With the Trans-Atlantic travel industry booming at the turn of the twentieth century, intense competition fueled White Star Line to build the biggest, fastest and most luxurious ships to corner the passenger trade
The first-class passengers on Titanic represented a veritable "who's who" of upper- crust Anglo-American society, as exemplified by Rose's thumbnail sketch when Jack escorts her to their pivotal first-class dinner: "There's the Countess of Rothes. And that's John Jacob Astor...the richest man on the ship. His little wifey there, Madeleine, is my age and in a delicate condition. See how she's trying to hide it. Quite the scandal. And over there, that's Sir Cosmo and Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon. She designs naughty lingerie, among her many talents. Very popular with the royals. And that's Benjamin Guggenheim and his mistress, Madame Aubert. Mrs. Guggenheim is at home with the children, of course."
Also providing considerable luster to the Titanic's passenger list were Isidor Straus (founder of Macy's department store) and his wife, Ida; a large contingent of Philadelphia society; and dozens of other notables, all lured into being a part of the luxury liner's historic debut. The flamboyant Margaret "Molly" Brown, wife of a Colorado millionaire, was returning from a winter abroad and a side trip to Egypt (where she joined with the Astors for a sightseeing excursion); as well as William T. Stead, editor of the Review of Reviews. One of the era's most powerful millionaires, J. P. Morgan also booked passage aboard Titanic, ultimately changing his mind 24 hours prior to the ship's departure.
Joining his company's prize creation on its maiden voyage was J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, as well as master shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, who had tirelessly overseen the design and construction of the ship. Providing a stark contrast to the privileged class represented by Rose, the world of the third-class passengers is vividly embodied by Jack and his friends. Following his own baptism into the ways of the upper-class at Cal's failed dinner, Jack reciprocates by stealing Rose away to a lively party in the steerage-class public room to introduce her to his world.
In general, the passengers in third-class were immigrants traveling with all they owned, leaving behind all they knew and heading to America flush with the hope of a new life and greater fortunes.
"They're dancing, they're drinking and rowdy," Cameron says,"Rose hasn't been exposed to that kind of life, but she's ready for it. I had to get her into Jack's world so that we see there is hope for her. They're having fun, and they don't care about politeness and formality and Rose embraces their spirit. It's a celebration of life. And I believe that's what these people must have actually been feeling. They were going to a new life, they had made a decision. I wanted to capture a sense of that spirit."
The minimalistic style of the third-class sections paled in comparison to the lavishness of the first-class rooms of the upper decks. Still, for many of its patrons, the steerage class cabins were a marked improvement over the conditions of the homes they were leaving.
For all of Titanic's passengers, the purchase of a ticket meant they would ultimately face their own mortality, regardless of their cabin location. Sadly, however, due to a combination of social, cultural and logistical reasons, the third-class suffered the greatest losses in the sinking. It was commonly reported that, most likely in an effort to manage the crowd, many lower sections of the ship were locked off, thus preventing escape to all but the most intrepid. Lynch writes: "The gates leading from the well deck to the second-class areas remained locked, and some men were forced to crawl along the cranes to get to the higher decks. Although repeated attempts were made by the stewards to bring women from the well deck to the boats, it seems unlikely that anyone searched the corridors, cabins, and public rooms in third-class. A high proportion of women and children in third-class were lost, including all the large families on the Titanic. By the time men were allowed up from the well deck, it was too late -- most of the lifeboats had already gone."