Saturday, August 03, 2013

25: The Titanic

In the early 20th century there was a huge rivalry going on in the luxury liner business. Bigger and more luxurious passenger ships were constantly being built to court the lucrative trade of well-heeled aristocrats and industrialists, especially on the transatlantic route. One of the biggest shipping lines, White Star, commissioned what were intended to be the three largest liners ever built - the Olympic, the Titanic and the Gigantic.
The first of the three to enter service, the Olympic, had a long and distinguished career. When it was broken up, the wood panelling from the dining room was used to redecorate the restaurant of the White Swan hotel in Alnwick, half a mile from where I'm writing this. When launched, it was marketed as the largest liner ever.
When the next one, the Titanic, was being readied, they could hardly use the same tagline, as the two ships were practically identical, so instead they went with 'unsinkable'.

Well, we know what happened. The expression 'tempting fate' probably wore a little thin for a while afterwards.
It wasn't a totally hollow boast, though. The hull was divided into sections by watertight bulkheads, the idea being that if there was a leak, the worst that could happen was that only one section would flood, whereas it would take at least three flooded compartments to sink the ship. What conceivable maritime accident could do that? Why, you would have to cut a gash in the hull a hundred yards long.

When the third ship was being prepared, the marketing department found itself with a bit of a problem. 'Gigantic' now sounded a bit too cocky - too blasé. What could they call this one instead... Something that would give an impression of reliability, security, invulnerability?
What better than 'Britannic'?

That one sank too... though to be fair it was in the middle of a war at the time.

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