Titanic Timeline

Date Event
1850 The White Star Line is founded
1867 White Star Line purchased by Thomas Henry Ismay
1869 Oceanic Stream Navigation Company is formed in order to provide a luxury Atlantic steamship service
1869 Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff commence construction of ships for White Star Line
1891 J. Bruce Ismay, the son of Thomas Henry, becomes a partner in the White Star Line
1894 William James Pirrie becomes the chairman of Harland & Wolff
1898 14 years before the Titanic tragedy, American author Morgan Robertson’s novel ‘Futility’ is published, in which a British liner named Titan, whilst on her maiden voyage in April, strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic resulting in the loss of passengers and crew
1902 U.S. financier J. Pierpont Morgan’s shipping trust, the International Mercantile Marine Company, purchases The White Star Line
1904 J. Bruce Ismay becomes president and managing director of International Mercantile Marine, and William James Pirrie (Harland & Wolff chairman) a director
30 Apr 1907 The idea to build the Titanic (as well as the sister ships Olympic and Britannic) is conceived over dinner between J. Bruce Ismay and William James Pirrie, at Lord Pirrie’s London mansion house. The intent was to construct a class of ships that would compete with the Cunard line for luxury passenger trade upon the Atlantic
29 Jul 1908 Design plans for the Titanic and her sister ship Olympic are agreed in principle
16 Dec 1908 Olympic’s keel is laid down (Yard No. 400) at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast
31 Mar 1909 Titanic’s keel is laid down (Yard No. 401)
20 Oct 1910 Olympic’s hull is launched from slipway 2
31 May 1911 Witnessed by over 100,000 spectators, Titanic’s hull is successfully launched before being towed to the fitting-out basin (Read more about the
launch of the Titanic)
14 June 1911 Olympic commences her maiden voyage
20 Sep 1911 Olympic – under the charge of future Titanic captain Edward J. Smith – collides with the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke, causing significant structural damage. Completion of the Titanic is delayed whilst materials and manpower are diverted to repair Olympic
11 Oct 1911 The official date for the maiden voyage of the Titanic is announced as 10 April 1912 (this was originally intended to be 20 March 1912, before completion of her construction was delayed by the Olympic’s accident)
31 March 1912 Construction of the Titanic is completed, 10 months after the launch of her hull.
02 April 1912 At 8.00pm, Titanic sets sail from Belfast for Southampton, with an estimated crowd of 100,000 watching as the ship sailed, cheering, waving handkerchiefs and singing “Rule Britannia!”.
03 April 1912 Titanic arrives in Southampton.
10 April 1912 At 12 noon, Titanic sets sail from Southampton for New York.

Although you cross the Atlantic for years and have ice reported and never see it, at other times it’s not reported and you do see it. -Charles Lightoller (at the public inquiry into the sinking)

