The sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 was one of the worst maritime disasters in British peacetime history. The tragedy was tinged with infamy, partly because the ship's design was reputed to be unsinkable. Kids often learn about the Titanic during their school classes and become fascinated by the facts about the sinking.
The Titanic, built by the White Star Line, cost about $7.5 million; an estimated 3,000 people worked nearly two years to construct the vessel. The end result: The world's biggest passenger steamship at the time.
The Titanic sank after it hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. Icebergs are difficult to see, especially at night, which was when the collision took place. The Titanic’s crew also might have had trouble spotting the iceberg because it was what's known as a "blackberg," one that was clear, rather than white, a condition caused by constant melting. The iceberg that did the damage was relatively small. Still, the radio operator aboard the ship had been warned several times, via the wireless, about the danger of icebergs in that area.
On the Titanic's only voyage, 2,223 passengers and crew left Southampton docks bound for New York City, though the ship could have carried a total of 3,547 people. Sixty-eight percent of those on board died because of the accident. Since women and children were placed on lifeboats first, 75 percent of the female passengers survived while only 20 percent of the men escaped.
Help on the Way
Some survivors were picked up from the sea by the crew of the RMS Carpathia, captained by Arthur Rostron from England. Rostron received a distress call when his ship was 58 miles from where the Titanic hit the iceberg, and though he sailed there as fast as possible, it took four hours to reach the site. The Carpathia crew rescued about 700 passengers from the icy water; historical estimates differ on the exact number.
The use and availability of lifeboats on the Titanic has been debated often by historians. Lifeboats are used to carry passengers to safety in case of accidents, but the Titanic had only 1,178 lifeboat seats. This meant there was not a seat available for everyone on board. Under British law at the time this was legal. The first lifeboat left the Titanic 45 minutes after impact. Lifejackets, which helped protect some passengers from the bitter cold, were in short supply, too.