The British luxury passenger liner Titanic sank on April 14-15, 1912, en route to New York City from Southampton, Eng., during its maiden voyage. The vessel sank with a loss of about 1,500 lives at a point about 400 miles (640 km) south of Newfoundland.
The great ship, at that time the largest and most luxurious afloat, was designed and built by William Pirrie's Belfast firm Harland and Wolff to service the highly competitive Atlantic Ferry route. It had a double-bottomed hull that was divided into 16 presumably watertight compartments. Because four of these could be flooded without endangering the liner's buoyancy, it was considered unsinkable. Shortly before midnight on April 14, the ship collided with an iceberg; five of its watertight compartments were ruptured, causing the ship to sink at 2:20 AM April 15. Inquiries held in the United States and Great Britain alleged that the Leyland liner Californian, which was less than 20 miles (32 km) away all night, could have aided the stricken vessel had its radio operator been on duty and thereby received the Titanic's distress signals. Only the arrival of the Cunard liner Carpathia 1 hour and 20 minutes after the Titanic went down prevented further loss of life in the icy waters.
Many of those who perished on the ship came from prominent American, British, and European families. Among the dead were the noted British journalist William Thomas Stead and heirs to the Straus and Astor fortunes. The glamour associated with the ship, its maiden voyage, and its notable passengers magnified the tragedy of its sinking in the popular mind. Legends arose almost immediately around the night's events, those who had died, and those who had survived. Heroes and heroines, such as American Molly Brown, were identified and celebrated by the press. The disaster and the mythology that has surrounded it have continued to fascinate millions.
As a result of the disaster, the first International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea was called in London in 1913. The convention drew embarked the Titanic had only 1,178 boat spaces for the 2,224 persons aboard); that lifeboat drills be held during each voyage; and, because the Californian had not heard the distress signals of the Titanic, that ships maintain a 24-hour radio watch. The International Ice Patrol also was established to warn ships of icebergs in the North Atlantic shipping lanes.
On Sept. 1, 1985, the wreck of the Titanic was found lying upright in two pieces on the ocean floor at a depth of about 4,000 m (about 13,000 feet). The ship, located at about 41° 46' N 50° 14' W, was subsequently explored several times by manned and unmanned submersibles under the direction of American and French scientists. The expeditions found no sign of the long gash previously thought to have been ripped in the ship's hull by the iceberg. The scientists posited instead that the collision's impact had produced a series of thin gashes as well as brittle fracturing and separation of seams in the adjacent hull plates, thus allowing water to flood in and sink the ship. In subsequent years marine salvagers raised small artifacts from the wreckage and even attempted to lift a large piece of the hull.