Background Info

April 15, 2012, marks the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic.

Construction of the Titanic commenced in 1909 in Belfast, Ireland, by the ship-building company Harland & Wolff. Shipbuilders worked tirelessly for two years to create the mammoth structure that was to become the Titanic, and eight workers died during its construction. After the ship was finished in 1912, the Titanic was set for its maiden voyage in early April.

The Titanic was designed to be a luxury ship to ferry people back and forth across the Atlantic. Onboard, there were more than 900 crew members, including waitstaff, engineering, and deck crews. The Titanic carried first-class, second-class, and third-class passengers. Many second- and third-class passengers were European citizens immigrating to America in search of a new life. The total number of people aboard the Titanic was a little more than 2,000.

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, it quickly became apparent that the ship’s "unsinkable" reputation was not true. The Titanic would be sitting at the bottom of the ocean in a little more than two hours. As the Titanic was sinking, passengers were loaded onto lifeboats by the deck crew. The engineering crew stayed at their posts to work the pumps, controlling flooding as much as possible. This action ensured the power stayed on during the evacuation and allowed the wireless radio system to keep sending distress calls. These men bravely kept at their work and helped save more than 700 people—even though it would cost them their own lives.

Fast Facts

  • The letters R.M.S. stand for Royal Mail Steamer. This means the Titanic was authorized to carry mail across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The top speed of the Titanic was 23-24 knots, about 21 miles per hour.
  • "Victualling" was the term for employees working in passenger care.
  • 679 members of the Titanic's crew died in the sinking.

For Further Exploration

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

engineering

Noun

the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

evacuation

Noun

removal of people, organisms, or objects from an endangered area.

ferry

Verb

to transport goods or people over a fixed route.

flood

Noun

overflow of a body of water onto land.

Encyclopedic Entry: flood

iceberg

Noun

large chunks of ice that break off from glaciers and float in the ocean.

Encyclopedic Entry: iceberg

immigrate

Verb

to move to a new place.

lifeboat

Noun

vessel used for rescuing people at sea.

luxury

Noun

expensive item.

ocean

Noun

large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

Encyclopedic Entry: ocean

radio

Noun

wireless transmission based on electromagnetic waves.

Titanic

Noun

luxury cruise ship that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

voyage

Noun

long journey or trip.

Credits

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Writer

Pam Bolan

Editor

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society
Kara West

Producer

Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society

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