The Titanic was a remarkable engineering achievement and the largest ship in history when it was completed. Did the Titanic also have electricity?
The Titanic had extensive electrical systems. They were powered by four steam-driven electric generators, each producing 400kW of electricity, as well as two auxiliary generators in case of an emergency. The Titanic used state-of-the-art technology, including the most powerful wireless communication system available in 1912.
For more on the Titanic’s electricity and how the ship was powered, read on.
As part of the White Star Line’s new Olympic class, which also included the Olympic and the Britannic, the Titanic was intended as one of the great ships of the 1910s.
Having been left behind somewhat in the speed race in comparison to their rivals the Cunard Line and their German competitors, White Star had changed their philosophy.
Instead of focusing on speed, White Star’s belief was that people would happily spend an extra day on the water if their journey was comfortable and entertaining enough.
The Olympic class embodied this attitude; the ships would not be as fast as Cunard’s record-setting ships from a few years earlier but they would offer far greater luxury.
One of the keys to creating the promised atmosphere and entertainment on the ship was in its use of electricity. While the ship’s movement was powered by coal, there were an enormous amount of different electrical systems onboard.
The Titanic received its electricity from four steam-driven generators, each producing 400kW of electricity. The electric machinery center was more powerful than the average city power station of the day. There were also two auxiliary generators in case of an emergency.
The main control panel was more than 30 feet long and controlled the ship’s generators, fans, and the huge amount of lighting that was present throughout.
Some of these electrical systems were designed to interact with the older coal-powered systems on the ship. For example, the ship had condensers that turned steam back into water and the operation of these condensers was controlled by an electrical system.
There were other state-of-the-art electrical systems onboard, such as a number of machines that were used to filter salt out of the ocean water in order to make it drinkable.
All of the clocks on board were controlled by a central clock on the bridge. This meant that, as the ship passed through several time zones on its way to New York, Captain Edward Smith could adjust all of the onboard clocks at once from the bridge.
The Titanic had four elevators, with three of these gathered in a bank in the First Class area of the ship. The First Class elevators were designed to allow the ship’s elite passengers to move from area to area without needing to pass through the Second and Third Class sections.
Some of the First Class cabins featured telephones for the use of their occupants. These were designed for calling other passengers and could not be used to call people back on land.
The Titanic’s wireless communication system used morse code and was the most powerful available at the time. The standard wireless systems of the period could send messages up to a maximum of 150 miles during the daytime, whereas the Titanic’s system could send them as far as 500 miles.
It was essential for long-distance communication and proved its worth when the ship’s crew called for assistance after the Titanic struck the iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912.
Nothing could be done to save the ship or the majority of its passengers, but the message reached the RMS Carpathia. The Carpathia arrived in time to rescue more than 700 people from their lifeboats on the freezing North Atlantic Ocean.
The system was not perfect, however, and still relied on a human element. The wireless operators were overwhelmed by the huge amount of excited passengers who wished to send messages back home throughout the journey.
When they received a message from the nearby SS Californian warning them of floating ice, it was not welcomed by the Titanic’s wireless operator, Jack Phillips. Stressed and overworked, Phillips responded angrily, resulting in the Californian’s operator going to bed.
Had Phillips taken the message seriously, the Titanic might have been saved. After the ship struck the iceberg, Phillips dutifully continued sending distress messages until the ship sank, at the cost of his own life.