40 Little-Known Facts About The World’s Most Famous Shipwreck: The Titanic

Oct | 49 sharesEmma Guinness

The story of the ill-fated Titanic has become a legend. It was the grandest and largest ocean liner of its day when it set sail from Southampton on April 10th, 1912. Titanic's passengers ranged from the poorest of the poor to the then richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor, and its layout was a direct reflection of the class system at the time. Built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff, the ship had a watertight compartment system that caused many to believe it was unsinkable.

As we all know, the Titanic wasn't unsinkable. The tragedy which unfolded on the Atlantic ocean just five days after the ship set sail from Southampton was the greatest maritime disaster in history. It has been retold countless times in books, documentaries and movies. People are fascinated with the Titanic because its demise was a reminder that man does not have dominion over the seas. However, there's still a lot of unbelievable facts about the Titanic that people don't know!

This is what Titanic's cabins and hallways look like at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean: 

Thanks to movies like James Cameron's 1997 epic Titanic, people have continued to be captivated by the retellings of the story, rather than the reality of what happened, which is more compelling than any Hollywood blockbuster could ever be. Few people know that there was a lot more to the sinking than the ship simply hitting an iceberg in the middle of the ocean. Even fewer know about the incredible stories of real-life passengers who narrowly escaped death on the fateful night of April 14th, 1912.

1. The Titanic wasn't full

It's no secret that the Titanic disaster resulted in a colossal loss of life. The arrogance of those who believed it was unsinkable meant that the ship only carried what was legally required in terms of lifeboats - enough to carry 1,178 people, which equated to just half of those onboard. However, it's a little-known fact that even more could have died.

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The Titanic disaster claimed the lives of 1,517 people. Only 706 survived. But what makes the disaster even more shocking is the fact that Titanic wasn't full on her maiden voyage. She had the capacity to hold 3,547 passengers and crew, but only set sail with 2,223. It's a good thing that she did. Otherwise, over a thousand more would have perished.

2. Forty-eight lifeboats

Everyone knows that the reason so many people died onboard the Titanic was because there weren't enough lifeboats. It took the ship two hours and 40 minutes to sink so if she'd carried enough boats, no one would have died as there was time to save everyone. However, she was designed to carry even fewer lifeboats than what she did.

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Titanic's designer, Thomas Andrews, had planned for the ship to carry 48 lifeboats. That would have meant she'd have had the capacity to save everyone. But the number was reduced to just 20 boats so that there was more deck space - despite the fact that the ship could have held 64 boats, more than enough for her maximum capacity. It was a cosmetic decision that cost the lives of more than half of the passengers. The arrogance of her makers really did know no bounds.

3. Famous people didn't sail

A number of rich and wealthy people wanted to sail on Titanic because of how luxurious she was - her dining hall was modeled on the glamorous Ritz hotel in London. However, fate intervened for these very famous faces who'd booked their passages across the Atlantic on the Titanic and that meant they never sailed.

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One of the most famous people who didn't sail onboard the Titanic was Milton Hershey. As you can probably guess from his surname, he was the creator of the chocolate bar that we've all came to know and love. He was asked to return to America early and left England three days before Titanic set sail on another liner called the America.

4. Only one child in first-class died

It's a common misconception that those who held steerage (third class) tickets were deliberately kept below the decks of the Titanic when the ship was sinking. That was just to make the movies more compelling. However, it's no secret that the rich had the best chance of survival, but it's not for the reason you might think.

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Many steerage passengers died because they had to travel further up the ship to get to the lifeboats. They were kept in separate quarters from the rich because there were a number of nationalities onboard, and, under immigration law, they had to be separate to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. So it would have taken them longer to get to safety. To put this in context, only one first-class child died during the sinking, all second-class children survived, but only 25 of the 80 third class children survived.

5. Hundreds more could have lived

Whilst the Titanic didn't have enough lifeboats for everyone onboard, even the ones which were used weren't filled to their capacity. Shockingly, one boat even left with just 12 people onboard. If the lifeboats had been filled, around 500 more people could have survived the disaster. But unfortunately, there were a number of tragic factors at play.

