Immigrants on the Titanic

With so many discussions of immigration at the forefront of today’s news, let’s take a look at the immigrants who boarded the Titanic. What were the immigration requirements in 1912? What happened to the immigrants who managed to survive the disaster, and how were they treated upon their arrival in New York? Between the 1880s and the 1920s, the United States experienced a great wave of immigrants pouring into the country. Between 1880 and 1900, 9 million immigrants arrived by ship in New York City. To accommodate such a large number, a new processing station was built on Ellis Island in 1892. In 1907, one million immigrants came through Ellis Island, the most in any one-year period.


Immigration processing at Ellis Island

Not every would-be immigrant was admitted to the United States. Some were sent back to their homelands if they had certain illnesses or infirmities. Others were sent to the Ellis Island hospital, or were detained while a relative recovered or until a relative or friend already living in the United States could claim them.

Each person received a brief physical examination on arrival, including a check for trachoma, a highly contagious eye infection. He or she was asked several questions regarding destination, plans for employment, and health. They were questioned whether they had ever been in a poorhouse, an asylum, or had ever had a serious illness. The main goal for federal authorities was to determine if the person could work or would otherwise become a burden to society. Men were also asked if they were polygamists. The wrong answer to any of these questions could prevent the person from entering the country.


Ellis Island arrivals examined for trachoma

Before air travel, shipping companies profited from the millions of people who wished to start new lives in America. The majority of passengers on trans-Atlantic voyages were immigrants. Many liners were overcrowded and unsanitary. The White Star Line operated several larger ships, and advertised their size and comfort. Their new Olympic class ships, Oceanic (1911), Titanic (1912), and Britannic (1914) would be the safest ships afloat and the most luxurious, even for those traveling in steerage.

On Titanic’s first and only voyage in April 1912, steerage passengers made up over half the number of passengers on the ship, and most were immigrants. White Star Line, as all the shipping companies did at the time, cooperated with the US immigration laws by screening immigrants prior to the voyage. Their names, ages, and destinations were documented on the passenger manifest.


Passengers waiting to board Titanic in Queenstown, Ireland

When the Titanic sank, over three-quarters of the 709 third-class passengers were killed. The passenger manifest was also lost. Aboard the Carpathia following rescue, the crew assembled a new manifest of the survivors. In New York, federal immigration officers waived the usual examinations for the immigrant survivors. When the Carpathia arrived, the stop at Ellis Island was suspended, and the new immigrants from the Titanic were sent to hospitals or immigrant hostels. Their paperwork was processed later.


Crowd waiting to greet survivors in New York

Not all surviving immigrants from the Titanic remained in the United States. Although none were rejected by immigration officials, the disaster changed their lives. With many of their loved ones lost in the sinking, some immigrants soon chose to return to their place of birth. Others settled in America, determined to continue with their plans.

In my next post, we’ll visit 18-year-old passenger Anna Turja from Finland, who did just that.

Photo credits:,

Just Missed the Titanic - Part V

To close out our summer series on some of the well-known celebrities who were supposed to sail on Titanic, we’ll look at three men: two who were business associates, and one of the most popular evangelists of his time.Henry Clay Frick of Pittsburgh was a wealthy industrialist and chairman of Carnegie Steel Company. He and his wife and booked a suite aboard the Titanic in February 1912, but when the time came for the ship’s maiden voyage in April, Mrs. Frick sprained her ankle during a Mediterranean cruise and needed to be hospitalized. They cancelled their passage on Titanic and remained in Italy until she recovered.

hc frick

hc frick

Henry Clay Frick

Financier John Pierpont Morgan had invested in many large corporations and had a great influence on America’s finance during the early 1900s. He helped create General Electric and U.S. Steel, and was a close colleague of Henry Clay Frick. Morgan helped to resolve the U.S. banking system during what came to be known as the Panic of 1907.

Among J.P. Morgan’s business interests was the International Mercantile Marine, which controlled Britain’s White Star Line, owner of the Titanic. He had his own suite aboard the ship, with a private promenade deck. He was to have sailed on her maiden voyage, but instead remained at a French resort.

A conspiracy theory surfaced many years ago, which claimed that men intending to stop J.P. Morgan’s plan to create a large central U.S. bank were aboard Titanic, and Morgan had ordered Captain Smith to deliberately sink the ship. No evidence proving the theory has ever been found.

J.P. Morgan

J.P. Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan

John R. Mott was a popular evangelist to countless university students and a longtime official with the YMCA. He inspired many young people to consider foreign mission work. He and a colleague were offered free passage on Titanic by White Star Line, but they declined, taking the liner Lapland instead. When the men reached New York and heard about the disaster, they looked at each other and said, “The good Lord must have more work for us to do.”

