On the evening of April 14, 1912, the world witnessed what has come to be one of the biggest dramas of the 20th century. RMS Titanic — the luxurious and “unsinkable” ocean liner — sank against all odds when it collided with an iceberg in the middle of the frigid Atlantic.
The ship promised to bring incredible fame to its constructors, Joseph Bruce Ismay of White Star Line and Lord William Pirrie of Harland and Wolff, and its financier J.P. Morgan.
The beginning of 20th century witnessed an ongoing battle between shipbuilders all competing to construct the grandest and most luxurious ship. It was an equivalent of the Cold War space race.
Besides competing in grandeur and luxury there were social and political reasons in constructing enormous ships. According to Messy Nessy Chic, historian and writer John Maxtone-Graham explained, “they wanted to provide room for this flow of immigrants anxious to leave the old world for the new.”
That is why Titanic was built alongside two other ships, Olympic and Gigantic, later renamed to Britannic, in 1911. To the naked eye Olympic could have been mistaken for an exact replica of Titanic but they were not identical copies. Titanic, in terms of tonnage, was larger and details both in the exterior and interior differed. Nonetheless they were so similar that photos of two ships are still confused for one another.
An illustrative example of their likeness is the fact that some photos which we still believe were taken on the more famous of the two ships were in reality taken on Olympic. Sadly, nobody ever photographed the magnificent Grand Staircase on Titanic.
However, there are photos of the duplicate staircase at Olympic that were presented as showcasing a part of its twin ship. This similarity helped many conspiracy theories to proliferate and continuously crop up even today. Some believe that Titanic was actually Olympic and that it was purposefully sunk as part of a grand insurance scam.
Both ships screamed luxury and offered amenities that made travel on them feel like one is staying in a first-class hotel. They featured Turkish baths, a gym and swimming pools.
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Even the 2nd and 3rd class passengers enjoyed previously unwitnessed comfort. They featured dining rooms, smoking rooms, libraries and their own elevators.
Sadly, both ships had something lacking — rescue boats. As Titanic witnessed its demise, and lifeboats proved to be of utmost importance, Olympic luckily had a happier ending.
On the fateful night of the Titanic, Olympic was on a return voyage from New York and was 500 nautical miles away from her twin when the accident happened. The crew of Olympic received a distressed call from Titanic when the fatal iceberg was hit. Olympic immediately altered its course to assist in the rescue of the passengers that were on board Titanic.
However, when the ship came to within approximately 100 nautical miles, Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, who was already at the scene, advised the crew of Olympic not to approach any closer.
Firstly, the load of people would only endanger the further travel of Olympic. Furthermore, as the ship was the spitting image of Titanic, there was a danger that the remaining Titanic passengers, already traumatized, would fall into a frenzy which would provoke drama on board Olympic.
Olympia changed course and resumed her journey to the New World. However, all the passengers on the ship together with the crew mourned the loss of their fellow humans on board Titanic and the travel took on a rather somber tone.
Olympic continued to sail after the fate that had struck Titanic. However, the constructors had learned a lesson and filled the ship with lifeboats. It is believed that some of the boats were second-hand.
Allegedly, they were the ones that safely carried some of the Titanic’s survivors. The third ship from the family, Gigantic, was renamed Britannic so that it would not evoke memories of Titanic’s name. HMHS Britannic first started sailing in 1914.
Soon after the first world war broke out Olympic started carrying even more people, now people displaced from their homes wanting to reach the safety of America. But, as the ships were needed for war purposes, she was camouflaged as a “dazzle ship” and started transporting soldiers on board.
The ship was retired in 1935 and her parts were donated and sold to help to build other ships. However, you can still enjoy a luxurious dinner “on board”. The complete dining room is preserved and located at the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, Northumberland.