International Mercantile Marine Company

The International Mercantile Marine Company, originally the International Navigation Company, was a trust company formed in the early twentieth century as an attempt to monopolize the shipping trades. It was founded by shipping magnates Clement Griscom of the American Line and Red Star Line, Bernard Baker of the Atlantic Transport Line, J. Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line, and John Ellerman of the Leyland Line. The Dominion Line was also amalgamated. The project was bankrolled by J.P. Morgan & Company, led by financier J. Pierpont Morgan. The company also had working profit-sharing relationships with the German Hamburg-Amerika Line and the North German Lloyd lines. The trust caused a great panic in the British shipping industry and led directly to the British government's subsidy of the Cunard Line's new ships RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania in an effort to compete. However, the new company had dramatically overpaid for acquiring stock due to an overestimation of potential profit and a proposed subsidy bill in the United States Congress failed, and the company thus was never really successful. In 1932 the company was dissolved; Cunard bought the remnants of the White Star Line and the remaining American pieces were amalgamated into United States Lines.

The company is noteworthy in popular history for having owned the RMS Titanic.

RMS Titanic was a British Olympic class passenger liner that became famous for her collision with an iceberg on April 14, 1912 and dramatic sinking the following day. The second of a trio of superliners, Titanic and her sisters were designed to provide a three-ship weekly express service and dominate the transatlantic travel business for the White Star Line.

Built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time of her sinking. During Titanic's maiden voyage (from Southampton, England to Cherbourg, France, then onto Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland and finally New York City), she struck an iceberg at 23:40 (ship's time) on Sunday April 14, 1912, sinking two hours and forty minutes later at 02:20 on Monday April 15, having broken into two pieces at the aft expansion joint.

Titanic was designed to compete with rival company Cunard Line's Lusitania and Mauretania, luxurious ships and the fastest liners on the Atlantic. Titanic and her Olympic class sisters, Olympic and the then upcoming Gigantic, were intended to be the largest, most luxurious ships ever to operate (The planned name Gigantic was changed to Britannic after the disaster). Titanic was designed by Harland and Wolff chairman William Pirrie, head of Harland and Wolff's design department Thomas Andrews, and general manager Alexander Carlisle, with the plans regularly sent to the White Star Line's managing director J. Bruce Ismay for suggestions and approval. Construction of the Titanic, funded by the American J.P. Morgan and his International Mercantile Marine Company, began on March 31, 1909. Titanic No. 401 was launched two years and two months later on May 31, 1911. Titanic's outfitting was completed on March 31st the following year.

Titanic was 882 feet 9 inches long and 92 feet 6 inches at the beam. She had a Gross Register Tonnage of 46,328 tons, and a height from the water line to the boat deck of 60 feet. She contained two reciprocating four-cylinder, triple-expansion, inverted steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine. These powered three propellers. There were 25 double-ended and 4 single-ended Scotch-type boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that made possible a top speed of 23 knots. Only three of the four 63 foot tall funnels were functional; the fourth, which served only as a vent, was added to make the ship look more impressive. Titanic could carry a total of 3,547 passengers and crew and, because she carried mail, her name was given the prefix RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) as well as SS (Steam Ship).

The Titanic was considered a pinnacle of naval architecture and technological achievement, and was thought by The Shipbuilder magazine to be "practically unsinkable." Titanic had a double-bottom hull, containing 44 tanks for boiler water and ballast to keep the ship safely balanced at sea (later ships also had a double-walled hull). Titanic exceeded the lifeboat standard, with 20 lifeboats (though not enough for all passengers). Titanic was divided into 16 compartments by doors held up, i.e. in the open position, by electro-magnetic latches which could be closed by a switch on the ship's bridge and by a float system installed on the door itself.

Fixtures & Fittings

For her time, Titanic was unsurpassed in luxury and opulence. She offered an onboard swimming pool, a gymnasium, a Turkish bath, libraries for each passenger class, and a squash court. First-class common rooms were adorned with elaborate wood panelling, expensive furniture and other decorations. In addition, the Café Parisien offered superb cuisine for the first-class passengers with a sunlit veranda fitted with trellis decorations.

