Titanic Drama Unfolded in Daily Newspaper Articles

One hundred years ago, people in Doylestown followed the story of the disaster in their local paper.


Ever since it sank in the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland on April 15, 1912, the Titanic has captured the public's imagination. Numerous books, articles, movies, documentaries, television programs and museum exhibits have been devoted to the ill-fated ocean liner.

On the centennial of history's most infamous shipwreck, there is little we don't know about the disaster, from the last meal served to first-class passengers to the type of rivets used to connect the ship's steel plates.

The Titanic, the world's largest ship and pride of the British White Star Line, left Southampton, England on April 10, 1912, bound for New York on its maiden voyage. There were 2,224 people on board--1,316 passengers and 908 crew members. As the ship approached Newfoundland, it struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. Sunday, April 14 and sank to the bottom of the ocean at 2:20 a.m. Monday, April 15.

The passenger liner Carpathia traveled 58 miles to the wreck site after receiving the Titanic's call for help over the wireless telegraph (radio). It rescued 710 people in lifeboats - 498 passengers and 212 crew members. The remaining 1,514 people died.

The disaster was controversial from the start.

Why had the Titanic's officers apparently disregarded wireless warnings from other ships in the area to be on the lookout for icebergs? Why didn't the Titanic's watertight compartments prevent it from sinking? Why did the Titanic carry only 20 lifeboats, enough for just 1,178 people, or half of those aboard? Why was the evacuation so chaotic that some lifeboats were lowered only half-filled? Why did the Californian, a cargo ship less than 17 miles from the Titanic, fail to go to the rescue of the stricken ship after the Californian's crew saw numerous distress flares fired into the night sky?

While investigations in 1912 and since sought to answer these and other questions, disputes remain over what really happened, even a century later.

In an era before commercial radio, television and the Internet, newspapers informed the public about the sinking. Since rescue ships sent wireless dispatches to land stations, information and misinformation about the disaster started coming out immediately.

The New York Times printed its first story, that the Titanic had struck an iceberg before midnight, in the Monday morning edition, and updated that with confimation of the sinking in the afternoon edition. Some other papers, such as the New York Sun, erroneously reported in their Monday editions that all aboard the Titanic had been rescued and the damaged British liner was being towed to port.

The Doylestown Daily Intelligencer, an afternoon paper, first reported the Titanic sinking on Tuesday, April 16. Unlike larger papers, which devoted their entire front page to the Titanic including photographs and maps, the Intelligencer ran the story in two columns on the left side of Page 1. The headline was the same type size as the day's other top story on the right side of the page, "Doylestown Borough Fathers Take Up Variety of Questions."

The Intelligencer continued running Titanic articles the rest of the week, giving them the same prominence under two-column headlines at the top left of the front page. Since the newspaper did not print photographs back then, readers did not get to see what the ship looked like.

Each day's article was datelined New York the previous day. These articles would have been transmitted to the Intelligencer office in Doylestown by a wire service such as the Associated Press, although the source was not named.

Readers could follow the Titanic drama day-by-day as more accurate and complete information became available. Despite variances in the number of reported deaths and survivors, the magnitude of the disaster was clear. By the end of the week, the rescue ship Carpathia had reached New York with the survivors and a U.S. Senate subcommittee had begun hearings into the disaster.

What follows are excerpts from each day's Intelligencer article from Tuesday, April 16 through Saturday, April 20. The headlines are exactly as printed. The text has not been changed, except for a few minor revisions for punctuation and spelling. The writing style is typical of the period, with observations and commentary mixed in with facts.


Tuesday Afternoon, April 16, 1912

The headline reflected the April 15 article from New York. The preceding paragraph, an April 16 update out of Philadelphia, was overly optimistic about the number of survivors. The earlier estimate of 1,500 deaths turned out to be pretty close to the actual number (1,514, although some histories give a slightly different figure). While the article described the Titanic as a "$10,000,000 floating palace," the ship actually cost $7.5 million (approximately $400 million in today's dollars).



Special to The Intelligencer

Philadelphia, April 16, 11 a.m. - Late dispatches lead to the belief that the loss of life on the Titanic is not so great as reported. At least 800 lives, those of the crew, are surely lost. The list of passengers saved is growing steadily. Up to this time at least 900 persons are known to be saved and there are probably more.


New York, April 15 - In the darkness of the night and in water two miles deep, the Titanic, newest of the White Star fleet, and greatest of all ocean steamships, sank to the bottom of the sea at twenty minutes past two o'clock this morning.

