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Sinking of the Titanic: Primary Sources - Maryland State Library Resource Center

Sinking of the Titanic:  Primary Sources

Before the R.M.S Titanic set out on her maiden voyage, film footage was taken while the passenger liner was under construction in the Thompson Dry Dock at Belfast.

Nearly 20 years after first finding the sunken remains of the R.M.S. Titanic, marine explorer Robert Ballard returned in June 2004 helped by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Ocean Exploration to study the ship's rapid deterioration.

What really happened the night that the Titanic sank? Was the Titanic really built to be "unsinkable?" What happened to passengers in the first, second, and third class areas as the ship began to sink?


Diagram of the Titanic from the British "Report on the Loss of the Steamship 'Titanic,'" which analyzed the sequence of events when the ship and iceberg collided.

The following are a selection of primary resources available at the Enoch Pratt Free Library/SLRC that include first-hand accounts of Titanic survivors and British and American government inquiries into the cause and circumstances of the collision, rescue efforts, and life-and-death decisions during the Titanic disaster.

Pratt Picks: Sinking of the Titanic - Staff Recommendations for more good reading and viewing on the Titanic

Accounts by Survivors

Gracie, Archibald. Titanic. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1986. G530.T6G7 1986.
Memoir by Titanic passenger Colonel Archibald Gracie who initiated his own inquiry by interviewing other survivors. The second half of the book contains excerpts from American hearings on the Titanic disaster in 1912.

Jessop, Violet. Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters. Edited by John Maxtone-Graham. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Sheridan House, 1997. G530.J45 J47 1997.
Memoir written in 1934 by a ship stewardess who survived the Titanic sinking.

Winocour, Jack, ed. The Story of the Titanic: As Told by Its Survivors, Lawrence Beesley, Archibald Gracie, Commander Lightoller, Harold Bride. New York: Dover, 1960. G530.T6W57 [1960] 
Four accounts by Titanic survivors: two originally published in 1912, one in 1913, and one in 1935.

Newspaper and Magazine Accounts

Caren, Eric, and Steve Goldman, eds. Extra Titanic: the Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day: From the Collections of Eric Caren and Steve Goldman. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1998. G530.T6E95 1998q.
Consists entirely of photocopies of newspaper pages and some full-page photographs from the time of the Titanic sinking.

The Pratt Library Periodicals Department has the following newspaper and magazine articles published at the time of the Titanic that tell about the launching, voyage, and sinking of the ship, as well survivors' stories:

"866 Total Saved From Wreck; Virginian Failed to Rescue: Death List of Titanic Now 1,492." Evening Sun, April 16, 1912, p. 1+.
This article corrects the misinformation reported by the previous day's Evening Sun, which stated that the Titanic and its passengers were safe.

Titanic Headline 

"All Titanic Passengers Are Safe; Transferred in Lifeboats at Sea." Evening Sun, April 15, 1912, p. 1+.
This famous headline and article reported that all the Titanic's passengers were safe and that the ship Virginian was towing the Titanic to Halifax, Nova Scotia. This article shows that early reports of an historical event may be inaccurate or misleading.

Coit, Stanton. "The Rescued, by an Eyewitness on the Carpathia." Outlook, vol. 100, April 27, 1912, pp. 894-895.
Dr. Coit wrote this account of the rescue of the Titanic survivors within days of the event.

Gracie, Archibald. "Out of the Wreck." Outlook, vol. 100, April 27, 1912, pp. 895-897.
Colonel Gracie, an aide to President Taft, provided this harrowing account of his experiences in the hours after the ship struck the iceberg.

Griffin, Henry Farrand. "Sixteen Boats and a Quiet Sea." Outlook, vol. 100, April 27, 1912, pp. 898-905.
This article pinpoints the insufficient number of lifeboats as a primary cause of the loss of life.

Inglis, William. "Greatest of Sea Tragedies." Harper's Weekly, vol. 56, no. 2887, April 20, 1912, pp. 28-30.
This early account of the sinking of the Titanic and the rescue of its surviving passengers was written prior to the arrival of the rescue ship Carpathia in New York harbor.

"New Liner Titanic Hits an Iceberg; Sinking by the Bow at Midnight; Women Put Off in Life Boats; Last Wireless at 12:27 A.M. Blurred." New York Times, April 15, 1912, p. 1+.
One of the most accurate early reports was this New York Times article that appeared within hours of the last wireless communication from the ship. At this point the extent of the disaster was still not clear to anyone but the survivors in the lifeboats.

Taylor. D. W. "Lessons From the 'Titanic' Disaster." Popular Mechanics Magazine, vol. 17, no. 6, June 1912, pp. 797-808.
This in-depth analysis of what might have prevented this maritime disaster includes some interesting photos and illustrations.

Government Documents (Investigations)

Great Britain, Parliament. Report on the Loss of the S.S. Titanic. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. VK1255.T6R47 1990q.
Presents details about the Titanic, the rescue effort, and evidence of the damage from the iceberg. The court states its findings and recommendations.

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce. "Titanic" Disaster. Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, United States Senate…Pursuant to S.Res. 283, Directing the Committee on Commerce to Investigate the Causes Leading to the Wreck of the White Liner "Titanic" April 19-May 25, 1912. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1912. VK1255.T5A5

Titanic Websites

Encyclopedia Titanica - Looking for statistics on the Titanic? How about lists of passengers, crew members, and survivors?  You'll find it all here at Encyclopedia Titanica

Expedition Titanic: Return to the Deep - This resource, a product of RMS Titanic, Inc., uses new technology to give us a real sense of what it would be like to explore the Titanic in its watery graveyard.

NOAA Ocean Explorer: RMS Titanic Expedition 2004 - Nearly 20 years after first finding the sunken remains of the R.M.S. Titanic, marine explorer Robert Ballard returned in June 2004 helped by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Ocean Exploration to study the ship's rapid deterioration. Don't miss the dramatic (and eerie) video.

"Titanic" Disaster Report of the U.S. Senate 1912 -  A total of 82 witnesses testified before a special U.S. Congressional subcommittee about ice warnings that were ignored, the inadequate number of lifeboats, the ship’s speed, the failure of nearby ships to respond to the Titanic’s distress calls, and the treatment of passengers of different classes.

Titanic Historical Society - The Titanic Historical Society maintains a museum in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. Although the website features lots of merchandise, it also offers some useful articles and information.

Titanic Universe - This well-designed web resource features articles on the construction, sinking, and wreckage of the Titanic. You'll also find a fascinating collection of Titanic artifacts and videos.

Titanica - This website at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum offers many details about the Titanic, including personal stories and 500 original artifacts.

UK National Archives - Read stories from passengers and search the passenger and crew list. Explore the Titanic timeline. Watch video's with historians discussing the Titanic.

Ask Us

If you would like more information on the Titanic, e-mail us through our
Ask A Librarian  service or contact the Social Science and History Department .

Social Science and History Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
Maryland’s State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 396-5321

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