The ship was technologically advanced for the period. She had an extensive electrical subsystem with steam-powered generators and ship-wide electrical wiring feeding electric lights. She also boasted two wireless Marconi radio sets manned by operators who worked in shifts, allowing constant radio contact and the transmission of many passenger messages.

Comparisons with the Olympic

The Titanic was almost identical to her older sister Olympic but there were a few differences. Two of the most noticeable were that half of the Titanic's forward promenade A-Deck (below the lifeboat deck) was enclosed against outside weather, and her B-Deck configuration was completely different from the Olympic's. The Titanic had a specialty restaurant called Café Parisien, a feature that the Olympic did not receive until 1913. Some of the flaws found on the Olympic, such as the creaking of the aft expansion joint, were corrected on the Titanic. The skid lights that provided natural illumination on A-deck, were round, while on Olympic they were oval. The Titanic's wheelhouse was made narrower and longer than the Olympic's. These, and other modifications, made the Titanic 1,004 gross tons larger than the Olympic.


The first-class passengers for Titanic's maiden voyage included some of the richest and most prominent people in the world. Among them were millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his pregnant wife Madeleine; industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim; Macy's department store owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida; Denver millionaire Margaret "Molly" Brown; Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturiere Lady Duff-Gordon; streetcar magnate George Dunton Widener, his wife Eleanor and their 27-year-old son, Harry Elkins Widener; Pennsylvania Railroad executive John Borland Thayer, his wife Marion and their 17-year-old son, Jack; journalist William Thomas Stead; Charles Hays, president of Canada's Grand Trunk Railway, with his wife, daughter, her husband, and two employees; the Countess of Rothes; United States presidential aide Archibald Butt; author and socialite Helen Churchill Candee; author Jacques Futrelle,and their friends, Broadway producers Henry and Rene Harris; writer and painter Francis Davis Millet; pioneer aviation entrepreneur Pierre Maréchal Sr.; American silent film actress Dorothy Gibson, White Star Line's Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay (who survived the sinking) and, from the ship's builders, Thomas Andrews, who was on board to observe any problems and assess the general performance of the new ship.

Among the second-class passengers was Lawrence Beesley, a journalist who wrote one of the first-hand accounts of the voyage and the sinking. Father Thomas R.D. Byles was a Catholic priest on his way to America to officiate at his younger brother's wedding. Also in second-class was Michel Navratil, a Frenchman kidnapping his two sons, Michel Jr. and Edmond and taking them to America.

Both J. P. Morgan and Milton S. Hershey had plans to travel on the Titanic but cancelled their reservations before the voyage.

The Disaster

On the night of April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, with great loss of life. The United States Senate investigation reported that 1,517 people perished in the accident, while the British investigation has the number at 1,490. Regardless, the disaster ranks as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the best known. The media frenzy about the Titanic's famous victims, the legends about what happened on board the ship, the resulting changes to maritime law, Walter Lord's 1955 non-fiction account A Night to Remember, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985 by a team led by Robert Ballard and Jean Louis Michel have sustained the Titanic's fame.

The Break Up

For seventy years after the disaster, it was believed that the Titanic had sunk intact. Although there were several passengers who insisted that the ship had broken in two as it sank (including Jack Thayer, who even drew a set of sketches depicting the sinking), the inquiries believed the statements of the ship's officers and first-class passengers that it had sunk in one piece.

In 1985, when the wreck was discovered by Robert Ballard and his crew, they found that the ship did in fact break in two as it sank. It was theorized that as the Titanic sank, the stern rose out of the water. It supposedly rose so high that the unsupported weight caused the ship to break into two pieces, the split starting at the upper deck. This became the commonly accepted theory.

In 2005, new evidence suggested that in addition to the expected side damage, the ship also had sustained damage to the bottom of the hull (keel). This new evidence seemed to support a less popular theory that the crack which split the Titanic in two started at the keel plates. This proposition is supported by Jack Thayer's sketches. However, it is more likely that the plates found (the evidence suggested) were torn away from the stern as it plunged downwards into the deep vertically from the force of water ripping past it at 80 mph.

