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Titanic Source

From The Independent (1999):

Claims that one of history's greatest ships could never sink were never made during the Titanic's short lifetime and are a classic example of myth creation, according to a British academic.

Richard Howells, lecturer in communications studies at Leeds University, says in a new book, The Myth of the Titanic, that it was only after the liner had gone down that she was described as being unsinkable.

"As soon as the Titanic sank, everyone decided it was the great unsinkable ship, but it was never, in fact, publicised as being an unsinkable ship," he said.


... The belief that the Titanic's builders had promoted her as the world's first unsinkable ship has been repeatedly reinforced over the years in books and films about her maiden voyage in 1912, when she sank after hitting an iceberg.

James Cameron's film Titanic has the heroine's mother looking up at the ship before she set sail and remarking: "So this is the ship they say is unsinkable? "

Yet, Dr Howells claims that an extensive search of the Titanic literature at the time has revealed only three instances when the word "unsinkable" was mentioned in print - and then only with the proviso "practically".

"The population as a whole was unlikely to have thought of the Titanic as a unique, unsinkable ship before its maiden voyage," he said.

My question:

  • Was the Titanic ever advertised as being "Unsinkable"?
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Great question +1 –  Mistu4u Nov 30 '12 at 15:26

2 Answers 2

up vote 24 down vote accepted

HMS Titanic

Yes, multiple times.

See for example the statements of Captain E. J. Smith, captain of the Olympic:

the Olympic is unsinkable, and the Titanic will be the same when she is put in commission.

Captain Smith Believed Titanic To Be Unsinkable

Captain E. J. Smith

(The above statement is only reported to be coming from him. While the page claims that the Washington Post is the official source, I can't confirm at this time)

Also, you may want to review the official press statements by P. A. S. Franklin, vice-president of the International Mercantile Marine Co., the day after the disaster, when the ship was still claimed to be "unsinkable":

“While we have had no direct wireless communication from the Titanic,” said Mr Franklin, “we are satisfied that the vessel is unsinkable.

She cannot sink, says official of White Star Line

There is then the following image, reportedly from a White Star Line brochure:

Clip from marketing brochure on Titanic and her sister ship: “As far as it is possible to do so, these two wonderful vessels are designed to be unsinkable"

I cannot confirm the image is original, but I have no reason to doubt it either. This is also confirmed by an article in the Denver Post of 15 April 1912:

Belfast, April 15, 1912. — A representative of Harland and Wolff, the constructors of the Titanic, interviewed today, said that if the Titanic were sinking, the collision must have been of great force.
The plating of the vessel, he said, was of the heaviest caliber and even if it were pierced, any two of her compartments could be flooded without imperilling the safety of the ship.

Builders of Titanic say she’d survive great blow

Denver Post

There is also this nice, but old page which describes the available evidence.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is a considerable body of evidence which proves pretty conclusively that the Titanic (as well as the Olympic) was called unsinkable not only in pre-disaster publicity brochures and newspaper articles but that there was a widespread oral tradition to that same effect -- a tradition that seems to have been promoted by top individuals at both Harland and Wolff and the White Star Line.

Funnily enough, Wikipedia looks at the same evidence and finds it relevant to claim that the ship was only claimed to be "virtually unsinkable" until the sinking — they do not provide any reason or strong reference as to why it would make a difference.

Finally there is at least one book (The Myth of the Titanic, by Richard Parton Howells, Macmillan, 1999, ISBN 0333725972, 9780333725979) taking the opposite stance. I cannot access it or review the quality of the evidence presented.

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The ship is referred to as "she"? I must admit that surprised me a bit. –  Alenanno Apr 8 '12 at 10:15
@Alenanno All ships are referred to as "she" in the English language. –  ipavlic Apr 9 '12 at 14:42
The first article is unreliable as a) it's published the day after news of the sinking broke and a lot of wild rumours were flying around at the time, b) it's third-hand and c) it's a "someone who knew someone" deal with no names given. The second link doesn't work, the one about H&W doesn't say the ship's unsinkable, in fact it implies conditions under which it could sink. (more than 2 ruptured compartments). The White Star spokesman was operating in the dark and may have been expressing a personal opinion rather than the company line when he said titanic was unsinkable. –  GordonM Jan 8 at 14:40
@GordonM I don't understand your objection. The statement by Smith is widely reported, which is the reason why it needs to be included in this answer. I specify that I can't confirm the authenticity of it in the answer. If only poor quality evidence is available, the correct stance is to include it with a note, not disregarding it or complaining about it. –  Sklivvz Jan 8 at 14:56
@Sklivvz I was pointing out that there are plenty of reasons to disbelieve the Smith article, the biggest two being the quotation is unattributable and that the publication date is the day after the disaster when everyone wanted to get a story out as quickly as possible and, to put it charitably, weren't checking their facts as thoroughly as they could. There was a lot of nonsense that was published in that time frame, some papers who couldn't get a scoop even went so far as to just make stuff up. Titanic historians have to be very careful with April 1912 stories as sources. –  GordonM Jan 8 at 21:56

No one ever claimed that the Titanic was "unsinkable". The quote, "practically unsinkable" was taken out of context. In 1911, Shipbuilder magazine published an article describing the construction of the Titanic. The article stated that when the watertight doors were closed, the ship would be "practically unsinkable".

See this

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How do you account for the discrepancy between the claims of this unreferenced site and the existing answer to this question which provides examples? How do you account for the internal inconsistency with the first fact that claims the Titanic WAS described as unsinkable? –  Oddthinking Apr 8 '12 at 6:26
@Oddthinking, please provide documentation. Who made these claims? What exactly were these claims? –  Andy Evans Jan 9 at 17:05
Please mind your language. I have deleted your first comment. –  Oddthinking Jan 9 at 17:49
The documentation you seek is higher up on this page - the highly-upvoted accepted answer with cited references. –  Oddthinking Jan 9 at 17:51

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