The Last Hours – 14 April 1912

Date Event
9.00am Senior wireless operator Jack Phillips starts to receive warnings of icebergs from other vessels further to the west. The first warning of the day came from the liner Caronia which had spotted icebergs and growlers (small icebergs, harder to see but still dangerous) in an area around a day’s sailing away from the Titanic (49° to 51° W).
10.15am Captain Edward John Smith is passed the first telegraph warning of icebergs.
11.00am The scheduled time of the first lifeboat drill, which was cancelled by Captain Smith without explanation. This meant that the crew were unrehearsed when the real lifeboat evacuation commenced.
12.00pm Phillips receives the second ice warning of the day, from the steamship Baltic, which reported large icebergs in an area ahead of the Titanic (42°N, 51° 31′ W).
2.00pm Captain Smith passes the second ice warning to Bruce Ismay.
5.30pm Over the course of the next 2 hours, the air temperature drops 10 degrees, down to 0.5°C.
5.50pm The Titanic changes course from south west to due west. This was originally planned to occur at 5.30pm but was delayed to allow Titanic to travel further south in an attempt to avoid the ice region reported by the Baltic. This change should have directed the Titanic into an area of the gulf stream that would be free of icebergs; in any normal year this would be the case, but 1912 was not a normal year for ice – cold water had pushed the warm gulf stream further south – and the change in direction actually put the ship on a collision course with the iceberg.
6.00pm Second Officer Charles Lightoller takes over the bridge from Chief Officer Wilde.
7.20pm Assistant wireless operator Harold Bride finishes work on the accounts and finally picks up the ice warning from the SS Californian, warning of 3 large icebergs (42°N, longitude 49°W). When Bride took the telegram to the bridge, Captain Smith had already left to dine with passengers; the telegram was passed to another officer instead (although none of the surviving officers recalled seeing the message).
8.55pm Captain Smith checks in with the bridge before retiring to his cabin. The conditions are moonless, clear and flat calm. The lack of wind and calm waters would actually make spotting an iceberg more difficult, as without wind they would be unable to see water breaking upon it. The lack of moonlight would limit the chance of reflected light from the iceberg.
9.40pm Phillips receives the fifth and final ice warning, from the SS Mesaba, warning of a “great number” of large icebergs and field ice just 15 miles ahead of the Titanic (latitude 42°N to 41° 25′, longitude 49°W). Because the message was not prefixed with MSG – the signifier that the communique was intended for the captain – Phillips treated it as non-urgent, failed to pass the message on, and returned to the busy task of sending passengers’ personal telegrams (there was a two hour window to send passenger telegrams via the Cape Race receiver on Newfoundland).
10.00pm Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee commence their watch in the crow’s nest, looking out for growlers more than larger icebergs. First Officer Murdoch takes over the bridge from Lightoller.
11.00pm The Californian sends a message to say that she has stopped sailing for the evening due to the ice, but Phillips, desperate to complete all of the passenger telegrams, simply replies to say “Shut up! I am busy. I am working Cape Race”. Meanwhile, unbeknown to Murdoch, the iceberg lies just 15 miles ahead, whilst Titanic continues at a high speed of 21.5 knots (24 mph).
11.30pm The iceberg lies just 4 miles and 10 minutes ahead.
11.39pm The iceberg lies just 1,000 yards ahead, but the moonless conditions mean the lookouts cannot see it still. 30 seconds later and Frederick Fleet spots the iceberg, calling the bridge to proclaim, “Iceberg, right ahead!”, but it is too late too avoid a collision.
11.40pm Alerted by the crow’s nest, Murdoch demands that the engines be put into reverse and the ship steered away from the berg. The Titanic hits the iceberg, striking the starboard bow. Many passengers and crew sleep through the collision whilst many others – including lookout man Fleet – assume the ship has survived a glancing blow and is undamaged.

Deeply regret advise you Titanic sank this morning after collision with iceberg, resulting in serious loss of life. Full particulars later. -Bruce Ismay, in his wire to the White Star Line

The Last Hours – 15 April 1912

Date Event
12.00am The captain demands that an emergency request for assistance be broadcast to all ships within range. However the nearest ship, the Californian, has turned off her wireless for the evening after receiving Phillips’ curt response earlier in the evening. Tragically, the ship was a mere 20 miles away and could have reached Titanic before she sank.
12.20am Captain Smith gives the order to start loading the lifeboats on the Titanic, women and children first. At this point the Captain will have realised that the deaths of many hundreds of passengers and crew is inevitable.
12.25am The Carpathia replies to say they have put about and are heading for the Titanic. Carpathia is around 58 miles (4 hours) away.
12:45am The first lifeboat (lifeboat No.7 on the starboard side) is launched. She leaves with just 28 of a possible 65 people on board. The first of eight emergency distress rockets is fired.
2.20am Titanic slips beneath the surface of the water. In waters that are close to freezing temperature, disorientation, exhaustion and unconsciousness are likely within the first 15 minutes, and hypothermia and death likely within 15 to 45 minutes.
3.30am The Carpathia’s rockets are spotted.
4.10am The Carpathia arrives and starts to pluck survivors of the Titanic from the lifeboats. Lifeboat No.2 is the first to be evacuated.
5.30am The Californian is finally alerted to the disaster, by the Frankfurt, and makes haste to the scene.
8.30am The last of the lifeboats (No.12) is rescued by the Carpathia. The Californian arrives at the scene and navigates the disaster area looking for survivors.
8.50am The Carpathia sets sail for New York, with 705 survivors aboard. In total around 1,522 victims are believed lost at sea. Aboard Carpathia, Bruce Ismay sends a telegram to the White Star Line’s New York office.
18 April 1912 The Carpathia arrives in New York, first visiting Pier 59 to deliver the empty lifeboats back into the hands of White Star Line, and then on to Pier 54, where Carpathia’s own passengers and the survivors disembarked.

Except for the [life] boats beside the ship and the icebergs, the sea was strangely empty. Hardly a bit of wreckage floated – just a deck chair or two, a few life belts, a good deal of cork. -Arthur Rostron, Captain of the Carpathia

The Aftermath

Date Event
03 July 1912 After 36 days the public enquiry close, finding that the ship was lost due to traveling at excessive speed in a region of ice, and that none of the crew of the Titanic were at fault as this was standard practice. They made the recommendation that future lifeboat numbers be based upon passenger numbers and not a ship’s tonnage.

I think the enquiry is a complete whitewash. You have the [British] Board of Trade in effect enquiring into a disaster that’s largely of its own making. -Paul Louden-Brown, White Star Line Archivist