In an era when the comings and goings of titled or moneyed men and women on both sides of the Atlantic were followed by the lower classes with the same devotion that later generations would devote to professional athletes and popular entertainers, the style in which these rich and famous persons traveled had to be on a par with their station in society. Consequently, the First Class accommodations aboard the Titanic were, in the words of a special edition of the technical journal Shipbuilder, “of unrivalled extent and magnificence….” The periodical continued:
“The First Class public rooms include the dining saloon, reception room, restaurant, lounge, reading and writing room, smoking room, and the verandah cafes and palm courts. Other novel features are the gymnasium, squash racquet court, Turkish and electric baths, and the swimming bath. Magnificent suites of rooms, and cabins of size and style sufficiently diverse to suit the likes and dislikes of any passengers are provided. There is also a barber shop, a darkroom for photographers, a clothes pressing room, a special dining room for maids and valets, a lending library, a telephone system, and a wireless telegraphy installation. Indeed everything has been done in regard to the furniture and fittings to make the first class accommodation more than equal to that provided by the finest hotels on shore.”
The centerpiece of the Titanic‘s decor was the Grand Staircase. Beginning under an opulent, white-enameled, wrought-iron skylight on A Deck, it descended through four decks to the First Class entrance on D Deck, in an elaborate William and Mary style, surrounded by a Louis XIV balustrade.
(This image copyright R.G. Whiteside; used with permission.)
The landing on D Deck admitted to the First Class Reception area, which led directly to the First Class Dining Saloon.
The First Class Dining Room (actually, it was properly called the First Class Dining Saloon) was the largest such room yet seen in a ship, it was over 114 feet in length, and ran the full width of the hull. With a 500-seat capacity, it presented a vast sea of spotless white linen tablecloths, glittering crystal, and gleaming silver; at each table stood an awaiting quartet or sextet of oak armchairs, upholstered in handsome hunter-green leather.
The First Class Smoking Room, located on the Promenade or A Deck, perhaps best served to epitomize the care and expense lavished on the Titanic‘s interior. A carefully orchestrated assembly of carved mahogany-paneled walls, inset with leaded glass panels and etched-patterned mirrors, enclosed the handsomely tiled floor, on which sat massive leather-covered armchairs set before or beside lovingly carved, marble-topped tables.
The First Class Smoking Room was an unbreachable bastion of masculinity and affluence carefully blended on a scale never seen before or since. The entire atmosphere immediately evoked images of silk waistcoats, gold watch chains, expensive cigars, and the deep baritones of rail barons, shipping magnates, international publishers, and millionaire businessmen. Nowhere else on the Titanic was the incredible investment of time and talent as evident–an investment no shipbuilder could ever afford to make again.
The staterooms and suites for the First Class passengers were, of course, on a scale in keeping with the other First Class amenities. Instead of the usual bunk or berth typical of the transatlantic liner of the day, each stateroom had its own full-sized, wrought-iron bedstead, as well as a washstand with hot and cold running water.
If a passenger were willing to spend the extra money whole suites of three, four, or five rooms could be booked, in decors that included several Louis (XIV, XV, and XVI), Empire, Jacobean, Georgian, Queen Anne, Regence (as the British insisted on spelling “Regency” for years), and Old or Modern Dutch.
The most exclusive of these suites were located on B Deck, and even featured a private promenade–at a cost of $4,350, that is, nearly £1,000–for a one way passage: the equivalent of over $80,000 expressed in 1997 dollars. At close to $40 a front foot, the Titanic‘s promenade suites, handsomely half-timbered in a mock-Tudor style, were the most expensive sea-going real estate ever.
The craftsmanship and meticulous construction were carried over fully into Second and Third Classes as well.
Indeed, Second Class rooms, public and private, could have been mistaken for First Class on almost any other ship on the North Atlantic, including the Dining Saloon, Smoking Room, and Library.
The six decks that comprised Second Class were served by an electric elevator (First Class had three, but in 1911 any elevator was a novelty), and while the Second Class staircase may not have been as grand as that of First Class, it was still an exceedingly handsome structure.
In what was certainly a bonus for Second Class, both First and Second Classes shared a common galley, one of the finest in existence afloat or ashore. (There are few four star restaurants today that could duplicate the menu from First or Second Class for April 14, 1912.)
Third Class was a story unto itself. A great many myths have built up around the flood of immigrants that flowed to the shores of the New World at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, aided by a spate of romanticized reporting, photographs, and artwork from the period. All too often these “steerage”–as Third Class was commonly known–passengers are portrayed as “tired, poor…huddled masses,” as babushka- and shawl- beclad mothers gripping the hands of small, wide-eyed children, or as young men in ill-fitting clothing clutching their few belongings in loosely tied bundles, all hoping to find their fortunes in such exotic locales as New York, Pittsburgh, or Chicago.
The truth, as with so many subjects of the journalism of that day, was a good deal more mundane. Despite the increasing numbers of central and southern Europeans emigrating to America, the majority of those leaving the Old World for the New were still Anglo-Saxon. Many were Germans, whose Fatherland was undergoing a bewilderingly rapid transformation from an agrarian society to an industrial juggernaut, with all the attendant social dislocations; many others were Britons, often skilled or semi-skilled workers, sometimes craftsmen, occasionally members of the professions, forced to seek employment in America as Britain began her slow decline industrially and economically. To these people a ship was transportation, its sole purpose to take them from Southampton (or Cherbourg or Queenstown) to New York. Passengers like these were not influenced by Grand Staircases, electric elevators, swimming baths, or Smoking Rooms. Their interests lay in clean quarters and decent food. In this respect the Titanic served them admirably.
Third Class berthing was divided between the fore and after ends of the ship. Single men and married couples were berthed forward, while single women and families were accommodated aft. (There was a Puritanical streak in the White Star Line, apparently peculiar to the line, that assured single men and women wouldn’t have cabins anywhere near each other.) The cabins were spacious, spotless, and if a bit austere, were by all reports comfortable enough. The unmarried men or women would share a room with three to five other passengers of the same sex, while married couples and families had rooms to themselves.
Third Class accommodation included a large number of permanent cabins both fore and aft, as well as large sections of berths formed by movable wooden partitions, so that the numbers and sizes of the cabins could be adjusted to the number of passengers, and the unused space given over to open common areas. The days of the cramped, dark hold, reeking of unwashed humanity and bilge were long since a thing of the past in British and German liners, but, as in so many other ways, the Titanic set new standards. The offerings of the Third Class galley were surprisingly distinguished — at every meal the Third Class passengers could count on good food and plenty of it; in some cases, especially those from the more impoverished Irish counties, the steerage passengers ate better aboard ship than they ever had at home. All in all, their accommodations were a good deal more than most would be expecting when they paid for their passage.
Color image of the Grand Staircase courtesy of R.G. Whiteside; all other color images courtesy of Anton Logvynenko.