For his work in establishing Christian student organizations that promoted peace around the globe, Mott and another worker shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.

john r mott

john r mott

John R. Mott

Please join me next time, when we’ll visit the home and hear the story of one of Titanic’s most well-known passengers, Margaret “Unsinkable Molly” Brown.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica,,

Just Missed the Titanic - Part III

We’ve been taking a break this summer from the stories of those who were on board the Titanic to see who literally missed the boat.

At the age of 20, Guglielmo Marconi became intrigued with the discovery of “invisible waves” from electromagnetic interactions. The son of a wealthy Italian landowner, Marconi began building his own equipment and was soon transmitting signals miles away. In 1896, he and his mother traveled to London where he found others willing to invest in his work. Before long, he applied for his first patents and set up a wireless station on the Isle of Wight. By 1899, signals from Marconi’s station had crossed the English Channel.



Guglielmo Marconi

He wanted to improve his wireless system in order to broadcast across the Atlantic. Experts argued that radio waves would only travel in straight lines and the curvature of the earth would not allow transmitting at so great a distance. But Marconi persevered. He set up a wireless station in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with the hope of receiving a signal sent from England. When that failed, he tried a shorter distance—Cornwall to Newfoundland. In 1901, after several attempts, a faint signal was picked up—3 dots, the letter “s” in Morse Code.

In 1909, Marconi received the Nobel Prize in Physics, which he shared with physicist Karl Braun, the inventor of the cathode-ray tube. In his acceptance speech, Marconi claimed he was “more a tinkerer than a scientist” and wasn’t sure how his invention worked.

Marconi continued to make improvements to his wireless radio system. Shipping companies soon recognized its usefulness for communication and navigation. “Marconi Men,” trained in the operation of the equipment, became a vital part of every large ocean-going vessel. On Titanic, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips, with previous experience at Marconi stations and on ships, prepared for her maiden voyage.



Replica of Titanic's Marconi Room

White Star Line officials invited Marconi to sail on Titanic to New York. He declined, and took the Lusitania three days before Titanic left Southampton. Years later, his daughter claimed he’d had paperwork to do and preferred the stenographer aboard that ship.

During the sinking of the Titanic, Bride and Phillips worked valiantly to send emergency messages to ships in the area. Several responded, but it was the RMS Carpathia who eventually arrived at the scene and saved over 700 lives. Without the Marconi system in place, many more lives, if not all, would certainly have been lost. Although there were reports of Carpathia wireless operators being instructed to withhold information from the press until the ship arrived in New York, Marconi was soon hailed as one of the heroes of the disaster because of his invention.

Marconi message sent from Olympic

Marconi message sent from Olympic

Marconi message sent from RMS Olympic to Titanic

In April 1915, Marconi was aboard the Lusitania once again. A month later, she was sunk by a German U-boat. He continued to make improvements to his inventions, and died in 1937 in Rome. Radio stations in America, England, and Italy observed several minutes of silence in his honor.

Photo credits:, Library of Congress,

Just Missed the Titanic

Following the sinking of the Titanic, newspapers were filled with stories of those who had missed boarding the ship for various reasons. Northern Michigan’s Sault Ste. Marie Evening News carried this story on April 20, 1912.



By the following week, more than 118,000 claimed to have cancelled their reservations on the doomed ship or changed their plans at the last minute. However, seven well-known gentlemen did, indeed, miss Titanic.

One of them was Milton Snavely Hershey. He founded the Hershey Chocolate Company and produced the first Hershey Bar in 1900, followed by Hershey Kisses in 1907. The chocolate factory was in the center of Pennsylvania dairy farmland, but with Hershey’s help, houses and other businesses soon surrounded the factory and eventually became the town of Hershey.

As the company expanded, Hershey and his wife, Kitty, traveled extensively. In 1911, while planning a European business trip, he booked a suite on Titanic’s maiden voyage back to New York. The Hershey archives holds a copy of the check Milton Hershey sent as a deposit to the White Star Line.



When April came and the Hersheys were in Europe, a business matter at home forced them to change their plans and take an earlier departure for New York aboard the German liner, Amerika. On the night of April 14, 1912, as Titanic crossed the north Atlantic Ocean, several ships sent warnings of ice to Titanic. One of the ships was the Amerika, with Milton and Kitty Hershey aboard. Their ship reached the United States without incident, but the Hersheys soon learned of Titanic’s fate.



Milton and Kitty Hershey

Next time, we’ll see what famous author just missed the Titanic.

photo credits:,,

The Lady and the Pig

Born in Cincinnati in 1879 to a wealthy Jewish family, Edith Louise Rosenbaum took an interest in fashion at an early age. After attending a series of finishing schools, she moved to Paris to become a saleswoman for a haute couture fashion house. Soon afterward, she wrote for a fashion journal connected with Philadelphia-based Wanamaker’s Department Store and designed fashions for Butterick Patterns. Then in 1910, a new trade publication for the garment industry, Women’sWear Daily in New York, hired Edith to be their Paris correspondent. She covered all the style shows and wrote a front-page column about current trends and her impressions of everyone and everything connected with the fashion world.