Long Term Implications

The sinking of the RMS Titanic was a factor that influenced later maritime practices, ship design, and the seafaring culture. Changes included the establishment of the International Ice Patrol, a requirement for 24 hour radio watchkeeping on foreign-going passenger ships, and new regulations related to life boats.

International Ice Patrol

The Titanic disaster led to the convening of the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in London, on November 12, 1913. On January 30, 1914, a treaty was signed by the conference that resulted in the formation and international funding of the International Ice Patrol, an agency of the United States Coast Guard that to the present day monitors and reports on the location of North Atlantic Ocean icebergs that could pose a threat to transatlantic sea lane traffic. It was also agreed in the new regulations that all passenger vessels would have sufficient lifeboats for everyone on board, that appropriate safety drills would be conducted, and that radio communications on passenger ships would be operated 24 hours a day along with a secondary power supply, so as not to miss distress calls. In addition, it was agreed that the firing of red rockets from a ship must be interpreted as a distress signal (red rockets launched from the Titanic prior to sinking were mistaken by nearby vessels as celebratory fireworks, delaying rescue). This treaty was scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 1915, but was upstaged by World War I.

Ship Design Changes

The sinking of the Titanic also changed the way passenger ships were designed, and many existing ships, such as the Olympic, were refitted for increased safety. Besides increasing the number of lifeboats on board, improvements included reinforcing the hull and increasing the height of the watertight bulkheads. The bulkheads on Titanic extended 10 feet above the waterline; after Titanic sank, the bulkheads on other ships were extended higher to make compartments fully watertight. While Titanic had a double bottom, she did not have a double hull; after her sinking, new ships were designed with double hulls; also, the double bottoms of other ships (including the Olympic) were extended up the sides of their hulls, above their waterlines, to give them double hulls.


The conclusion of the British Inquiry into the sinking was “that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated”. At the time of the collision it is thought that the Titanic was at her normal cruising speed of about 22 knots, which was less than her top speed of around 24 knots. At the time it was common (but not universal) practice to maintain normal speed in areas where icebergs were expected. It was thought that any iceberg large enough to damage the ship would be seen in sufficient time to be avoided. After the sinking, the British Board of Trade introduced regulations instructing vessels to moderate their speed if they were expecting to encounter icebergs. It is often alleged that J. Bruce Ismay instructed or encouraged Captain Smith to increase speed in order to make an early landfall, and it is a common feature in popular representations of the disaster. There is no evidence for this having happened, and it is disputed by many.


The Titanic did not carry sufficient lifeboats for all of her passengers and crew. This is due to a law that stipulated that a minimum of 16 lifeboats were required that weighed more than 10,000 tons. However the law had not been ratified for many years and ships had increased rapidly in size, meaning that Titanic was legally required to carry only enough lifeboats for 1,178 passengers (the ship had room for 3,547 passengers). The White Star Line exceeded the regulations by including four collapsible lifeboats.

In the busy North Atlantic sea lanes it was expected that in the event of a serious accident, help from other vessels would be quickly obtained, and that the lifeboats would be used to ferry passengers and crew from the stricken vessel to her rescuers. Full provision of lifeboats was not considered necessary for this.

It was anticipated during the design of the ship that the British Board of Trade might require an increase in the number of lifeboats at some future date. Therefore lifeboat davits capable of handling up to four boats per pair of davits were designed and installed, to give a total potential capacity of 64 boats. The additional boats were never fitted. It is often alleged that J. Bruce Ismay, the President of White Star, vetoed the installation of these additional boats to maximize the passenger promenade area on the boat deck. Harold Sanderson, Vice President of International Mercantile Marine denied this allegation during the British Inquiry.