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The people who got onto the lifeboats first were very brave because they were leaving the comparative safety of a ship to go onto a small raft. When the officers began to load the lifeboats, many people believed that Titanic wasn't actually going to sink. Another problem was that the officers who were in charge of loading up the boats were frightened that if they put too many people into them, they might sink - something which was reported by a surviving officer at the inquest into the sinking.

6. The lifeboat drill

If you've ever been onboard an ocean liner, you'll know that lifeboat drills are a standard practice. They allow passengers and crew alike to familiarise themselves with the best way to get off a ship, and shockingly, this happened on the day the Titanic sank...

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A lifeboat drill was scheduled for April 14th, however, it was canceled at the last minute for reasons we'll never know. One of the fatal mistakes made on the night of the sinking was that the boats were underfilled as the officers didn't know that they'd been previously tested to hold the weight of 70 men. Another fatal mistake was that the two collapsible lifeboats weren't properly launched. If the drill had taken place, this information would have been fresh in the officer's minds.

7. No binoculars

Federick Fleet was the Titanic lookout who famously shouted "Iceberg right ahead!" before the ship made her fatal collision at 11:40 on April 14, 1912. He spotted the iceberg a mere 37 seconds before the collision happened and this is why...

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There were no binoculars on the crow's nest on the Titanic. The night of April 14 was a famously clear one, and if Fleet had binoculars there's no doubt the iceberg would have been spotted sooner. The officer who'd been on the shift before Fleet, David Blair, simply forgot to give him the key to the box which contained them.

8. Ice warnings

In 1912, ships were able to communicate effectively with each other through the use of wireless telegraphy. Without this technology, the Carpathia wouldn't have eventually come to the aid of the survivors. In fact, Titanic was made well aware of the dangers of ice in the area. This is the shocking number of warnings which were sent to the doomed liner...

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The day she sank, the Titanic received no less than six ice warnings. These were all ignored. The wireless operator was too busy sending out passengers' messages. If they'd been heeded, there's no way that Fleet wouldn't have had binoculars.

9. Poor materials

It took millions of rivets to build Titanic. Rivets are large metal screws that hold the hull of a ship together. However, a number of issues which resulted in the grandest ship in the world's hull being built with substandard materials.

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Research has shown that Harland and Wolff were struggling to find enough skilled riveters to build Titanic and enough good quality rivets. To complete the project, they had no option but to use substandard rivets and riveters. If better materials and more skilled tradesmen had been used, Titanic may have survived her collision with the iceberg.

10. A fire

There was also a problem onboard the ship that unquestionably compromised the safety of every single passenger. Can you guess what might have caused the black mark on Titanic's hull in this photograph? Her owners had something to hide.

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There was a fire onboard the ship. Whilst attempts were made to extinguish it, they were ultimately unsuccessful, and it was kept a secret from passengers and crew alike. Chairman and director of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, however, knew about it."We have experts telling us that when you get that level of temperature against steel it makes it brittle, and reduces its strength by up to 75 percent," journalist Senan Malony said after years of investigation. "The fire was known about and briefly addressed at the inquiry, but it was played down." So Titanic's hull was weakened by the cheap rivets and a fire.

11. Speed

Another factor which led to the sinking of the Titanic was the ship's speed. Despite receiving countless ice warnings, the ship sailed on at 23 knots - its maximum speed. It was Captain Edward's last voyage across the Atlantic before his retirement, and he was encouraged to make it in record time.

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If the Titanic had been going slower, that 37 second impact time would have been a lot longer. Even if she'd still hit the iceberg, if she'd been going at a slower pace, the damage it would have caused to the ship's hull wouldn't have been anywhere near as bad. As you can tell by now, the perfect storm was brewing onboard the world's grandest ship.

12. Wrong turn

The moment the crew was made aware of the iceberg, their actions ultimately sealed Titanic's fate in the space of less than a minute. The decision was made to go hard to starboard (that's to the right-hand side on a ship) in an attempt to avoid the iceberg, however, this increased the damage it was able to do.

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Trying to avoid the iceberg was the wrong choice, but the crew was obviously panicking, and it does seem like a logical decision to make. If the Titanic had hit the berg head-on, she wouldn't have suffered as much damage. She would have stayed afloat for longer, allowing ample time for the Carpathia to come to her rescue.

