As a symbol of might and power, Titanic was designed to make a big splash.
It was conceived by the White Star Line as the second of three giant ocean liners intended to compete with archrival Cunard for the burgeoning trans-Atlantic passenger business of the early Twentieth century.
The Cunard Line was famed for the speed of its ships, such as the Lusitania and Mauretania. In a classic positioning exercise White Star decided to focus on size and luxury. The names of these floating palaces had to get the competitive advantage across in no uncertain terms.
White Star looked to Greek mythology. The Titans were powerful god’s called the “elder god’s” that ruled the earth. But they were overthrown by the Olympians.
The new line of ships were to be of Olympian scale and size. The first, named Olympic, was duly launched in October 1910 and sailed on its maiden voyage in June 1911.
Then came Titanic. It was bigger than Olympic. Launched in May 1911, it was the largest ship in the world.
Titanic left Southampton for its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 calling at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland before heading westwards towards New York. Four days into the crossing she hit an iceberg and sank the next day, April 15 1912.
The third ship in the White Star’s grand plan for trans-Atlantic domination was already under construction. It would be even more grandiose. It would be gigantic.
References in contemporary publications indicate that White Star had abandoned all restraint in the naming of the third sea monster. Gone was the gentile veil of classical allusion. They just put it out there – Gigantic. Size matters! The hyperbolic naming sequence had all the populist urgency of Cecil B. DeMille-style Hollywood hype – Olympic! Titanic! Gigantic!
But the feverish public interest in these massive ocean liners abated after the Titanic disaster. Passengers were suddenly less concerned with grandiosity than they were with safety. ‘Gigantic’ underwent extensive modifications and was launched quietly in April 1914 with the dignified name Britannic.
Britannic was promptly requisitioned by the British government to serve as a World War I hospital ship. It hit a mine and sank in November 1916. Olympic fared better. It had a long and illustrious career before it was consigned to the scrapyard in 1935.
Titanic lives on, if only as a synonym for hubris and disaster movies.