The lack of lifeboats was not the only cause of the tragic loss of lives. After the collision with the iceberg, one hour was taken to evaluate the damage, recognise what was going to happen, inform first-class passengers, and lower the first lifeboat. Afterwards, the crew worked quite efficiently, taking a total of 80 minutes to lower all 16 lifeboats. The crew was divided into two teams, one on each side of the ship, and an average of 10 minutes of work was necessary for a team to fill a lifeboat with passengers and lower it.

Yet another factor in the high death toll that related to the lifeboats was the reluctance of the passengers to board them. They were, after all, on a ship deemed to be "unsinkable." Because of this, some lifeboats were launched with far less than capacity, the most notable being Lifeboat #1, with a capacity of 65, launched with only 12 people aboard.

The excessive number of casualties has also been blamed on the "women and children first" policy for places on the lifeboats. Although the lifeboats had a total capacity of 1,178 - enough for 53% of the 2,224 persons on board - the boats launched only had a capacity of 1,084, and, altogether only 705 people were actually saved - 32% of those originally on board. This is a tragic result when the 1,084-person capacity of the lifeboats actually launched had sufficient room to include all of the 534 women and children on board, plus an additional 550 men (of which there were 1,690 on board). It has been suggested based on these figures that allowing one man on board for each woman or child from the start would not only have increased the number of women and children saved, but also had the added benefit of saving more lives in total. In addition, the psychological impact of seeing fully loaded lifeboats may have spurred more passengers to evacuate, and the resulting less crowded and chaotic deck would have made the process much more efficient. There would also have been the added benefit of keeping families united, whereas in the policy adopted aboard the Titanic, this was not the case. As it was, the many desperate men had to be held off at gunpoint from boarding the lifeboats, adding to the chaos of the scene and there were many more casualties - of women, children and men - than otherwise.

Use of SOS

The sinking of the Titanic was not the first time the internationally recognized Morse code distress signal "SOS" was used. The SOS signal was first proposed at the International Conference on Wireless Communication at Sea in Berlin in 1906. It was ratified by the international community in 1908 and had been in widespread use since then. The SOS signal was, however, rarely used by British wireless operators, who preferred the older CQD code. First Wireless Operator Jack Phillips began transmitting CQD until Second Wireless Operator Harold Bride suggested, half-jokingly, "Send SOS; it's the new call, and this may be your last chance to send it." Phillips, who perished in the disaster, then began to intersperse SOS with the traditional CQD call.

Titanic’s Turning Ability

The Titanic had triple-screw engine configuration, with reciprocating steam engines driving the wing propellers, and a steam turbine driving her centre propeller. The reciprocating engines were reversible, while the turbine was not. When Murdoch gave the order to reverse engines to avoid the iceberg, he inadvertently handicapped the turning ability of the ship. Since the centre turbine could not reverse during the "full speed astern" maneuver, it simply stopped turning. Furthermore, the centre propeller was positioned forward of the ship's rudder, diminishing the turning effectiveness of the rudder. Had Murdoch reversed the port engine, and reduced speed while maintaining the forward motion of the other two propellers (as recommended in the training procedures for this type of ship), experts theorise that the Titanic might have been able to navigate around the berg without a collision. However, given the closing distance between the ship and the berg at the time the bridge was notified, this might not have been possible.

Additionally, Titanic experts have hypothesised that if Titanic had not altered its course at all, but reveresed its engines, and had run head-on into the iceberg, the damage would only have affected the first or, at most, the first two compartments. The liner SS Arizona had such a head-on collision with an iceberg in 1879, and although badly damaged, managed to make St John's, Newfoundland for repairs. Some dispute that Titanic would have survived such a collision, however, since Titanic's speed was higher than Arizona's and her hull much larger, and the violence of the collision could have compromised her structural integrity.

Faults in Construction

Though the topic is seldom discussed, there is some speculation as to whether Titanic was constructed by methods considered sufficiently robust by the standards of the day. In the documentary series Seconds from Disaster, this was investigated further. Rumored faults in the construction included problems with the safety doors and missing or detached bolts in the ship's hull plating. This may have been a major contributing factor to the sinking and that the iceberg, in part with the missing bolts and screws, eventually led to the demise of Titanic. Possibly, if the watertight bulkheads had completely sealed the ship's compartments, the ship would have stayed afloat.

