Promptly at 12:30 P.M. on April 10, 1912, the thunderous blasts of the Titanic’s foghorns signified that the liner was preparing to sail as tugs nudged it away from its pier. Tragedy nearly struck immediately as the enormous suction of the huge liner's hull pulled on the U.S. liner New York, snapping the lines holding it to the pier. As a result, the New York’s stern swung out toward the Titanic. Quick action by a tugboat caught the New York before it could smash into the Titanic.
The normal custom of the White Star Line ships was to sail from Southampton, England, across the English Channel to Cherbourg, France, to pick up additional passengers. Then during the night the ships would cross to Queenstown, Ireland, where last-minute Royal Mail bags were delivered to the ships and where many of the third-class passengers—often bound for a new life in America—would board from special ferry boats. The Titanic reached Ireland for her mail and final passenger pick-up on April 11.
Among the passengers, thoughts of perishing at sea were likely few and far between. The Titanic was regarded as the last word in naval architecture. Fifteen transverse bulkheads divided her hull into 16 watertight compartments with doors that were controlled electrically. The Titanic was described as “practically unsinkable” by the Shipbuilder's souvenir issue, so confident was everyone about its construction. The confidence, however, did not stop the owners from taking out a $5 million insurance policy on the hull of the ship, covered by such companies as the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company of New York City, with the first premium of $100,000 being paid before the Titanic sailed. Hence, White Star was partially covered against any total loss, and the policy ultimately was honored in full.
So delighted was Ismay with the second of his majestic vessels and the elite passengers who had booked to sail on its maiden voyage that he decided to join them to receive his share of the plaudits. After all, the passenger list included Colonel John Jacob Astor, arguably the wealthiest man in the U.S., and his new wife, who was expecting, and Mr. Isidor Straus, the founder of Macy's Department Store, and his wife. Other distinguished passengers included President William Howard Taft's military attaché Archibald Butt; Mr. and Mrs. John B. Thayer, a senior vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and their teenage son Jack; and Mrs. Margaret Brown of Denver, Colo., who was to gain fame as the Unsinkable Molly Brown for taking command of a lifeboat.
Into the Open Sea
The green hills of Ireland swiftly fell away as the Titanic’s engines built up to full speed in its afternoon departure from Queenstown. In first class the orchestra played jaunty tunes, and the chefs in the kitchens worked their culinary magic. There was little to do in their cabins for first-class passengers except to change their clothes several times every day in order to have the correct appearance according to the hour. Some wealthy passengers even took more than one cabin so as to have additional closet space for colossal steamer trunks and wardrobes. Anything tagged “not wanted on voyage” was consigned to the appropriate baggage rooms. An upper-grade first-class cabin on the Titanic could cost more than $600 in 1912 (equal to about $13,000 today), and a suite of rooms much more than that. They were enormous sums compared with the earnings of an American laborer ($20 to $30 a month) or a schoolteacher ($200 to $350 a year). On the other hand, one could cross in third class for as little as $26.50, which enabled you to travel on the same ship as the privileged even if the food might best be described as “wholesome.”