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Return to <i>Titanic</i> Return to Titanic

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Titanic was meant to be the biggest and best ship of her day. Then she sank in 1912. Yet she's still the most famous boat on Earth.


On April 10, 1912, hundreds of people crowded onto a dock in England. They came to see the Titanic set off on her maiden voyage. What made the ship so special?

First of all, Titanic was the largest ship in the world. She was as long as four city blocks. Many people called her "the wonder ship." Others said Titanic was the best ship ever built. Some even believed she was too strong to sink!

That's not all. Titanic was also a floating palace. She was one of the first ships with a pool. She had fine wood and gold chandeliers.

As a result, some of the wealthiest people in the world were aboard the ship. They traveled on the upper decks. Poorer passengers and the crew lived on the decks below.

The first days of Titanic's voyage toward New York were like a party. Passengers celebrated in grand fashion. They thought they were making history. They were right.


Everything started out smoothly. By the 14th of April, Titanic was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The weather was clear. That night, the stars glistened against the cold, dark sky.

Shortly before midnight, a sailor on lookout spotted something in the darkness. He couldn't really see it. But he knew it could be only one thing´┐Żan iceberg. An iceberg is a floating mountain of ice that has broken away from a glacier. Hitting an iceberg can damage a ship.

The sailor quickly sounded the alarm: "Iceberg right ahead!" The crew jumped into action. They tried to turn Titanic away from the iceberg. But it was too late. The ship scraped along the mountain of ice.

At first, the problem didn't seem too bad. But the iceberg had damaged the ship. Water poured in. Nothing could stop it. Water soon flooded the lowest decks. It kept rising. The crew knew that the unsinkable ship would sink.


Slowly, the wonder ship's nose dipped into the water. Her stern, or back, rose high in the air. In just a few hours, the whole ship would sink. The crew shot off fireworks to tell other ships that Titanic needed help.

Sailors on a passing ship spotted the fireworks. They thought the fireworks were part of a celebration, however. So they did not help the sinking ship.

Meanwhile, Titanic's crew began trying to save passengers. Some people quickly ran from their rooms. Many were still in their pajamas. On the main deck, a band played music to calm them. Others refused to believe there was any real danger.

The ship's crew put people into lifeboats. Women and children mainly went first. But Titanic didn't have enough lifeboats for all her passengers. And, in the rush, some lifeboats left with empty seats. After the last boat left, 1,500 people were still aboard the sinking ship.

A little after 2:00 a.m., passengers heard a terrible sound. Titanic was ripping apart. People jumped off the doomed ship into the icy water. She vanished into the sea at 2:20 a.m.

Titanic sank more than two miles to the ocean floor. Two-thirds of her 2,200 passengers and crew went down with the ship.

The unsinkable ship that sank lay beneath the Atlantic Ocean for 71 years. Then National Geographic helped an explorer go look for her.


As a kid, scientist Robert Ballard was interested in shipwrecks. He especially loved reading about Titanic. "My lifelong dream," he says, "was to find this great ship."

Ballard became an ocean explorer when he grew up. He visited underwater mountains in the middle of the Atlantic. He found giant worms that live in the Pacific. And he never forgot his boyhood dream—to find the Titanic.

The task seemed impossible. Some people said Titanic had been crushed. Others thought she had broken into little pieces. Everyone agreed the ship was far too deep to reach.

But Ballard was determined. In 1985, he and a French scientist took ships to where Titanic had sunk. They used high-tech tools to explore the ocean floor. For weeks, they found nothing.

Then they sent down an underwater craft called Argo. Its cameras took videos of the ocean floor and sent them up to the ships.


Argo searched for several days. Still nothing. Ballard was sure he had failed. Shortly after midnight on September 1, he decided to get some sleep. He really needed it.

Barely an hour later, someone woke him up. Metal objects were showing up on the video screen. These things could only have come from a boat. Soon the team spotted a huge ship engine. They had found the Titanic!

Over the next few days, Argo circled the wreck. Ballard almost couldn't believe what he saw. Titanic's bow, or front, was stuck in mud. Yet the ship still looked huge.

Ballard also found many sad reminders of Titanic's passengers. He saw beds, suitcases, cups, and countless shoes. It was almost like visiting a sunken museum.

Ballard wanted to see more. But he had run out of time. He had to return home. Before leaving, though, he vowed to come back.


Ballard kept his promise. In 1986, he rode down to Titanic in a tiny submarine. And he sent a deep-sea robot, named J.J., into the ship.

As it explored, the robot sent pictures to Ballard. He called J.J. a "swimming eyeball."

J.J. glided down Titanic's grand staircase. It peeked into her gym. The robot also gazed at chairs, bowls, and other items on the seafloor.

Before leaving, Ballard wanted to honor the tragic ship. He left a plaque to remember the people who had died. Aside from that, he left everything exactly the way he found it.

Ballard didn't see Titanic again for years. He went back in June 2004. He wanted to know how the great ship was doing.

He found that other visitors have really damaged the ship. Submarines have punched holes into Titanic's main deck. And people have taken about 6,000 things from the wreck. These include dishes, lamps, a statue, a safe, and even pieces of the ship herself.


Ballard is upset that people have taken things from Titanic. He thinks that people should leave the ship alone. He says that taking her things away is like robbing a grave.

But Ballard does want to put cameras around the wreck. That way people can see Titanic. And they can remember her short, sad glory.

Article by Susan Goodman. Online Extra and Links by Brian LaFleur. Titanic photo by Popperfoto, "Return to Titanic" appears on pages 4-9 of our November-December 2004 issue.

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The Titanic was the most impressive ship of her day. The world's largest ship at the time, she was truly a floating palace. Here are some of the reasons why this ship was such a big deal.

  • At 882 feet and 6 inches, the ship was almost as long as three football fields.
  • From the bottom of her keel to the top of her stacks, Titanic was 175 feet high. There were a total of nine decks, or levels.
  • Titanic's engines used more than 800 tons of coal each day. The ship could reach a speed of 24 knots, or about 27 miles per hour.
  • There were electric lights in all the ships' rooms. Titanic used more than 10,000 lightbulbs.
  • The ship had a heated swimming pool, a gym, two libraries, and two barber shops.
  • To feed the crew and passengers, Titanic needed 75,000 pounds of meat, 11,000 pounds of fish, and 40,000 eggs.
  • The ship also carried 40 tons of potatoes, 3,500 pounds of onions, 36,000 apples, and 1,000 loaves of bread.
  • Each day, the passengers and crew used 14,000 gallons of drinking water.

// LINKS //

Quick Flick: Submarines
When explorers search the ocean's depths, they often use submarines. This cartoon explains how these deep-diving machines work.

National Geographic Channel: Return to Titanic
Learn more about Robert Ballard's recent visit to the Titanic. Watch video and explore the ship.

National Geographic News: Titanic Damaged
Explorer Robert Ballard wants the Titanic to be protected from suffering further damage. Read more about the ship's present condition.

Titanic Facts
Ever wonder how many heads of lettuce were aboard Titanic? Get this and other answers here.

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