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A Night to Remember

By on April 14th, 2012

It was 100 years ago today that perhaps the most famous disaster—and certainly the most famous maritime disaster— occurred. At 11:40 p.m. ship’s time (GMT –3), the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg on her maiden voyage. It foundered, and finally sank the following day, April 15, 1912. The ship was proclaimed by The Onion to be “the world’s largest metaphor,” but Scientific American, which reported on the disaster at the time, has a thorough Web series devoted to the doomed steamship. In particular, a story and interview with engineer and author Henry Petroski over the extent to which it is possible—or not—to build an “unsinkable” ship.

It is dangerous to cast engineering projects in such absolute terms—of course there had to be some combination of conditions under which the ocean liner would have failed. As elegant and grand as it was, however, the Titanic—like any other ship—was far from unsinkable.

And the recent incident involving the Italian cruiseship Costa Concordia, while bearing any resemblance to the Titanic only in that they were both boats that sank, illustrates the fact that even 100 years later, boats remain far from unsinkable. Except, perhaps, for Molly Brown.