Today in Media History: Wireless telegraph reported the sinking of the Titanic

April 15, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

On April 15, 1912, the news media reported that the British steamship Titanic sank after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

Information about the disaster came fast, but it was often inaccurate, leading to numerous incorrect headlines and stories.

Two days after the sinking, The Detroit News published a story titled, “1,241 missing, 868 saved from Titanic; hope of more rescues abandoned.” Here is an excerpt:

“White Star liner Titanic, biggest and most luxurious ship ever built, on her maiden voyage, struck an iceberg 1,030 miles east of New York, at 10:30 Sunday night, and sank in four hours. 1,241 of those on board, probably including practically all of crew, went down with vessel. Prominent men among the missing include John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, George D. Widner, Henry B. Harris, Jacques Futrelle, William Reobling, Isador Straus, Maj. Archibald Butt, and William T. Stead.

868 survivors, mostly women and children, after drifting eight hours in open lifeboats in ice filled sea, picked up by liner Carpathia, which will land them in New York late Thursday night….”

The front page of The New York Herald:

The New York Herald, April 15, 1912, Library of Congress Image

The New York Herald, April 15, 1912, Library of Congress Image

This is how The New York Times began their April 15th story:

“CAPE RACE, N.F., April 15. — The White Star liner Olympic reports by wireless this evening that the Cunarder Carpathia reached, at daybreak this morning, the position from which wireless calls for help were sent out last night by the Titanic after her collision with an iceberg. The Carpathia found only the lifeboats and the wreckage of what had been the biggest steamship afloat.

The Titanic had foundered at about 2:20 A.M., in latitude 41:46 north and longitude 50:14 west. This is about 30 minutes of latitude, or about 34 miles, due south of the position at which she struck the iceberg. All her boats are accounted for and about 655 souls have been saved of the crew and passengers, most of the latter presumably women and children. There were about 1,200 persons aboard the Titanic.”

Page one news from the New York Tribune:

New York Tribune, April 16, 1912, Library of Congress Image

New York Tribune, April 16, 1912, Library of Congress Image

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At the end of an article in The New York Sun, John George Phillips, the ship’s senior wireless telegraph operator was mentioned. As one of the Marconi telegraph operators, Phillips called other ships for help as the Titanic sank into the North Atlantic. It is not clear how, but he died either on the ship or later in a lifeboat.

The ship’s wireless telegraph, a new technology in 1912, saved hundreds of lives.

Back in the United States, news organizations used the same technology to quickly gather information about the sinking of the Titanic.

In addition to newspapers and magazines, silent newsreels also reported the story of the Titanic. It is a story that continues to fascinate people today. (You might have even seen a 1997 movie about it.)