Revealed: an engineer’s verdict on the Titanic before its fateful voyage

An engineer’s verdict on the SS Titanic in 1911, just a few months before its fateful voyage, has been retrieved in the run up to the 100th anniversary of its sinking in April 1912.

The engineer wrote the four-page academic paper, entitled “Electrical equipment of the SS. Olympic and Titanic" for British industry journal The Electrician in July 1911. The hundred-year old abstract is indexed in the Inspec Archive database operated by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

Alongside descriptions of cutting-edge turn of the century technology, there are a couple of fateful references to the Titanic’s eventual demise including the ship’s lauded “Marconi wireless apparatus” – or early radio system – “designed for a working range of 250 miles.” In the eventuality, the system worked well.  However, despite warnings from the SS Californian of the ice pack directly in the way of the ship’s route, the wireless radio operator on duty chose to ignore them – with disastrous consequences.

The anonymous author is clearly impressed by the features of the ship, which were state-of-the-art at the time: “The vessel is equipped with a full set of electrical communications, including stoking indicators, helm indicators, latest Graham telephones, and synchronised clocks” he says.

Daniel Smith, Head of Academic Publishing at the IET, said: “It’s not surprising that the Titanic and its older sister, the Olympic, were of interest to engineers and electricians in 1911. These were the finest ships ever made at the time and were fantastic engineering feats in their own right.

“Of course, with the sinking of the Titanic on 15th April 1912, this academic paper has become a remarkable piece of engineering history. It gives us a chance to see the ship with fresh eyes, in the way the writer did a century ago.”

The famously lavish interior decoration of the ship, and its innovative features, are described at length in the paper. At one point the engineer mentions that “there are four passenger electric elevators” and that there are “Supply and exhaust fans [to] ensure warmed fresh air in the passenger quarters.”

Meanwhile, “Over 10,000 lamps, mostly tantalum, are installed; first-class state-rooms are fitted with dimming switches. Most of the electric light fittings for passenger accommodation are of majolica, as this does not tarnish; many illuminated signs and directions are provided.” Such luxuries would have excited passengers and engineers alike.

Searching Inspec for articles about the Titanic

Conducting a search on Inspec for material related to RMS Titanic should be simple at a first glance, its only when you first type Titanic In the search box and press search do the “ice bergs” pop up. The main problem you find yourself navigating around is associated with the titanium industry as different materials containing titanium can be described as ‘titanic’. You will find titanic acids, dioxide, gels, etc. A good starting point to avoid these is to search for “RMS Titanic” or “Titanic  AND ship”.

If we include the Inspec Archive in our search we begin to encounter relevant publications from the time period before the Titanic set sale and immediately after it tragically sank.

If you also include the front file from 1969 you are able to find records that range from how structural failures doomed the Titanic, how weather had a part to play, how the wreck was discovered using deep sea submersibles and even how the Titanic story can help us avoid pitfalls in modern day project management.