13. The bulkheads

I briefly mentioned why people claimed the Titanic was unsinkable at the beginning of this article. It was because of her bulkheads. These were compartments that could easily be sealed in the event of a collision, preventing further damage to the rest of the ship, however, they were fatally flawed.

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The bulkheads - whilst an innovative design - could overflow into the rest of the ship if damage was sustained to more than two of them. So these compartments weren't watertight at all. As the iceberg hit the side of the ship, too much damage had been done for them to be effective. The unsinkable design really wasn't unsinkable.

14. People were calm

Those onboard the Titanic would have undoubtedly been worried after the collision, however, contrary to what's depicted on the silver screen, there was no mass panic as people began to escape the ship on the lifeboats. After all, the Titanic was colossal and equipped with the latest technology available at the time.

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Everyone onboard was relatively calm. This probably contributed to the reluctance of passengers to initially board the lifeboats when they were first launched. Historians who have analyzed the event have compared it to similar sinkings and reached the conclusion that the people were calm because the ship took so long to sink. As a result, panic did not set in until near the end.

15. The Californian

Shockingly, after the Titanic struck the iceberg and began to sink, a light was reportedly spotted from the port (left) side of the ship. Those who spotted it must have thought that there was a small glimmer of hope twinkling in the distance, but it was soon lost.

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The Californian was arguably close enough to the Titanic on the night of the sinking to save everyone onboard. However, it didn't answer the ship's distress calls, or the flares it sent off into the night sky. Another lesser known fact about this part of the sinking was that Titanic was the first ship in history to use the SOS signal but to no avail...

16. A true love story

The love story we've all come to associate with the Titanic's sinking is that of Jack and Rose famously portrayed in James Cameron's 1997 movie. However, there was a real-life couple onboard the ship who made the most romantic gesture possible towards each other in the ship's final hours.

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Isidor and Ida Straus, owners of Macy's department store, were last seen walking off together onboard the Titanic. They had both been offered a place on a lifeboat, but Isidor refused to leave because women and children were still onboard the ship. Despite telling Ida to go, she refused and instead chose to die by his side. She was heard saying, "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go."

17. Famous last words

There were a lot of men like Isidor onboard the ship who calmly accepted their fate. After making sure that his mistress and her maid were safely in a lifeboat and coming to the aid of women and children, this man and his valet retired to do what any true gentlemen would when faced with inevitable death.

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Once they knew that they were doomed, wealthy businessman Benjamin Guggenheim and his valet went back to their rooms to change into their finest evening wear. They went to the ship's famously beautiful grand staircase, and, Guggenheim said, "We've dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen."

18. The ship's band

Perhaps one of the most poetic stories to emerge from the reports about Titanic's last hours was the actions of the ship's band. Whilst people were initially calm, a point would have come when they began to panic, but the band was determined to help keep order on the ship...

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As depicted in James Cameron's movie, the band onboard the Titanic played for over two hours on the deck, attempting to console the passengers and keep them as calm as possible. The last song they were heard playing was 'Nearer my God to Thee'.

19. Thomas Andrews

Thomas Andrews was 39 years old at the time of the Titanic's sinking. As the designer of the ship, he was the man who wanted it to have 46 lifeboats, however, his sensible plan was never made a reality because people thought the boats would clutter up the deck space. He also wanted to improve the watertight compartment system further, an idea which was also overruled.

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Andrews was the man who knew the design of the Titanic best, and he used this knowledge to save lives on the night of the sinking. As we already know, a lot of people did not want to get onto the boats at first as they were convinced that the ship wouldn't sink, and, even if it was in trouble, they thought that Titanic was so big that it would stay afloat long enough for help to arrive. Andrews, however, was knowledgeable, and people trusted him enough to take his advice and get into the lifeboats. He was last seen throwing deck chairs and lifebelts to people flailing in the water as the ship sank.

20. The ship split in two

Whilst there's a lot of fiction in Cameron's movie, its depiction of the Titanic's sinking was fairly accurate. Especially when it came to what happened to the ship shortly before it sank beneath the waves into its watery grave.