However, Titanic's hull was held together by rivets, which are intended to be a permanent way of attaching metal items together, whereas bolts can be removed and would require periodic tightening unless the nut and bolt are welded after being screwed together. Welding technology in 1912 was in its infancy, so this was not done. While issues with Titanic's rivets have been identified from samples salvaged from the wreck site, many ships of the era would have been constructed with similar methods and did not sink after becoming involved in collisions. There was a claim that the rivets of the Titanic had not been properly tempered, leaving them brittle and sensitive to fracture in the infamous collision.

Although sealing off the watertight bulkheads with watertight decks would have increased the survivability of a vessel such as Titanic, it would have by no means ensured the survival of a ship with as much underwater damage as Titanic sustained in her collision with the iceberg; it was a big iceberg. Even if the compartments themselves had remained completely watertight, the weight of the water would still have pulled the bow of the ship down to the point where decks above the watertight deck would have been below the waterline. The ship would then have flooded via the portholes and sunk anyway. It should also be noted that watertight decks would have hampered access to the lower sections of the ship and would have required watertight hatches, all of which would have had to be properly sealed to maintain the barrier between the incoming water and the rest of the ship. As the increased survivability that such watertight decks would have offered is questionable, they are generally considered to this day to be impractical in merchant vessels (though some military vessels, which are exposed to much greater risk of flooding by virtue of being targets for enemy mines and torpedoes, do feature such decks).

Olympic, built to almost identical specifications by the same builders as Titanic, was involved in several collisions during the course of her operational lifetime, one of which occurred before Titanic sank; and Olympic's hull was modified to protect her from flooding in a fashion similar to her ill-fated sister's. None of these collisions threatened to sink the ship, suggesting that the Olympic-class liners were built to be sufficiently tough and did not suffer from slipshod construction.

Alternate Theories and Curses

As with many famous events, many alternative theories about the sinking of Titanic have appeared over the years. Theories that it was not an iceberg that sank the ship or that a curse caused the disaster have been popular reading in newspapers and books. Most of these theories have been debunked by Titanic experts, claiming that the evidence on which these theories were based was inaccurate or incomplete. Another theory is that the Titanic was sacrificed because, once construction had been completed, she was expected to be a potential perpetual financial loss. Supporters of this theory cite the claim that everyone concerned, the company and the officers aboard, had received iceberg warnings and yet the Titanic maintained a northern course instead of sailing to the south of the warning limit.

There is a minor school of thought that it was not Titanic that sank but Olympic. Conspiracy theorists cited evidence in favour, including the Hawke incident, which seriously damaged Olympic. This supposedly motivated management to scuttle Olympic/Titanic and file an insurance claim. The two ships were dry-docked at the same yard at the same time (making a switch possible), and cosmetic changes were made, presumably to make the two ships more similar. Primary evidence against lies in the surveys made by the British government of Olympic from shortly after the sinking of Titanic to shortly before Olympic's scrapping which show artifacts of her 1911 collision damage. Titanic also possessed many design features Olympic did not, such as enlarged B-deck suites. Both vessels, additionally, were underinsured relative to their value and sinking either would cause a substantial loss, far greater than the operating costs of repairing Olympic, to say nothing of the lost revenue resulting from loss of confidence in the company after the loss at sea of their flagship.

A similar legend states that the Titanic was given hull number 390904 (which, when seen in a mirror or written using mirror writing, looks like "NO POPE"). This is a myth. Titanic's yard number was 403; Olympic's was 401. Another myth states that Titanic was carrying a cursed Egyptian mummy, often named Princess of Amen-Ra. The mummy, nicknamed Shipwrecker after changing hands several times and causing many terrible things to happen to each of its owners, exacts its final revenge by sinking the famous ship. There was no mummy on board. Another myth says that the bottle of champagne used in christening Titanic did not break on the first try, which in sea lore is said to be bad luck for a ship. In fact, Titanic was not christened on launching, as it was White Star Line's custom not to do so.

International Mercantile Marine Company

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