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EDITORIAL/Maiden Voyage: Doomed luxury liner set off for New York 121 years ago today


Back in the days when international travel was dominated by those great floating cities called ocean liners, two great steamship companies ruled the waves.

The Cunard Steamship Company and the International Mercantile Marine Company — better known as the White Star Line –w ere rivals in every sense of the word. Their ships competed to be the biggest, fastest. most luxurious –and safest — afloat.

Whenever one company would launch a new vessel, the other would commission one even grander. So every few years the world would witness a new marvel of naval architecture head into the water.

For the most part, Cunard came out on top. Every once while the company might have to cede honors to White Star — or some other competitor such as North German Lloyd or the Hamburg Line — but it always came back strong.

The situation was especially grating on J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of White Star. By 1907, Cunard had two ships unlike any before. RMS Mauretania and RMS Lusitania were the last words in speed and luxury.

Ismay decided he was going to show Cunard how it was done. He commissioned three ships in a new class-Olympic. These would be the largest ships the world had ever seen. They would be fast and be able to carry large numbers of first class passengers as well as a large compliment of steerage travelers.

Plus these ships would be both fast and safe — the safest on any ocean. They would be virtually unsinkable.

The first of these ships was to be called RMS Olympic.

Olympic was launched in 1910, making her maiden voyage the next year. She served long and faithfully until 1935.

Work was already under way on the second ship by 1909 and she was ready for launch in May of 1911. Her first voyage , from Southampton in the United Kingdom to New York, was set for April 10, 1912 — 121 years ago today.

Her name was RMS Titanic.

History records what happened next. Four days into the crossing the great ship struck an iceberg just before midnight in the North Atlantic. It took just about two and half hours for the “unsinkable” Titanic to vanish beneath the icy waters.

There weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone onboard. So it was women and children first–at least for the most part.

Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews, and her skipper, Capt. Edward Smith, went down with the ship. White Star chief Ismay road a lifeboat to safety and disgrace.

A total of 1,517 people died that night. Survivors numbered 710. Many of the dead were third-class passengers — immigrants looking forward to a new life in America.

The sinking of the unsinkable liner was the biggest story in the world in 1912. And in time Titanic took on legendary status.

By the 1930, both Cunard and White Star — still bitter rivals — bad fallen on hard times due to the Great Depression. They merged in 1934. Today the company is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines.

It’s beenmore than a century science the Titanic disaster. The last known survivor died in 2009. But the night to remember will live forever in our culture.



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