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Shortly before she sank, the Titanic split in two. However, unlike in the movie, reportedly, there was no huge swell which dragged those on deck deep into the water. The Titanic went down bow first, and the pressure this put on the stern of the ship resulted in it splitting. The two halves of the ship now lie just under 2,000 feet apart on the seabed.

21. The Unsinkable Molly Brown

One of the characters in Cameron's movie, Molly Brown, was, in fact, a real person, whose actions on the night of the sinking resulted in her earning the nickname "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". She was a first class passenger who did everything she could to try and help those who were still trapped onboard the ship.

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Molly Brown famously helped to row her lifeboat - number six - away from the stricken ship to safety and encouraged the other women onboard to do the same, something which wouldn't have been considered ladylike at the time. Once the ship had sunk, she argued with the officer in her boat, pleading with him to return to the site to look for survivors.

22. People survived in the water

On the night of the sinking, the water was just below freezing. Many of those who went down with the ship would have died within a few minutes, but most would have probably survived for around 15 minutes before dying. However, amazingly, there were a handful of people who survived going down with the ship.

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Jack Thayer, who was just 17 at the time of the Titanic's sinking, was one of a few people who survived going down with the ship. He revealed that one in 36 of those who found themselves in the water survived. His savior came in the form of an upturned lifeboat which he desperately held onto until help arrived.

23. Whiskey saved a life

Do you remember the man who took a large drink of whiskey as he went down on the Titanic with Rose and Jack? Just like Molly Brown, he was a real person, and, amazingly, he was pulled from the water alive, even though he had absolutely nothing to hold onto and was treading water for hours.

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Titanic's head baker, Charles Joghin, survived the sinking all thanks to alcohol. After doing his duty by the women and children onboard, he was offered a space in a lifeboat, but declined and went off to get a drink - or twenty. Amazingly, he drank so much alcohol that it helped him to survive in the water for at least two hours until a lifeboat returned looking for survivors!

24. Rhoda Abbott

As we know, the Titanic had just 20 lifeboats, but of these 20 only 18 were actually launched. There were, however, two collapsible lifeboats which enabled some people who'd gone down with the ship to survive the sinking. This woman had been offered a place in a lifeboat but refused because her sons could not go with her.

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Rhoda Abbott was the only woman to go into the water and come out alive. She, like John Thayer, survived thanks to one of the two launched boats which hadn't been launched. She was one of around 20 people to climb into a boat that was partially submerged. Of these 20 people, only 13 survived long enough to be rescued, and she was one of them. But she never got over the disaster or the loss of her two young sons who were just 16 and 13 when they met their fate onboard the Titanic.

25. No deaths

Even though a catastrophic disaster had occurred in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the full extent of the tragedy didn't become clear until two days after the ship had sunk. In fact, it was initially reported that no one had died onboard the Titanic.

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"Late last night the White Star officials in New York announced that a message had been received stating that the Titanic sank at 2.20 yesterday morning after all her passengers and crew had been transferred to another vessel," it was reported in the British newspaper The Guardian on April 16, 1912. "Later they admitted that many lives had been lost. An unofficial message from Cape Race, Newfoundland, stated that only 675 have been saved out of 2,200 to 2,400 persons onboard."

26. Bruce Ismay

Whilst countless tales of heroism emerged from the sinking, and, many men like Charles Joghin narrowly escaped death, one man's survival incited widespread outrage. He wasn't just wealthy, but one of the few onboard the doomed liner who knew about the fire raging below deck.

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Chairman and director of the White Star Line Bruce Ismay managed to survive the sinking by jumping into a lifeboat after assisting women and children into it before him. There was such a backlash at his survival that his name was ruined for the rest of his life. Ismay was the highest-ranking member of the company to live to tell the tale of what happened onboard the Titanic.

27. Dogs survived

Perhaps most shockingly of all was the fact that even though 1,517 people lost their lives on-board the Titanic, there were animals who survived. This shocking fact, like the number of people who survived from each respective class, is a testament to the power of wealth.

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Horrifyingly, three of the 13 dogs on-board survived the sinking. They were admittedly small and carried onto the lifeboats by their wealthy owners. It was reported that one woman refused to get into a lifeboat and instead chose to stay with her dog.