Edith Rosenbaum in 1911

The following year, Edith became engaged to Ludwig Loewe from Berlin. While riding with him and their friends across France to cover the fashions at the Deauville races, their car crashed into a tree, killing Ludwig and throwing Edith to the back of the vehicle. She suffered a concussion and had no memory of the crash afterward. Her mother later gave her a small stuffed toy pig, perhaps hearing that pigs were a symbol of good luck in France. The pig was covered in black and white fur, and played a popular tune called La Maxixe when its tail was wound. Edith would later give partial credit to the pig for her escape from Titanic.

By 1912, Edith became a buyer in Paris for a number of American firms in addition to her work at Women’s Wear Daily. Anxious to return to New York with purchases for her clients, she booked passage on April 5 on the ship George Washington, which would sail on Easter Sunday, two days later. But her editor called and asked her to delay her return in order to cover a race on Sunday. So Edith changed her ticket to the Titanic, sailing April 10th from Cherbourg.

Edith brought 19 pieces of baggage aboard the ship, and possibly booked a second cabin for them, in addition to her own first class cabin. When the ship struck the iceberg on the night of April 14, Edith locked all her trunks, made her way to the deck, and watched the proceedings from the lounge. When she saw her steward, Robert Wareham, she asked him to retrieve her pig from her stateroom, which he did. When White Star Line’s Bruce Ismay noticed her in the lounge, he insisted she get into a lifeboat. A crewmember threw the pig into Boat 11, and Edith climbed in. Although the pig’s nose and two legs were broken, it helped entertain the children aboard the lifeboat as the survivors awaited rescue.



Edith holding her lucky pig

On April 19, Edith reported in Women’s Wear Daily on the garments worn by Titanic’s most elite passengers, even as they made their escape from the ship. She then sued White Star Line for nearly $15,000 plus $2,000 left in the purser’s safe, but only received 3 cents on the dollar. It took her several years to pay back her clients and recover her losses.

“I’m accident prone. . . I’ve had every disaster but bubonic plague and a husband.”

She continued work as a fashion buyer until 1937, changed her last name to Russell, traveled extensively, and became a well-known celebrity and authority on the Titanic disaster.  She often posed with her stuffed pig, which could no longer be played. She lived in London until her death at age 95.

E Russell later years with pig

E Russell later years with pig

Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember, a book about the tragedy, inherited Edith’s famous pig. He later bequeathed it to the National Maritime Museum in London. After the 2012 centennial commemoration of the sinking, the museum restored the pig’s music mechanism. Today, La Maxixe can be heard once again.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica, Wikipedia

A Survivor's Heartache

At 20, Charlotte Tate left her home in Surrey, England and went to work as a cook and housekeeper for the Vicar in a nearby town. She is believed to have met Harvey Collyer there, who was the church sexton and verger, or clerk. Charlotte and Harvey were married, and soon had one daughter, named Marjorie. When the Vicar moved to another church in Hampshire, the Tates followed. Harvey continued as verger, served on the church council, and as bell ringer. He also ran the town grocery store.

collyer family

collyer family

The Collyer Family

Friends of the family had moved to Payette, Idaho, where they had started a successful fruit farm. They wrote of the beauty of the land and climate, urging Harvey and Charlotte to join them. They didn’t take their friends’ suggestion seriously, at first. But Charlotte had developed tuberculosis, and found it increasingly harder to breathe. Finally, for Charlotte's sake, they decided to move to Idaho, and booked passage on the Titanic.

“I had never been on an ocean voyage,” Charlotte later said, “and I was afraid of the sea. But I listened to the people who said, ‘Take the new Titanic. She cannot come to any harm. New inventions have made her safe; and then, the officers will be extra careful on her first trip.’”

titanic advertisement

titanic advertisement

Harvey sold the grocery store and most of the family’s possessions. He took $5,000 in cash, against the advice of a bank teller, who suggested he take a draft note. The church members gave a long surprise sendoff for the family by ringing all the bells for an hour. Charlotte later said, “It was almost too much of a farewell ceremony.”

