TITANIC DISASTER NEWSPAPER ARCHIVE
Two major historical events compete for recognition on April 14. At 10:00 p.m. on April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln. At approximately 11:40 PM, April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic on its maiden voyage struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank to the bottom of the sea at about 2:20 a.m. the next morning, taking the lives of 1,517 people.
The sinking of the Titanic was the first international news story of the twentieth century to receive instantaneous, intensive coverage world-wide. By 1912, the development and use of telegraphs and photographs had reached a point that allowed news about the Titanic tragedy to be spread quickly and widely.
American newspapers had an advantage over the British press, since survivors of the Titanic were brought to New York City. American newspapers had some of their best reporters in place when the first inquiry into the disaster was held by the U.S. Senate at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, the day after the survivors landed.
Though not an uncommon mistake, the London Daily Mail ran the unfortunate headline on April 16, 1912, "Titanic Sunk. No Lives Lost. Collision with an Iceberg. Largest Ship in the World. 2,358 Lives in Peril. Rush of Liners to the Rescue. All Passengers Taken Off." Compare this to the New York Herald April 15, 1912 headline, "The Titanic Sinks with 1,800 on Board; Only 675, Mostly Woman and Children, Saved"
Not much fanfare appeared in newspapers before the maiden voyage of the Titanic began. Newspapers that would soon produce some of the most bombastic headlines of the early twentieth century were curt when the ship took to the seas. The New York Tribune, which published one of the most famous Titanic sinking headlines a few days later, on April 11, 1912, ran a two sentence article on page 6 of its 14 page edition about the start of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The entirety of the coverage was; "The White Star liner Titanic, which sailed from Southampton yesterday, is now 'the largest vessel of the world.' But how long will it be before there is a super-Titanic." Ten months earlier newspapers provided much coverage of the maiden voyage of Titanic's sister ship The RMS Olympic on June 14, 1911, making the first voyage of the Titanic old news before it even took place.
The first reports of the disaster published on April 15 contained many inaccuracies. A bias toward optimism can be seen in the first headlines and articles regarding the fate of the super-liner and her passengers. The stalk reality of the scope of the disaster is clearly evident in the reporting that began to emerge on April 16. Many newspapers began publishing more detailed accounts of the sinking with much more accurate information beginning on April 17th.
A major factor that fueled the coverage was the number of wealthy and note worthy individuals aboard the Titanic such as: Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor; Benjamin Guggenheim; Major Archibald Willingham Butt, President Taft's military aid; J. Bruce Ismay, managing Director of the White Star Line; William T. Stead, well-known English editor; Isidor Strauss, wealthy New York merchant and Macy's owner; Denver millionaire Margaret "Molly" Brown; Frank Millet, noted artist; James Clinch Smith, sportsman and society man of New York and Paris; and Henry B. Harris, theatrical manager and producer.
Newspapers fed the public interest in the Titanic disaster by publishing sensational banner headlines, reports, stories, special sections, photographs, and editorials. This collection shows the result of different efforts to balance the need to sell newspapers and the reporting of accurate information.
The horror and loss that constituted the disaster of the sinking of the Titanic evoked a strong human need to find something heroic, even redemptive in the event. Later research by scholars have not been able to substantiate many inflated tales of honor and daring-do that were widely reported to a stunned public. For example, most Titanic researchers can find no hard evidence to support the widely reported story that Titanic victim Major Butt single handily stood between men, who to save themselves, would deny the extrication of women and children from the sinking Titanic. A headline from the April 19, 1912, Los Angeles Times read: "Maj. Butt with Gun in Hand, Held Back Frenzied Men, Saved Women; Capt. Smith a Suicide on Bridge." Later other newspapers further embellished, reporting that it was "crazed Sicilian men" who had to be threatened at gun point to allow for the egress of women and children from the Titanic by lifeboat.
The newspaper articles cover details that are still in dispute today, such as the controversy over what the Titanic band was playing as the ship sank, some say it was the hymn "Autumn", and others say it was "Nearer My God to Thee." Accounts differ as to the last moments of Captain Smith. Press coverage established 100-year commonly accepted anecdotes such as Mrs. Strauss giving up her seat in a lifeboat in order to remain with her husband on the doomed ship; And Bruce Ismay's alleged cowardice, climbing aboard a lifeboat though women and children were waiting for places.
Among the many Titanic subjects covered by the newspapers were: Iceberg sightings in the area of the sinking; Efforts by the Carpathia to rescue survivors and return them to land; The American enquiry into the disaster held the United States Senate, headed by Senator William A. Smith in which eighty-two witnesses were called; Accounts by survivors of the Titanic sinking; Various theories about the sinking, some which today seem laughable; The role played or not played by ships such as the Carpathia, SS Californian, Mackay-Bennett, Minia, Montmagny and the Algerine; The effort to recover Titanic victims' bodies at sea; The British Board of Trade enquiry into the disaster; Judgments about the Titanic sinking and recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy.
Although The Titanic is the focus of the collection, the disaster appears alongside other news of the day. Events of note that shared newsprint with the Titanic disaster includes: The ugly battle for the Republican nomination for the 1912 presidential election between Incumbent President William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt; After former President Theodore Roosevelt fails to receive the Republican nomination he creates the Progressive Party, also known as the "Bull Moose Party"; The Summer Olympic Games open in Stockholm, Sweden; The Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa; U.S. Marines land in Cuba; Movement toward the prohibition of alcohol; The growth of labor unions and labor strikes; The death of Wilbur Wright; United States occupation of Nicaragua; The First Balkan War begins between Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey; Fashion trends of the day are illustrated in ads by Gimbels, Lord & Taylor, and Macy's.
The Newspapers in this set include:
New York Times
Los Angeles Times
New York Tribune
The Washington Herald
The Sun (New York City, NY)
The Evening World (New York City, NY)
The Day Book (Chicago, IL)
Trenton Evening Times
The Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA)
The San Francisco Call
El Paso Herald
Medford Mail Tribune (Medford, OR)
The Watchman and Southron (Sumter, SC)
The Tacoma Times
New Brunswick Times (New Brunswick, NJ)
The Evening Standard (Ogden City, UT)
Evening Bulletin (Honolulu, HI)
The Hawaiian Star (Honolulu, HI)
The Hawaiian Gazette (Honolulu, HI)
The Yakima Herald (Yakima, WA)
Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, AZ)
The Democratic Banner (Mt. Vernon, OH)
The Citizen (Honedale, PA)
Bisbee Daily Review (Brisbee, AZ)
Burlington Weekly Free Press (Burlington, VT)
The Logan Republican (Logan, UT)
The Mathews Journal (Mathews Court House, VA)
The images are scans of newspapers that are part of the holdings at the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, The New York Public Library, California State Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Library of Virginia, Ohio Historical Society, Washington State Library, Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records, University of California, Riverside, University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of Kentucky, University of North Texas and the University of Utah Marriott Library.
The Images on the discs are at a higher resolution than the samples below. The images can be zoomed in and out to see detail and to read the articles.