By the first decade of the Twentieth Century the North Atlantic passenger trade had become a competition filled with jingoistic overtones, far more than a simple commercial rivalry between shipping firms. Every steamship line had its proponents, every vessel her partisans. Marine engineering had come to be regarded as the pinnacle of human achievement, and the Titanic as the ultimate expression of the marine engineer’s art. Every aspect of her design and construction examined and critiqued by a surprisingly knowledgeable public that would debate her details with equal discernment, regarded with as critical an eye as any racing thoroughbred.
While today it may seem that such a fascination with facts, figures and statistics of equipment and machinery amounted to little more than “rivet counting,” they were the subjects of innumerable discourses and arguments over many a pint in the local pub, in the drawing rooms of middle-class families, and over cigars and brandy when the ladies withdrew after dinner in some of the finest houses in Britain and America. In many ways, the steamships of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had become the secular equivalent of medieval cathedrals. They were the source of endless pride to the communities and nations that built them, and were just as much an expression of men’s hopes and dreams of technical perfection as the great churches had once been of hopes for spiritual purity. And as in the days of the cathedrals, each level of society contributed to the great seagoing structures’ creation and upkeep. The upper classes endowed them by paying for their most elaborate and expensive accommodations; the burgeoning middle class supplied their material needs by being purveyors of the foodstuffs and cellars, linens and cutlery, fuel and accoutrements that each vessel required in prodigious amounts; and the working classes built them investing a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail not seen since the raising of Salisbury or Winchester. The Titanic represented the pinnacle of this symbiosis, and the pages that follow offer an insight into what together they wrought….