No one ever dreamed that her first voyage would also be her last. She had been nicknamed "The Unsinkable Ship."" On the night of April 14, 1912, shortly after 11:30 p.m., the passenger liner R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic approximately 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland (Ballard, 20). Within hours, the largest ship the world had ever seen would plunge to the bottom of the ocean with over 1,500 lives still on board.
The story of the Titanic began before anyone had even thought about building the great ship. In 1898, fourteen years before the Titanic sank an American writer named Morgan Robertson wrote a book called The Wreck of the Titan. In his story, the Titan, a passenger ship labeled "unsinkable,"" sails from England to New York. With many rich and famous passengers onboard, the Titan hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sinks. Because there are not enough lifeboats on board, many lives are lost (Ballard, 10).
In reality, Thomas Henry Ismay purchased the White Star Line Company in the mid 1800's. At the time of their debut, large beautiful ships were popular with many rich travelers. Upon his death in 1898, his son J. Bruce Ismay (Appendix A: Portraits) took over as chairman of the White Star Line. In July 1907, Bruce Ismay and Lord Pirrie, chairman of Harland & Wolff's shipbuilders, discussed plans to design three of the world's most famous ships ever, the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Brittanic. Their goal was to give the White Star Line a competitive edge in the Atlantic passenger trade with several gigantic ships whose accommodations would be the last word in comfort and elegance.
On May 31, 1911, the hull of the Titanic launched at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Ireland, before a cheering crowd of 100,000 people. To slide her into the water they used twenty-two tons of soap, grease, and train oil. She reached a speed of twelve knots before six anchor chains and two piles of cable drag chains, weighing eighty tons each, brought her to a halt.