28. The money boat

Bruce Ismay wasn't the only person whose survival was criticized. There were two other prominent and wealthy individuals whose survival was questioned as they escaped on a boat carrying just twelve people. They even went on trial for their actions.

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Fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon and her husband Cosmo survived the sinking on a boat that contained just 12 people, seven of whom were crew members. Their wealth and the fact that the boat did not return to collect other passengers caused many speculate that the couple had bribed their way to safety, but they were later cleared of any wrongdoing.

29. Til Death Us Do Part

Another amazing fact about the Titanic is that there were a number of Honeymooning couples onboard. Those who were rich were returning from long honeymoons in Europe and further afield. Even though there was a woman and children first rule, remarkably, a few of these couples survived.

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The reason that a number of honeymooning couples were able to survive the sinking was because they were the first people to board the lifeboats. As the first lifeboat was being launched, number seven, the officer in charge realized that too few people were willing to get into it, so he said that as well as women and children, "all brides and grooms may board". Three couples were saved in this particular boat. It ended up leaving the Titanic with just 28 people onboard, despite having a capacity of 65.

30. It was predicted

The Titanic's sinking was ultimately declared as an "act of God", but a number of frightening coincidences and premonitions came to light after the sinking. Perhaps the eeriest was similarities which a novel called The Wreck of The Titan, published 14 years before the disaster, bore to the tragedy...

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In a bizarre coincidence, a novel seemed to predict the Titanic's fate. It was about a ship called the Titan, which is freakishly similar in name, to the Titanic that people claimed was unsinkable. It too was sunk by an iceberg, resulting in the deaths of the majority of its passengers. The Titan also sunk in April.

31. Alice Elizabeth's Fortune

Whilst The Wreck of The Titan can be classed as an incredible coincidence, shortly before traveling on the Titanic, a first-class passenger who was just fourteen at the time of the sinking, had been approached by a fortune teller in Cairo, Egypt, who made a terrifying prediction about her future.

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A first-class passenger called Mary Elizabeth was approached by a fortune teller who emerged from a crowd to tell her that "You are in danger every time you travel on the sea, for I see you adrift in an open boat. You will lose everything but your life." This came to pass, and she survived the sinking.

32. A hero's premonition

A man who had worked on Titanic's sister ship Olympic when it had a near miss with a British warship in 1911 had a premonition about the disaster. He reportedly wasn't his usual chipper self in the days leading up to his voyage.

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Jonathan Shepherd was praised for his calmness during the Olympic's collision with the warship. He remained equally calm during the Titanic disaster as the boiler rooms flooded with water, doing his duty, but sadly broke his leg and didn't survive the sinking. It was reported that "[he] was not so jolly when he went away, as he seemed to have an idea that something would happen."

33. The recovery

A staggering 1,517 souls went into the sea on the night of April 14th, 1912. These included very prominent people. The ships which passed by the disaster site began the process of recovering the bodies of the dead so that they could be identified and returned to their families, but many were deliberately left in the ocean.

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The bodies of 334 people were recovered from the site. These included the body of the most wealthy passenger on the ship, John Jacob Astor. His death was symbolic because it was a reminder that money couldn't save anyone onboard the Titanic. Of the bodies recovered, 125 were buried at sea. This was because there wasn't enough embalming fluid on the ships that recovered them and because some of the remains were in an advanced state of decomposition, or too damaged to be brought back.

34. Men dressed as women

Almost as soon as news of the Titanic disaster spread, rumors began to circulate about what had happened. One of these rumors was particularly vicious and resulted in many survivors asking themselves Did I deserve to live? 

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Almost every man who survived the disaster had to explain how they had gotten away alive when so many women and children perished. They all had valid reasons, with many men escaping as the first boats were launched because women and children refused to get into them. However, it was falsely claimed that some men dressed as women to be allowed onboard. In reality, men didn't do this. The societal expectation of "women and children" first was a rule that they all adhered to, even if it meant losing their lives.

35. Daniel Buckley

This man's story is the closest true story of someone dressing as a woman to survive the Titanic disaster. But the man in question can hardly be called a coward, luck was simply on his side, as he didn't initially gain entry onto a lifeboat because he was dressed like a woman. He was already sitting in it as a man.