Dispatches received [Monday] night from the Cape Race wireless station in Newfoundland and admissions reluctantly made at the same time by the New York officials of the White Star Company warrant the fear that of the 2200 persons who were aboard the great vessel when she received her mortal wound in the collision with an iceberg more than 1500 have gone to their death in her shattered hulk with 675, most of whom are women and children, being saved.

Should these grim figures be verified, the loss of the Titanic--costliest, most powerful, greatest of all the ocean fleet--while speeding westward on her maiden voyage, will take rank in the maritime history as the most terrible of all recorded disasters of the sea.

The first report of the disaster received early today [Monday] indicated that the Titanic had been in collision with an iceberg not long after ten o'clock Sunday night. It appears, therefore, that this most splendid of modern steam power creations, equipped with every device for the safeguarding of life and sea, remained afloat only a little more than four hours after she sustained the mortal thrust that sent this ten million dollar creation to the bottom of the sea with her precious freight of human lives, ere she had completed her first trans-Atlantic trip.

Shortly after 7 o'clock [Monday] night there came flashing over the wires from Cape Race, within 400 miles of which the liner had struck the iceberg, word that at 2:20 o'clock Monday morning, 3 hours and 55 minutes after receiving her death blow, the Titanic had sunk. The news came from the steamer Carpathia, relayed by the White Star liner Olympic, and revealed that by the time the Carpathia, outward bound from New York and racing for the Titanic on a wireless call, reached the scene, the doomed vessel had sunk.

Left on the surface, however, were lifeboats from the Titanic, and in them, as appears from meagre reports received up to a late hour, were some 675 survivors of the disaster. These, according to the advices, the Carpathia picked up and is now on her way with them to New York.

For the rest, the scene as the Carpathia came up was one of desolation. All that remained of the $10,000,000 floating palace, on which nearly 1400 passengers had been voyaging luxuriously to this side of the Atlantic, were some bits of wreckage. The biggest ship in the world had gone down, snuffing out in her downward plunge, it appears, hundreds of human lives.


Wednesday Afternoon, April 17, 1912

Although the article cited "definite information" that 868 survivors were aboard the Carpathia, that inflated number likely was due to confusion in counting the rescued passengers and crew. Much emphasis was placed on the unwritten rules of "women and children first" and "the captain goes down with the ship."



New York, April 16 - More appalling with the lapse of time grows the tale of the Titanic's loss. The few brief messages that came pulsing by wireless out of the ice-infested zone where the white bergs lift their points as the sole monument above the steamship's ocean grave, blasted more hopes than they fostered.

Definite information that increased the list of the known saved from the 675 reported yesterday [Monday] to a total of 868 survivors, including passengers and crew. This makes the loss 1332. The survivors are aboard the Cunard steamship Carpathia. She is at her best not a fast ship. Her captain reports her steaming cautiously through thick fields of ice littered with many menacing icebergs. She is taking no chance of repetition of the horror of Sunday night. At her present rate of progress it is thought that she is not likely to reach this port with her stricken freight of desolated refugees before next Friday morning, or at the earliest, Thursday night.

The marked preponderance of women and children among those who have been reported as saved indicates that the unwritten law of the sea that gallant men must give place to the weaker woman and child when death is threatening all alike has not been ignored.

As the Carpathia's grim census of the living and longer roster of the loss progresses, the fear increases that the proportion of men among the rescued will be pitifully small. By those who know the traditions of the sea, stronger among brave men than many a statutory law, that no British master in the navy and a merchant marine may leave his ship until the last, it is a foregone conclusion that Captain Smith went down at his post when his splendid charge plunged to her final resting place in the unfathomed depth of Cape Race. It is thought that most, if not all, of his gallant officers, with the exception of those whose duty it was to navigate the several lifeboats, have shared the master's fate.


Wednesday Afternoon, April 17, 1912

This local editorial appeared on the Intelligencer's editorial page two days after the sinking. The editorial raised questions that have been asked ever since. How could a supposedly "unsinkable" ship sink so fast and with such a great loss of life? Did the Titanic's officers fail to take adequate precautions in an iceberg zone because they were overconfident? Why wasn't the wireless used to summon help in time?



The fragmentary dispatches received give information of one of the most disastrous and appalling sea catastrophes in the sinking of the White Star liner Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland through colliding with an iceberg. The reported great loss of life is hardly conceivable in these days of modern safety devices in the construction of vessels with their water-tight compartments and the use of Marconi's wonderful wireless system to summon aid before life was lost.

