Timeline of Key Titanic Events

By Stephen J. Spignesi

Part of 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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.