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Daniel Buckley was one of a number of men who rushed onto one of the boats leaving the Titanic when people realized that the ship was definitely going to sink. The officer told them all to get off so that any remaining women and children could board, threatening them with a revolver. However, Daniel tried to crouch down so that he could live, and a woman threw her shawl on top of him, effectively concealing him as a woman. He went onto serve in the First World War but died in combat.

36. The sister ship

Remember I briefly mentioned that Titanic's sister ship? The Olympic was almost identical to the Titanic, and the two were built alongside each other in Belfast. It seemed that the two ships were cursed, as her collision with a British warship 1911 - which almost claimed the life of a future Titanic crewman - meant that she had to return to the yard in Belfast for essential repairs.

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In recent years, people have made the wild suggestion that Titanic and Olympic were swapped in the yard. Why? Because Harland and Wolff had lost a colossal amount of money through Olympic's accident, and swapping the ships would have meant that they had the opportunity to claim back the lost money if the Titanic was sunk. Many have argued that this why the Titanic didn't contain her maximum capacity of passengers and why a lot of in the know rich passengers suddenly didn't travel. The nearby Californian also had unusual cargo which consisted of blankets and jumpers. Could it be that the ships were swapped and the Californian was supposed to come to the Titanic's rescue, saving everyone onboard? We'll never know, but it's a possibility...

37. The Britannic sank

The Titanic and Britannic were two of three Olympic class liners built by the White Star Line. The third ship was called the Britannic, and it was launched in 1914. However, before the Britannic could take the journey from Southhampton to New York which had claimed her sister ship, the First World War broke out.

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The Britannic was turned into a medical vessels in 1915. Whilst the company had made a number of crucial changes to this ship to ensure that it didn't suffer the same fate as her sister Titanic, including the provision of more than enough lifeboats, it was sunk during world war one by a German torpedo. Only thirty people lost their lives.

38. Violet Jessop

Amazingly, despite narrowly avoiding death onboard the Titanic, a number of people who had worked on the doomed liner continued their careers on the sea. One of these people was a woman named Violet Jessop who had been a stewardess on the Titanic and escaped on a lifeboat, having been instructed to carry a baby.

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On the Carpathia the next day, a woman reportedly came up to Violet, took the baby from her, and said nothing. Violet's experience on the Titanic didn't prevent her from working as a stewardess on the Britannic during World War One with the British Red Cross. However, when the Britannic sank, Violet found herself having a much closer brush with death, and almost died after she was forced to jump out of her lifeboat and hide under it whilst it was destroyed by the ship's propeller. She got a serious head injury but lived until she was 83.

39. The curse

Whilst Violet's story could be regarded as a remarkable coincidence, many people believed that those who survived the Titanic were cursed. In fact, at least 10 survivors went on to take their own lives. And an actress who survived the sinking, Dorothy Gibson, for example, ended up in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two.

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The cursed survivor who stands out most to me, however, was stewardess Annie Robinson. She was so traumatized by her experience on the Titanic that she killed herself in October of 1912 when she was traveling onboard another ship that was passing through a patch of dense fog. Terrified of another disaster, she committed suicide by jumping from the ship's deck.

40. The law was changed

Over a hundred years on from the sinking of the Titanic, people young and old remain captivated by its glorious beginning and tragic demise. Ultimately, a number of factors contributed to this terrible disaster. As a result, various laws were changed to prevent a similar atrocity from ever happening again.

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The Titanic disaster resulted in various maritime laws being changed in both Britain and the United States. The first of which, naturally, was the number of lifeboats which were legally required on a vessel - never again would a ship be allowed to set sail without enough boats for everyone onboard. The absence of a lifeboat drill would never happen again either, nor would officers possess insufficient knowledge about how to evacuate a ship. Another notable change was the development of ice patrols in areas known to be treacherous for passing ships.

An equally colossal loss of life has never occurred on the ocean since the night of April 14th, 1912. Its the legacy that the 1,517 souls left to the world the night the grandest ship in the world was swallowed by the ocean. Even now, in 2018, new evidence about the "ship of dreams" continues to be uncovered. The Titanic's legacy will never die. People will always be fascinated by this tragedy because it was so unnecessary.