Like so many others aboard Titanic after the ship struck the iceberg, the family didn’t realize the extent of the danger until well after the first lifeboats were loaded. Charlotte and Marjorie were put into Lifeboat 14. Harvey’s body, if recovered, was not identified. Charlotte wrote to her mother from New York, a few days after arrival on the Carpathia:

My dear Mother and all, I don't know how to write to you or what to say, I feel I shall go mad sometimes but dear as much as my heart aches it aches for you too for he is your son and the best that ever lived. I had not given up hope till today that he might be found but I'm told all boats are accounted for. Oh mother how can I live without him. I wish I'd gone with him if they had not wrenched Madge from me I should have stayed and gone with him. But they threw her into the boat and pulled me in too but he was so calm and I know he would rather I lived for her little sake otherwise she would have been an orphan. The agony of that night can never be told. Poor mite was frozen. I have been ill but have been taken care of by a rich New York doctor and feel better now. They are giving us every comfort and have collected quite a few pounds for us and loaded us with clothes and a gentleman on Monday is taking us to the White Star office and also to another office to get us some money from the funds that is being raised here. Oh mother there are some good hearts in New York, some want me to go back to England but I can't, I could never at least not yet go over the ground where my all is sleeping. Sometimes I feel we lived too much for each other that is why I've lost him. But mother we shall meet him in heaven. When that band played 'Nearer My God to Thee' I know he thought of you and me for we both loved that hymn and I feel that if I go to Payette I'm doing what he would wish me to, so I hope to do this at the end of next week where I shall have friends and work and I will work for his darling as long as she needs me. Oh she is a comfort but she don'trealise yet that her daddy is in heaven. There are some dear children here who have loaded her with lovely toys but it's when I'm alone with her she will miss him. Oh mother I haven't a thing in the world that was his only his rings. Everything we had went down. Will you, dear mother, sendme on a last photo of us, get it copied I will pay you later on. Mrs Hallets brother from Chicago is doing al he can for us in fact the night we landed in New York (in our nightgowns) he had engaged a room at a big hotel with food and every comfort waiting for us. He has been a father to us. I will send his address on a card… perhaps you might like to write to him some time. God Bless you dear mother and help and comfort you in this awful sorrow. Your loving child Lot.



Charlotte and Marjorie following the Titanic disaster

Charlotte and Marjorie were destitute, but with donations from the American Red Cross and other funds, they went on to Idaho as they planned. But Harvey’s loss was too much to bear. Charlotte sold her story to a newspaper for $300, and after friends in New York raised additional funds, she and Marjorie returned to England.

Charlotte remarried, but died of tuberculosis at age 35. Marjorie went to live with an uncle until she was married. The couple had one child who died in infancy. Her husband died at age 41, and she remained a widow, working as a doctor’s receptionist. She was moved to a nursing home in the 1960s due to ill health, and died of a stroke at the age of 61.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica,,

The Voyage to New York

The RMS Carpathia, carrying 743 passengers, left New York on April 11, 1912, bound for a Mediterranean cruise. But a different purpose was in store for the Cunard Line ship—rescuing the survivors of the Titanic.


RMS Carpathia

While crossing the Atlantic early on April 15th, Carpathia’s captain, Arthur Rostron, nicknamed “Electric Spark” for his energy and quick decision making, responded to Titanic’s distress calls and sped for her last given location. With six icebergs to steer around, the Carpathia reached Titanic’s lifeboats just before sunrise. Four hours later, the 712 survivors were aboard Carpathia, and the lifeboats were hoisted aboard.

Titanic lifeboats approaching Carpathia

Lifeboats from the Titanic approaching the Carpathia

Women from the Titanic lined the rails, still watching for their husbands, fathers, and sons. As they were led away in tears, the Carpathia set a new course for New York City. While the world awaited the names of survivors and details of what happened to Titanic, the Carpathia passengers and crew set about caring for the injured, cold, and grief-stricken. Passengers shared their clothing, blankets, and toiletries. Some gave up or shared their cabins. Captain Rostron himself gave his cabin to three Titanic women who were now widows, including Mrs. John Jacob Astor. Plenty of hot drinks and meals were prepared and distributed among the various public rooms holding the majority of survivors. Women from both ships turned blankets into long makeshift dresses for children who had been wearing only nightgowns in the lifeboats.


Groups of Titanic survivors aboard the Carpathia

Most Titanic passengers kept to themselves, too exhausted or in shock to want to socialize. Some sent wireless messages to loved ones or employers. Harold Bride, Titanic’s surviving wireless operator, rested his frostbitten feet and helped send the messages.


Partial list of Titanic passengers aboard the Carpathia

The Carpathia arrived in New York in the evening of April 18th, stopping at White Star Line’s Pier 59 to unload Titanic’s lifeboats. Titanic crewmen rowed them ashore, their last task for the ill-fated liner. Dozens of small boats surrounded the Carpathia, as reporters on the boats shouted questions to the crew through megaphones. She then docked at Pier 54, the Cunard Line dock.

crowd waiting for carpathia

Crowd waiting at Pier 54 for the Carpathia

A crowd of close to 40,000 waited in the cold rain. Many were hoping to meet loved ones from the Titanic, not knowing for sure yet if they had survived. Titanic passengers left the ship first, followed by those who had boarded the Carpathia one week earlier. While happy reunions took place for many in the crowd, others waited for hours and finally left in tears when all passengers had disembarked and their loved one was not among them.

