Example:   [Lord, 1986]
Then there is the legend that the Titanic was advertised as "unsinkable." The press, captivated by the ironical implications, has faithfully repeated the story through the years. Actually, the White Star ads never made such a claim about the Titanic or her sister ship Olympic. All promotion almost invariably used the simple slogan "Largest and finest steamers in the world."
Origins: An apprehensive female traveler approaching the gangway of an enormous new passenger liner gazes up in amazement at its looming hulk. "Is this ship really unsinkable?" she nervously inquires of a nearby deck hand.
"Yes, lady," the deck hand answers. "God himself could not sink this ship."
This scene is a familiar tableau from the Titanic saga, a simple and effective invocation of our familiar image of a ship everyone was so sure was unsinkable that it carried only enough lifeboats to seat a third of its complement. But the Titanic was obviously not unsinkable. In fact, it wasn't as unsinkable as the engineering of the era allowed, and it was less "unsinkable" than a ship constructed over half a century earlier.
By the time the Titanic came along, commercial pressures that required more spacious and accessible areas for passenger service, additional room for accommodations and cargo, and a more efficient working space for the engine crew meant that the bulkheads in her watertight compartments didn't carry quite as high, and she had no double hull (only a double bottom), watertight bulkhead deck, or longitudinal bulkheads in her engine and boiler rooms. The Titanic could survive rammings by another ships or foreseeable types of head-on collisions, but not the type of accident that sank her, the opening of holes in several of her watertight compartments simultaneously. Safety features that were possible were eschewed in favor of what was practical — as Walter Lord wrote, "The appearance of safety was mistaken for safety itself."
Is it true that the Titanic was really believed to be "unsinkable" back in 1912, or was that belief a product of latter day myth-making? In the example quoted above, Titanic writer Walter Lord claims that the White Star line never advertised her as such. He also quotes London Times journalist Philip Howard, who wrote in 1981:
Thus, Lord concludes:
However, claiming (as White Star did) that although others may have used the word, White Star itself did not describe the Titanic as "unsinkable" in its advertising is a bit disingenuous. The February 1993 issue of The Titanic Commutator unearthed a White Star promotional flyer for the Olympic and Titanic that claimed "as far as it is possible to do, these two wonderful vessels are designed to be unsinkable." Perhaps that statement encapsulates one of the key lessons the world should have gleaned from the Titanic disaster: When dealing with matters of safety and human lives, "possible" and "practical" are two very different things.
Last updated: 18 December 2005
Heyer, Paul. Titanic Legacy: Disaster As Media Event and Myth. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1995. ISBN 0-275-95352-1 (pp. 12-14, 23). Lord, Walter. A Night to Remember. New York: Bantam Books, 1955. ISBN 0-553-27827-4 (p. 42). Lord, Walter The Night Lives On. New York: Avon Books, 1986. ISBN 0-380-73203-3 (pp. 17-23). Robinson, Geoff and Don Lynch. "The 'Unsinkable' Titanic As Advertised.'" The Titanic Commutator. February 1993.