In the Titanic it was thought every safeguard has been used. It was a model palatial floating machine for the transportation of passengers and material freight. All the latest triumphs of modern marine construction had been utilized in its building, and all the world was watching the Titanic on its maiden voyage with its large and prominent passenger list. But the inconceivable happened. The vessel was struck in a vulnerable point, and before assistance could be summoned by the wireless, she is reported to have sunk in a death bed that is said to be two miles under the surface. This has occurred even while experienced navigators and ship builders considered that such a disaster could never occur.

It would appear that there are conditions that would sink even the most modernly constructed vessel, and that the Titanic encountered such a condition in its speeding westward in a sea filled with ice floes. It may be that the belief of the officers in the practical immunity from any serious disaster that could happen operated in their taking less precaution than they otherwise would, and in their confidence ran greater risks than conservative navigators would have taken. The result, however, is appalling and any words that may be uttered appear futile in expressing the horror at the great loss of life, without taking in consideration the material loss that accompanied the sinking of the vessel.


Thursday Afternoon, April 18, 1912

By now, the number of survivors appeared to be 705. However, the article still underestimated the number of deaths at 1,312. The concern expressed about "cabin" (first- and second-class) passengers reflected the prevalent attitude that they were more newsworthy than the steerage (third-class) passengers. Of the 498 surviving passengers, 202 were first class, 118 second class and 178 third class. The remaining 212 survivors were crew members. The headline stated that 231 cabin passengers were saved, but the 328 mentioned in the first paragraph was close to the actual number of 320.


New York, April 17 - The roll of those saved from the Titanic disaster tonight [Wednesday] seems complete. Practically every attending circumstance in the transmission of news from the Carpathia goes to show that only 328 of the 610 cabin passengers of the Titanic are safe on the rescue ship.

The 282 cabin passengers whose names have not appeared in the lists sent ashore yesterday [Tuesday] by wireless must probably be conceded as among the 1312 lives which the collision of the mammoth new steamer with an iceberg off the Newfoundland banks Sunday night is believed to have taken.

Thousands of hopeful hearts were turned to despairing ones when the United States scout cruiser Chester wirelessed ashore late today [Wednesday] that she had been in communication with the Carpathia and had asked repeatedly for the full list of the first and second cabin survivors, and that the rescue ship reported that all the names had already been sent ashore. The remainder of 540 persons saved were passengers in the steerage or members of the crew.

Through the Cunarder Franconia, which established wireless communication with the rescue ship, came a message which included this statement: "She has a total of 705 survivors aboard."

The previous statement from the Carpathia had been that she carried 868 survivors. It may be that the report received through the Franconia included a count of rescued passengers only, disregarding the 100 or more members of the crew who must have been in the boats which the Carpathia picked up.

There was left hardly a possibility that the names of well-known men such as George D. Widener, John Jacob Astor, William T. Stead, Isidor Straus and the others of the now familiar list of notables, could have been omitted in the transmission of names. That these men had gone down with the ship there remained hardly a doubt.



Friday Afternoon, April 19, 1912

One of the most enduring stories about the Titanic is that the band played the hymn "Nearer, My God, To Thee" as the ship sank. Some passengers would later remember hearing a different song. However, this headline shows the account of the hymn was known after the Carpathia arrived in New York on Thursday night. The article did not give a source for the revelation, but reporters flocked to the Carpathia's pier and may have been able to speak with survivors, even at a distance. While the number of survivors was 705 in Thursday's article, it was now given as 745; that was lowered back to 705 in Saturday's article.



New York, April 18 - The Cunard Liner, Carpathia, not only a hospital ship as had been feared but a funeral boat as well, steamed slowly up the harbor tonight [Thursday] and made fast to the Cunard pier 54, at Fourteenth street, at 9:35 o'clock. She brought with her the first definite authentic news which has been received since Monday of the sinking early that morning of the great White Star Liner Titanic, the biggest steamship afloat.

For hours the pier to which she made fast echoed with the shrieks of women and even of men, who seemed temporarily insane by their experience of the last few days.

But finally these facts were learned from the rescue ship:

The sinking Titanic carried with her to death 1595 persons. Those who were were rescued number just 745.

More than this number were picked up from the Titanic's boats and from pieces of wreckage to which they clung, but ten died of exposure after having been transferred to the Carpathia, and were buried at sea, two on Monday and eight Wednesday.

Four bodies are part of the Carpathia's cargo. They are those of a woman, a petty officer of the Titanic who had commandeered one of the lifeboats, and of two seamen.