H Bride (Lof congress)

Harold Bride is carried off the Carpathia

Those passengers met by relatives or friends were led to cars or taxis. Others who had no one to meet them were taken to New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital or assisted by relief agencies. Following the Senate inquiry into the disaster, Titanic’s surviving crewmembers returned to England and most returned to work at sea.

pier 54 today

Pier 54 today

Captain Rostron of the Carpathia was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress, knighted by King George V, and became Commodore of the entire Cunard fleet. The Carpathia served as a troop transport ship during World War I. She was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1918, killing five crewmen. All other passengers and crew were rescued before she sank west of Land’s End in Cornwall.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica, Library of Congress, Wikipedia

Titanic's Reliable Fourth Officer

At age 15, Joseph Groves Boxhall of Yorkshire couldn’t wait to begin a life at sea like his grandfather, father, and uncle before him. He became an apprentice with the William Thomas Line, and joined ships sailing for ports in Russia, the Mediterranean, North and South America, and Australia. By 1907, at the age of 23, Boxhall earned his Extra-Masters Certificate and joined the White Star Line. As Sixth Officer on the Oceanic, he met another future Titanic officer, Charles Lightoller. Then, after a year aboard WSL’s Arabic on its North Atlantic run, he signed on as Fourth Officer for RMS Titanic. Once at sea, Boxhall’s duties included regular watches, navigation, and assisting passengers and crew.


Officer Joseph Boxhall

Aboard the Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912, Officer Boxhall was having a cup of tea in his cabin near the bridge. He heard the sound of the three warning bells from the crow’s nest and went to see what happened. As he reached the bridge, Captain Smith instructed him to go below and check the forward part of the ship for damage. He didn’t find anything wrong at first, and told a third class passenger holding a chunk of ice to return to bed. Very soon, however, another crewman reported damage to the forward compartments, and the postal clerk came to report that the mail room was quickly filling with water.

Boxhall’s next orders were to determine Titanic’s exact position. As the passengers made their way to the upper decks and the lifeboats were uncovered, he and Quartermaster George Rowe fired distress rockets from the ship’s rail. They used a Morse Lamp as well, in an attempt to signal the ship they saw in the distance, but to no avail.

When Lifeboat 2 was ready for lowering at 1:45 am, Boxhall was put in charge. The following is a transcript of a radio interview as he later described his experience in the lifeboat:

The sea was perfectly smooth when we left the ship. Every star in the heavens was visible, but there was no moon. So it was dark. And then, well everything was very peaceful …  no wind … and no moon, stars, smooth water, until after about an hour then the wind got up and there was a little sea. For a long time we didn't move the boat, when we laid off on the Starboard side. You could see by the ah, by the arrangements of the lights, all the lights were burning and you could see that she was going down. You could see that her stern was, was getting pretty low in the water. She was certainly going down, there was no doubt about it then. And, ah, well we pulled, we got away clear of the ship and we just laid on the oars until eventually they … they, ah … realized that she'd gone and we heard all the screams. We couldn't do anything. And, ah, the screams went on for some considerable time. I can't remember the time when she sank, but it was in the early hours.”

Following rescue, Joseph Boxhall testified at the American and British inquiries into the disaster. He returned to England, served aboard the Adriatic, then joined the Royal Naval Reserve before serving his country during World War I. He married after the war, then continued his career aboard several ships before his retirement in 1940. He acted as technical advisor during the filming of A Night to Remember in 1958.


Advertisement featuring Officer Boxhall

He had suffered from pleurisy periodically since Titanic’s sinking, and his health deteriorated rapidly in the 1960s. He died in 1967 at age 83, and requested that his ashes be scattered over the location he had calculated the night the ship went down.


Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica

Lifeboats on the Titanic

One of the reasons so many individuals perished on the Titanic was the lack of enough lifeboats for everyone. Titanic had a maximum capacity of 3327, but on her one and only voyage, around 2224 passengers and crew were on board. However, her 20 lifeboats were capable of carrying 1178 at most. And because most of the boats left the ship less than full, only 712 survived the sinking.

titanic boats approaching carpathia

Titanic lifeboats carrying survivors

Larger davits had been proposed for the new White Star Line ships, including Titanic, allowing for 48 lifeboats. But regulations issued by the Board of Trade required only 16 lifeboats for all British vessels over 10,000 tons. Titanic’s designers opted for 20 lifeboats, wanting to save on unnecessary costs and provide plenty of space for passengers to stroll the open decks. Twenty boats were more than the law required, and that seemed more than sufficient. After all, they could practically guarantee there would be no need for them.

