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Titanic was high-tech marvel of its time

Sharon Gaudin | April 16, 2012
When the Titanic set sail 100 years ago this month, it was a marvel of state-of-the-art technology that captured the world's interest.

Most ships of the day could transmit messages a distance of 100 to 150 miles during the day, according to Trower, a contributor to the Titanic Commutator, the Titanic Historical Society's magazine. However, the Titanic's wireless system was capable of transmitting messages for 500 miles during the day and 2,000 miles at night.

"They had the very best, the very latest in wireless equipment," Trower said. "There were only two wireless operators onboard, both young men. They were the computer geeks of the day. These guys ate, slept and breathed wireless. Think of computer nerds sitting in the basement in their underwear surfing the Internet. These were those kinds of guys. They were good at what they did, but it was still slow."

A Marconi wireless message telling of the Titanic's distress call is displayed at Bonham's auction house in New York. (Image: Reuters/Keith Bedford)

However, many people say the chief wireless operator and the wireless system, or at least how it was used, were part of a string of problems that led to the ship's tragic sinking.

According to both Vadus and Trower, passengers were so excited about their cross-sea excursion and the opportunity to send wireless messages to friends and family at home that they overwhelmed the wireless operators and the machine with personal messages. The wireless operators, inundated with messages to send, became overworked and tired.

That was going to be a critical mistake.

Around 11:30 p.m. on April 14, an operator on the SS Californian, a British steamship sailing not far from the Titanic, messaged the Titanic, warning the captain that there was ice ahead. Stressed and fatigued, Jack Phillips, the Titanic's on-duty wireless operator, angrily shot back the message, "Shut up, Shut up, I'm working Cape Race."

Phillips meant that he was busy relaying messages to a wireless station in Cape Race, Newfoundland, about 800 miles away.

The Californian didn't respond to the Titanic's distress signals because its wireless operator had gone to bed after being rebuffed about his iceberg warning.

About 10 minutes later, the Titanic's lookout spotted an iceberg 500 yards away and called out an alarm. The Titanic struck the iceberg, ripping openings in the hull along the starboard side near the bow.

Around 12:30 a.m. on April 15, less than an hour after the ship hit the iceberg, the Titanic began to sink.

The forward part of the ship's deck started to go underwater at 2:05 a.m., according to Trower. Both the bridge and the wireless room were located on the upper part of that section of the ship. The bridge went under shortly thereafter.

As the ship's bow went under, the stern rose into the air.


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