the ship would have likely stayed afloat, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The ocean holds more mysteries scientists still can't explain.
The Titanic had real-life love stories
According to the Belfast Telegraph, there were 13 known honeymooning couples on the Titanic; perhaps the most famous was millionaire J.J. Astor and his young wife, who was five months pregnant. She was helped into a lifeboat by her husband, who later perished in the disaster. In the official Senate inquiry, one witness said Mr. Astor may have been allowed into the boat with his wife had the crew member known she was expecting. Mrs. Astor survived and her baby, John Jacob Astor VI, was born later that year.
The same Senate witness also recalled long-married couple Isidor and Ida Straus, who owned Macy's department stores and who both perished. "I had heard them discussing that if they were going to die they would die together," Archibald Gracie said in the inquiry. "We tried to persuade Mrs. Straus to go alone, without her husband, and she said no. Then we wanted to make an exception of the husband, too, because he was an elderly man, and he said no, he would share his fate with the rest of the men, and that he would not go beyond. So I left them there." This is what life was really like aboard the Titanic before it sank.
The first Titanic movie premiered just a month after the disaster
We're all familiar with 1997's Titanic, as well as possibly the 1958 film A Night to Remember. But the first movie about the disaster was released on May 14, 1912—exactly a month after the Titanic hit the iceberg. The silent film Saved from the Titanic starred actress Dorothy Gibson, who actually survived the Titanic in real life. According to the Los Angeles Times, she even wore the same clothes in the film that she was wearing on the fateful night: a white evening dress, long sweater, gloves, and black pumps. Although some critics praised Gibson's performance, others said it was too soon to capitalize on the disaster. Unfortunately, like the real Titanic, Saved from the Titanic was lost as well, as all prints of the film are believed to have been destroyed by a fire at the studio in 1914.
The last Titanic survivor died in 2009
Rose in 1997's Titanic was supposed to have lived until the age of 101; the real-life last survivor of the Titanic died at age 97 in 2009. According to the BBC, Millvina Dean, was also the youngest passenger on the ship, which she boarded with her parents and brother at just two months old. Although third-class passengers, she, her mother, and her brother escaped in a lifeboat, but her father went down with the ship. Before Dean's death, Titanic director James Cameron and stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio joined together to help pay her nursing home fees. The last survivor with a memory of the event, although she rarely talked about it, was American Lillian Asplund, who was five in 1912 and died in 2006 at age 99. This family was supposed to travel on the ship, but a last-minute decision saved their lives.
The Titanic is returning to nature
In the first manned submersible dive to the site in nearly 15 years, a 2019 expedition to the wreck of the Titanic found a rapidly deteriorating ship. Ocean currents, salt corrosion, freezing temperatures, and metal-eating bacteria are causing the ship to begin "returning to nature," as Park Stephenson, a Titanic historian told the BBC. "The captain's bathtub is a favorite image among Titanic enthusiasts, and that's now gone," he said. "That whole deckhouse on that side is collapsing, taking with it the staterooms. And that deterioration is going to continue advancing." You can see the damage for yourself in an upcoming documentary on the expedition, Mission Titanic, set to air on National Geographic this year. Find out about 13 of the creepiest things found at the bottom of the ocean.
Whether the Titanic should continue to be salvaged is up for debate
That's the dilemma currently facing a U.S. District judge, reports CNN. The company that holds the salvage rights to the wreck, RMS Titanic Inc., wants to recover the wireless telegraph transmitter used to send out the Titanic's distress calls before the relic is lost; but a recent agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom seeks to preserve the ship and prevent further salvage. The judge must decide whether there is sufficient educational, scientific, or cultural interest to warrant recovering the transmitter, which would involve cutting out a small piece of the ship to access the room where it's located. But this family heirloom survived the Titanic's sinking.
It's also controversial whether tourists should visit
According to Smithsonian Magazine, fewer than 200 people have ever been down to see the Titanic—and it seems that recently, every time there's a proposed trip, technical or other difficulties arise to cancel it. Deep Ocean Expeditions stopped running their trips in 2012; OceanGate planned trips in 2018 and 2019 which were canceled but has another planned for 2021. For a whopping $125,000, you can join them; but the real price may be to the ship itself. Even expeditions that have a "look but don't touch" approach to visiting the Titanic may have unintentional effects on the site: Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard told National Geographic that evidence of these visits include ballasts left behind by subs, evidence of subs bumping into the ship, and trash dropped from boats on the surface. Find out the most incredible sea treasures ever found.
The Titanic site may hold human remains
Another reason why some experts argue the wreckage of the Titanic should be left alone is because the ship could be considered a final resting place and gravesite. Of the 1,500 people who died, only 340 bodies were recovered, with 1,160 remaining lost at sea. And although no one has actually seen human remains at the wreckage, photographs released in 2010 show clothing and laced-up shoes in positions that suggest bodies once lay there. It's also possible, reports the New York Times, that preserved corpses remain inside the ship itself, where modern explorers can't see—but experts haven't come to a consensus on the issue. These other Titanic mysteries may never be solved either.