Timeline of Key Titanic Events

Part of the The Titanic For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The events surrounding the construction, voyage, and sinking of the Titanic — and the people involved in those events — have been a source of fascination for a century. Here are some of the key dates in the Titanic story, starting before its conception and ending with centennial celebrations in 2012.

1898 Morgan Robertson publishes a seemingly prophetic novella called Futility (later renamed The Wreck of the Titan). In this tale, the world’s largest steamship — the Titan — hits an iceberg and sinks.
1907 April 30: J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, and Lord William James Pirrie, a partner in the shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff, agree to build the Titanic.
July 1: The order is officially placed with Harland and Wolff for the construction of the Titanic.
1909 March 31: The first keel plate for Titanic is laid in the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Ireland.
1910 October 19: Plating of the Titanic is completed.
1911 May 31: The Titanic is officially launched from Harland and Wolff Slip Number 3. The launch is witnessed by more than 100,000 people.
1912 March 31: The outfitting of the Titanic is complete.
April 2: Five tugs tow the Titanic down Victoria Channel to Belfast Lough for sea trials, which include maneuvering the ship at different speeds, evaluating the performance of the helm, and performing an emergency stop. After successful sea trials, the British Board of Trade awards the Titanic her passenger certificate. The Titanic departs Belfast under the command of Captain Edward J. Smith and proceeds to Southampton, England.
April 3: The Titanic arrives in Southampton and docks at Berth 44.
April 10: The Titanic casts off, accompanied by six tugboats, and has a near collision with the New York. After this delay, she leaves Southampton and sails to Cherbourg, France, where she takes on more passengers. The same evening, the Titanic departs from Cherbourg, bound for Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland.
April 11: The Titanic drops anchor in Queenstown harbor and takes on more passengers. Later, she raises her starboard anchor for the final time and departs Queenstown harbor for New York.
April 14, 9 a.m.: The Titanic receives the first of several messages warning of icebergs in the area.
April 14, 11:40 p.m.: In the crow’s nest, Frederick Fleet sees an iceberg looming directly ahead in the Titanic’s path. He rings a 16-inch brass bell three times and picks up the telephone that connects to the bridge. Sixth Officer James Moody answers. Fleet shouts into the phone, “Iceberg right ahead.”

First Officer William Murdoch immediately orders maneuvers to avoid the iceberg. He sounds a bell alarm for ten seconds to warn crew below decks that the watertight-compartment doors are about to be closed. Murdoch then pulls the switch to slam the doors shut.

A mere 37 seconds after Fleet spotted the danger, the Titanic collides with an iceberg.
April 15, 12:05 a.m.: Captain Smith orders the Titanic’s lifeboats uncovered and the crew and passengers assembled.
April 15, 12:15 a.m.: The Titanic sends out her first distress call.
April 15, 12:45 a.m.: The Titanic’s first distress rocket is fired. The first lifeboat, No. 7, is lowered from the starboard side.
April 15, 1:40 a.m.: The Titanic’s last distress rocket is fired.
April 15, 2:05 a.m.: Collapsible D, the last lifeboat to hold passengers and crew, is lowered from the port side. Collapsibles A and B, free from their tie-downs, are swept from the deck.
April 15, approximately 2:17 a.m.: The Titanic’s last wireless distress call is transmitted: “We are sinking fast.”
April 15, 2:18 a.m.: The Titanic’s lights fail. People in the lifeboats hear an enormous crashing sound as things in the ship — from grand pianos to engines — break free and plunge toward the ocean.
April 15, 2:20 a.m.: The Titanic’s stern rears up out of the ocean, poises upright for a moment or two, and then plunges downward, splitting in two and sinking 2.5 miles to the bottom of the ocean. More than 700 survivors watch the nightmarish tragedy from lifeboats.
April 15, 4:10 a.m.: The Carpathia arrives at the site of Titanic’s foundering and begins taking on survivors. The rescue operation continues for four hours.
April 15, 8:50 a.m.: Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia sets sail for New York with the Titanic’s survivors.
April 18: The Carpathia arrives in New York with the Titanic’s survivors. More than 10,000 people line the docks.
April 20: The cable ship Mackay-Bennett arrives at the site of the Titanic’s foundering to retrieve bodies. A total of 328 bodies are recovered.
May 13: The last lifeboat belonging to the Titanic is found adrift in the Atlantic by the Oceanic. Three bodies in the boat are buried at sea.
May 18: More than 30,000 mourners attend the burial of the Titanic’s bandmaster Wallace Hartley in his hometown of Colne, Lancashire, England.
1955 November: Walter Lord’s history of the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember, is published. It goes on to become the bible for Titanic historians.
1985 September 1: A joint French-American scientific expedition led by Robert Ballard discovers the wreckage of the Titanic 2.5 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic.
1987 August: An expedition by IFREMER (the French oceanographic institute that co-discovered the wreckage in 1985) to the site of the Titanic retrieves some 1,800 artifacts.
1994 June 7: A Norfolk, Virginia, court names RMS Titanic, Inc., the salvor-in-possession of the Titanic and any and all artifacts the company recovers. In order for possession to remain in effect, RMS Titanic, Inc., must remain “in possession” of the ship, thus requiring periodic visits to the site, some of which have been solely for photography.
1997 December 19: James Cameron’s film Titanic opens in the United States to excellent reviews and extraordinary business.
1998 August: RMS Titanic, Inc., successfully raises a 20-ton piece of the Titanic’s hull, known as the Big Piece, to the surface.
2009 Elizabeth Gladys Millvina Dean, the last Titanic survivor, dies in England at the age of 97.
2012 Titanic centennial commemorations take place in Belfast, Southampton, Halifax, and other cities important to the Titanic’s history. Commemorative cruises to the North Atlantic are launched as well.
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