Titanic carried 16 regular lifeboats, numbered 1 through 16. Eight even-numbered boats were mounted along her port side, and the eight odd-numbered boats along the starboard side. Four collapsible boats were stored near the bow, with two on either side.


Diagram showing lifeboat placement. Two collapsible boats (red) are not seen. The pink boats are emergency cutters.

Fourteen lifeboats each had a capacity of 65. They were 30 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. They were supposed to be equipped with oars, blankets, provisions, and flares, although some survivors claimed their boats lacked one or more of these items. Two emergency cutters, boats 1 and 2, were built to hold 40. They measured 25 feet long and 7 feet wide. Their purpose was for immediate emergencies, such as a man overboard, and were permanently swung out, ready for lowering. The four collapsible boats, A, B, C, and D, were 27 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. They had canvas sides that could be raised in use and could be stored almost flat.

A number of mistakes and misconceptions led to the boats leaving Titanic at less than capacity:

1) The one lifeboat drill had been cancelled due to cold weather.

2) When Captain Smith ordered passengers to be loaded into the lifeboats, many refused, not aware of the real danger. They felt it was safer to remain onboard the ship than climb into a small boat and be lowered to the sea. Many women didn’t want to leave their husbands, brothers, or sons.

3) Crewmen had not been given adequate lifeboat training. Some charged with filling the boats weren’t sure of how many the boats could hold and lowered them half-full.

4) Some crewmen strictly enforced the ‘women and children first’ rule, and when no more women and children were immediately available for boarding, they lowered the boats as the men watched.

5) Third class passengers reached the boat deck late, due to a lack of information and language barriers. Some were purposely kept back by crewmen until first and second class passengers filled the boats. By the time more third class passengers reached the boat deck and the true urgency of the situation was realized, most of the boats had already gone.

Titanic-lifeboats after

Lifeboats dropped at White Star Line pier in New York following arrival of the Carpathia, carrying 712 survivors  

Only two lifeboats returned to the scene after the Titanic sank to rescue a few people in the water.

Following the inquiries into the sinking, a new ruling required every passenger vessel to be equipped with more than enough boats to carry every passenger and crewmember, and for crewmembers to be fully trained in lifeboat use. Also, lifeboat drills for all passengers on every voyage is now required by law.

Note: Beginning today, I will be posting on this blog every other Wednesday. As soon as my novel about Titanic survivor Ruth Becker is accepted for publication, I will share the news with you here. Thank you to all my readers! I look forward to bringing you more of the Titanic on April 13th, one day before the 104th anniversary of the sinking.

Photo credits:,, Wikipedia

Everything she owned

After running a nursing home in England for 20 years, Lucy Ridsdale looked forward to moving to her sister’s house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a stop in Marietta, Georgia to see another sister. She packed everything she owned, including several family heirlooms and other items that had been gifts from friends, paid all the necessary excess baggage fees, and sent everything to be loaded aboard the Titanic for her journey to America.

replica of titanic's hold

Replica of Titanic cargo hold

Single at 58, Lucy occupied a second class cabin with 28-year-old Mary Davis, who was emigrating to New York where her siblings lived. Lucy had a club foot, and on the night of the sinking, Mary helped Lucy to the Boat Deck where they boarded Lifeboat 13.

In my pre-published novel, the main character, passenger Ruth Becker, meets Lucy in the lifeboat after it moves away from the sinking ship. As Lifeboat 13 was lowered to the ocean’s surface, a heavy stream from a condenser sprayed the boat and pushed it ahead, right underneath another lifeboat as it descended. The frightened passengers could almost reach up and touch the other boat, until someone cut Boat 13’s ropes, still attached to the davits up on deck. Finally free of Titanic, the boat's 64 occupants rowed about until morning. Passengers agreed if the sea had not been calm, many of the lifeboats could not have made it through the night.

After rescue, Lucy was first listed among the missing, until she sent a telegram to her sister in Marietta. Not long after the disaster, she made a detailed claim for her belongings, for a total value of $3,146.00. She had saved a claim ticket given to her as she boarded, which she presented with other documents. Today, these original records are housed in the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. Here is a part of her list of lost items:

LR's list.png

She states in a letter to the White Star Line, “This list includes household and personal effects which the two ladies I am inclosing addresses from England know I possessed...This lady has known me for 20 years and can testify as to my having had a nursing home of my own at Harrogate, Yorkshire, England. I brought everything expecting to make my home here with my sisters in Marietta and Milwaukee…”

The White Star Line made every effort to pay passengers who filed claims for loss of property, although there is no record if Lucy herself received anything. She is listed as residing at a Chicago hotel in the 1920 census, and a resident in an Old People’s Home in 1930. Lucy Ridsdale died at age 91 in Chicago.

