Titanic was under the command of Capt. Edward Smith, who also went down with the ship. The ocean liner carried some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe who were seeking a new life in the United States. The first-class accommodation was designed to be the pinnacle of comfort and luxury, with an on-board gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants and opulent cabins. A high-powered radiotelegraph transmitter was available for sending passenger "marconigrams" and for the ship's operational use. Although Titanic had advanced safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors, it only carried enough lifeboats for 1,178 people—about half the number on board, and one third of her total capacity—due to outdated maritime safety regulations. The ship carried 16 lifeboat davits which could lower three lifeboats each, for a total of 48 boats. However, Titanic carried only a total of 20 lifeboats, four of which were collapsible and proved hard to launch during the sinking.
After leaving Southampton on 10 April 1912, Titanic called at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland before heading west to New York. On 14 April, four days into the crossing and about 375 miles (600 km) south of Newfoundland, she hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. ship's time. The collision caused the hull plates to buckle inwards along her starboard (right) side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea; she could only survive four flooding. Meanwhile, passengers and some crew members were evacuated in lifeboats, many of which were launched only partially loaded. A disproportionate number of men were left aboard because of a "women and children first" protocol for loading lifeboats. At 2:20 a.m., she broke apart and foundered with well over one thousand people still aboard. Just under two hours after Titanic sank, the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia arrived and brought aboard an estimated 705 survivors.
The disaster was met with worldwide shock and outrage at the huge loss of life and the regulatory and operational failures that led to it. Public inquiries in Britain and the United States led to major improvements in maritime safety. One of their most important legacies was the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which still governs maritime safety. Additionally, several new wireless regulations were passed around the world in an effort to learn from the many missteps in wireless communications—which could have saved many more passengers.
The wreck of Titanic was discovered in 1985 (more than 70 years after the disaster) during a US military mission, and it remains on the seabed. The ship was split in two and is gradually disintegrating at a depth of 12,415 feet (3,784 m). Thousands of artefacts have been recovered and displayed at museums around the world. Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history; her memory is kept alive by numerous works of popular culture, including books, folk songs, films, exhibits, and memorials. Titanic is the second largest ocean liner wreck in the world, only beaten by her sister HMHS Britannic, the largest ever sunk, although she holds the record as the largest sunk while actually in service as a liner due to Britannic being used as a hospital ship at the time of her sinking. The final survivor of the sinking, Millvina Dean, aged two months at the time, died in 2009 at the age of 97.
The White Star Line faced an increasing challenge from its main rivals Cunard, which had recently launched the Lusitania and the Mauretania—the fastest passenger ships then in service—and the German lines Hamburg America and Norddeutscher Lloyd. Ismay preferred to compete on size rather than speed and proposed to commission a new class of liners that would be larger than anything that had gone before as well as being the last word in comfort and luxury. The company sought an upgrade in their fleet primarily in response to the Cunard giants but also to replace their oldest pair of passenger ships still in service, being the SS Teutonic of 1889 and SS Majestic of 1890. Teutonic was replaced by Olympic while Majestic was replaced by Titanic. Majestic would be brought back into her old spot on White Star Line's New York service after Titanic's loss.
The ships were constructed by the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, who had a long-established relationship with the White Star Line dating back to 1867. Harland and Wolff were given a great deal of latitude in designing ships for the White Star Line; the usual approach was for the latter to sketch out a general concept which the former would take away and turn into a ship design. Cost considerations were relatively low on the agenda and Harland and Wolff was authorised to spend what it needed on the ships, plus a five percent profit margin. In the case of the Olympic-class ships, a cost of £3 million (£250 million in 2015 money) for the first two ships was agreed plus "extras to contract" and the usual five percent fee.
Harland and Wolff put their leading designers to work designing the Olympic-class vessels. The design was overseen by Lord Pirrie, a director of both Harland and Wolff and the White Star Line; naval architectThomas Andrews, the managing director of Harland and Wolff's design department; Edward Wilding, Andrews' deputy and responsible for calculating the ship's design, stability and trim; and Alexander Carlisle, the shipyard's chief draughtsman and general manager. Carlisle's responsibilities included the decorations, equipment and all general arrangements, including the implementation of an efficient lifeboatdavit design.[a]
On 29 July 1908, Harland and Wolff presented the drawings to J. Bruce Ismay and other White Star Line executives. Ismay approved the design and signed three "letters of agreement" two days later, authorising the start of construction. At this point the first ship—which was later to become Olympic—had no name, but was referred to simply as "Number 400", as it was Harland and Wolff's four hundredth hull. Titanic was based on a revised version of the same design and was given the number 401.