Of the 745 who reached here tonight, 210 were members of the crew, most of them stewards and firemen. Only four officers were saved.

The hardships of those who were saved were extreme. Dozens of women were taken from the Carpathia tonight ill and almost deranged for the moment.

Two of the lifeboats which put off from the Titanic were sucked beneath the waves by the sinking of the giant liner. Another, loaded, as were the other two, with passengers, mostly women, was swamped as she tried to get away from the Titanic.

Many persons were picked up by the lifeboats after the Titanic had sunk.

The big steamship went down with the band playing, "Nearer, My God, To Thee." Every soul remaining aboard the vessel had nerved himself for the crisis, and there was not a cry as the big boat sank.

Saturday Afternoon, April 20, 1912

A special U.S. Senate subcommitee was formed to investigate the Titanic disaster (although the ship was British, the White Star Line was owned by American financier J.P. Morgan). Hearings began Friday, April 19 in New York, soon after the Carpathia had arrived with the surviving passengers and crew. Witnesses included J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, a Titanic survivor who was vilified in the American press for getting into a lifeboat while other passengers were left to die. Guglielmo Marconi, who won the 1909 Nobel Physics Prize for his invention of wireless telegraphy, was questioned about wireless operators involved in the rescue who sold their stories to the press.

The subcommittee, chaired by Michigan Sen. William A. Smith, moved the hearings to Washington after a week, and they continued until May 25. The subcommittee's report, issued May 28, came to a number of conclusions. It found the Titanic was going too fast for conditions and failed to heed iceberg warnings. It criticized the crew's lack of training for an emergency evacuation and its ineptitude that resulted in some lifeboats being loaded at much less than capacity, costing hundreds of lives. It castigated the captain and officers of the Californian for not responding to the Titanic's distress flares and for not having a wireless operator on duty at night.

Based on the subcommittee's recommendations, Congress enacted laws requiring that ships carry enough lifeboats for everyone aboard, that hulls and bulkheads be strong enough to resist rupture, that wireless operators remain on duty at all times and that ship flares be used only to signal an emergency. In 1914, a thirteen-nation conference adopted further regulations governing ships in international waters and established an international ice patrol in the North Atlantic.



New York, April 19 - With the memory of every detail of the Titanic disaster fresh blazoned upon their minds, officers of the lost ship and of the rescue ship Carpathia today [Friday] faced the Senate committee which will inquire into and fix responsibility for the greatest disaster in the history of ocean transportation. The momentous investigation continued morning, afternoon and night in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, and marked the beginning of an effort, not only to establish responsibility in this particular case, but to insure for the future a greater degree of safety for the hundred of thousands who cross and recross the Atlantic.

As the inquiry proceeded in New York, something of its tone, and of public feeling in general, was being indicated upon the floor of the United States Senate. Senator Isador Rayner, the brilliant Marylander, delivered a ringing denunciation of J. Bruce Ismay and the directorate of the White Star Line; of Ismay because he found a place of safety in a lifeboat, while paid passengers of a ship of which he was an officer, superior even to the captain, remained to die; and of the company because the rescue equipment of the ship offered succor only to one-third of her human freight.

Senator Rayner affirmed his belief that "English justice" would bring to bay all those upon whom guilt could be fixed, and proclaimed the sinking of the ship a crime for which, under American jurisprudence, a verdict of murder or at least of manslaughter could be returned.

The actual number of survivors shrunk to 705. Hence, the Titanic disaster goes into marine history with this appalling inscription: On board, 2340; perished, 1635; saved, 705.

Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan presided at the Senatorial investigation. The witnesses included J. Bruce Ismay; C.H. Lightholder, second officer of the Titanic; Captain Rostron, of the rescue ship Carpathia; Thomas Cottam, wireless operator of the Carpathia; Signor Marconi, whose wireless invention made possible the rescue.

Mr. Ismay is declared in dispatches to have proved a nervous and reluctant witness, and demonstrated that while his rank made him a dominant factor in the situation, he was, in fact, ignorant of ship procedure in such a crisis, and in ordering lifeboats lowered from the port rather than starboard side of the ship, caused confusion which cost upward of 200 lives. Mr. Ismay was asked pointedly how he came to have a place in a lifeboat while hundreds of passengers, mostly chivalrous men, were left to perish. He claimed that he had entered the boat only when no other passengers appeared in its vicinity to complete the complement.

Jeff Lugar April 17, 2012 at 10:16 AM
Thanks for that wonderful look at how our town experienced something so historic; nowadays everyone would be tweeting from the lifeboats.


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