Photo credits: National Archives and Howard Digital


Titanic's hardworking steward

When John Hardy signed on as Titanic’s Chief Second Class Steward, he brought with him fourteen years’ experience at sea. In my yet-to-be-published novel, Ruth Becker meets Hardy just after Titanic has departed Southampton, and is thrilled to learn he has a pram for her to push her little brother on deck.

john hardy

John Hardy

Hardy had worked for the White Star Line for twelve years, serving aboard four ships. In between his duties, he’d married his landlady’s daughter, Etta, in Liverpool, and had two children, Ronald in 1903 and Norah in 1905. The family moved to Southampton, and were living there at the time of Titanic’s sailing in 1912.

John, 36, was already on board as Titanic made her way from the Harland and Wollf shipyards in Belfast on April 2nd, arriving in Southampton on April 4th. The next day, Good Friday, the ship was decorated with colorful flags and pennants as a salute to Southampton. But before she could begin her maiden voyage on April 10th, most of the crew would be hired, thousands of tons of coal would be loaded, and supplies for the voyage would be brought aboard, including enough food for a small city. Also, any cargo, including crates of goods purchased abroad by American customers, was loaded into the cargo hold.

John Hardy was responsible for overseeing 162 second class cabins. On the night of the sinking, he turned off all unnecessary lights in the second class areas, went to bed around 11:30 pm, then felt a slight shock. Checking the passageway, he found nothing amiss and returned to bed. Then the Chief First Class Steward woke him with the news of what happened. John proceeded to rouse the stewardesses and assist passengers to the lifeboats. He worked on deck until the last lifeboat was launched, followed by the collapsible boats. He managed to board the last one, carrying 25 passengers, just 15 minutes before the ship sank. Later, they tied the boat up together with six other boats and took on ten more passengers.

collapsible lifeboat folded away

Example of a collapsible lifeboat with its sides folded away


Titanic crewmembers following rescue

John Hardy continued to work for the White Star Line, then aboard hospital ships and troop transports during the First World War. Twins were born to John and Etta in 1919, and the family moved to New Jersey, where John continued for twenty years as Chief Steward for various ships in the United States Line.

John Hardy died at his son’s home at the age of 82.

hardy tombstone

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica and New York Times

The Owner Who Saved Himself

When the Titanic sank in 1912, most of the blame for the disaster centered on White Star Line’s chairman and managing director, J. Bruce Ismay. After all, it was his ship that caused more than 1500 deaths on its maiden voyage. And the fact that Ismay jumped in a lifeboat and survived added to the worldwide attention and controversy. ismay

Joseph Bruce Ismay was born in Liverpool in 1862, the son of Thomas Ismay, senior partner of Ismay, Imrie and company and founder of the White Star Line. Bruce was made a partner in the firm at age 29, then promoted to head the business when his father died in 1899. In 1901, Ismay agreed to a merger with American shipping companies led by J. Pierpont Morgan. The White Star Line then became part of the International Mercantile Marine Company.

In 1907, Ismay and Lord Pirrie, partner at Belfast shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff, agreed to construct a series of luxurious ocean liners that would outshine Cunard’s new Lusitania and Mauritania. The new WSL ships would carry more third class immigrants to America and offer the very best in accommodations to the wealthy.

As he did on many of the maiden voyages for White Star Line’s ships, Bruce Ismay boarded Titanic as she left Southampton on April 10, 1912. Following the collision with the iceberg, some claimed Ismay assisted with the evacuation of women and children to the lifeboats. Following rescue, Ismay testified at both the US and British inquiries that when he boarded the lifeboat known as Collapsible C, all other boats had left Titanic’s starboard side and no women and children were present.

From the lifeboat, Ismay was so overcome with emotion that he was unable to look as the Titanic sank. Onboard the Carpathia, he was given a private cabin and had to be sedated. Visitors found him in shock and mostly unresponsive for a good part of the trip to New York.

Despite his testimony at the inquiries, hostile newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic labeled Ismay a coward for not remaining on the Titanic as she sank. His reputation never recovered, and he retired from the White Star Line in 1913. Every movie about the disaster depicts Ismay as a villain, regardless of the lack of evidence against him.

headlines after sinking

In Ismay and the Titanic, author Paul Louden-Brown writes, ‘Hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid out in insurance claims to the relatives of the Titanic's victims; the misery created by the disaster and its aftermath dealt with by Ismay and his directors with great fortitude, this, despite the fact that he could easily have shirked his responsibilities and resigned from the board.'

Bruce Ismay died at the age of 74 after a long battle with diabetes. He is buried in the family grave in London.

ismay obit

Photo credits:,

The Unsinkable Sister Ship

Exactly 105 years ago yesterday, on October 20, 1910, the RMS Olympic was launched in Belfast. She was the first of what would become White Star Line’s trio of ocean liners known for their size and elegance. The Titanic was still under construction and would launch in 1912. Until the Titanic was completed, the Olympic held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship. The two were to be joined later by a third ship, the Britannic.


launch of the RMS Olympic

After her launch, Olympic was fitted with her heavy machinery and luxurious interior, then left for Liverpool, her home port, on May 31, 1911. On the same day, the RMS Titanic was launched, but still nearly a year away from her fateful maiden voyage on April 10, 1912.

Olympic’s maiden voyage to New York in June 1911 was successful. A crowd of 8000 toured the ship after docking in New York Harbor. On her fifth voyage to New York, just as she left Southampton, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke smashed into the side of the Olympic. Both ships were badly damaged, but they made it back to port, and Olympic’s New York voyage was cancelled. After temporary repairs, she was sent back to Belfast for more major repairs. This in turn caused Titanic’s completion and maiden voyage to be delayed.

On another voyage to New York in February 1912, the Olympic lost a propeller blade and had to return to Belfast again on her return. It was then the Olympic and Titanic were together for the last time.


Olympic (left) and Titanic

Two months later, on April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The distress signals reached the Olympic 500 miles away, too far for her to reach the Titanic before it sank. When the Olympic asked the Carpathia’s Captain Rostron if the Olympic could pick up survivors from the Carpathia, he refused. Seeing another ship the size of Titanic would only upset the survivors, he reasoned.

Six months after the Titanic disaster, the Olympic was temporarily taken out of service in order to make her watertight bulkheads higher and more lifeboats added. Features that had been present on the Titanic but not on the Olympic were added as well, such as the Café Parisien. For the most part, however, much of the Olympic was identical to her more famous younger sister.

When World War I began, the Olympic came to the aid of the HMS Audacious, a British battleship, when it struck a mine. She rescued the entire crew before the Audacious sank. The Olympic was requisitioned as a troop ship and made ready for war service, including “dazzle” paint, meant to make it harder for another ship to judge its speed. While carrying up to 6000 troops, she was unsuccessfully attacked by submarines several times. In 1918, the Olympic rammed and sank a German submarine, earning her the nickname, “Old Reliable.”

Olympic in dazzle wwI

Olympic in "dazzle" paint

The Olympic returned to passenger service in 1920. She was eventually sold and demolished in 1937. Some of her fixtures are still on display at museums in the UK and at the White Swan Hotel, Ainwick, England.


Marble fireplace from the Olympic at the White Swan Hotel, Ainwick, England

Dining Titanic-Style

Of all the shipboard activities, passengers on the RMS Titanic enjoyed mealtimes the most. Even those traveling in first class, many of whom were accustomed to lavish dinners and excellent service on other Atlantic crossings, claimed the Titanic had outdone all other ships when it came to making her passengers feel extra-pampered. The food served was delicious, fresh, and plentiful for all three classes. But part of the excitement about the meals had to do with the dining rooms themselves. Those traveling in first class were signaled by a bugle when it was time to dress for dinner. The bugler played the tune, “Roast Beef of Old England”. Men and women would head for their cabins to dress in their finest, then gradually drift into the Grand Dining Saloon via the first class Reception Room, near the Grand Staircase. The word ‘saloon’ comes from the French word salon, meaning a spacious and elegant room.


Titanic's First Class Dining Saloon

The dining saloon was the largest of any room on any ship at the time and seated over 500. At 114 feet long and 92 feet wide, it extended across the center of the ship from port to starboard. The room had leaded glass windows, an elaborate molded plaster ceiling, plush carpet, and green leather chairs surrounding white linen-covered tables. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were each served on china in a different pattern, all bearing the red flag of the White Star Line in the center. Most dinners consisted of eleven courses and were served on silver platters by the attentive and gracious dining stewards. The eight-piece orchestra split up during dinner and played for first and second class passengers.

"Fancy strawberries in April and in mid-ocean. The whole thing is positively uncanny."

Lady Duff-Gordon, first class passenger

Those in second class were also alerted by the bugle. Their dining saloon was nearly as large as the one for first class, also extending across the width of the ship. When seeing the room for the first time, many second class passengers thought they had wandered into first class by mistake. The room was paneled in oak and had over 500 swivel chairs upholstered in red, bolted to the floor. Second class had their own white china, trimmed in blue and boasting the red WSL flag.


Second Class Dining Saloon

In third class, meals were served in two adjoining rooms at two seatings in order to accommodate over 700 passengers. Bright white enamel walls and plenty of windows overlooking the ocean made the rooms pleasant, but they were otherwise sparsely decorated. Passengers enjoyed hearty, multi-course meals served on simple White Star Line china. Fresh bread and fruit was available at every meal, a luxury to many traveling in third class.


Dining Room for Third Class