Today’s Illustration: A Titanic Mistake – Technology

   Trusting In Technology!

When: 1912

By the time of  Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912, most passenger ships operating in the North Atlantic had a Marconi installation staffed by Marconi Company operators.

Communication between ship and shore was by Morse code, as it was for conventional telegraphy. The equipment only transmitted messages for about 300 miles in daylight, although that figure doubled or tripled after dark thanks to the refraction of long-wave radiation in the ionosphere.”

What: The Marconi Radio

  • Born in Italy on April 25, 1874
  • Guglielmo Marconi is an Italian inventor
  • 1901 –Marconi “sent the first signals across the Atlantic Ocean” [5]
  • 1909 — Nobel Prize in Physics
  • 1910 — Marconi “was introducing radio waves to the world that could travel more than 6,000 miles.”
  • “Guglielmo Marconi died at the age of 63 during 1937”
  • The Marconi Radio was responsible for fewer lifeboats on board the Titanic because it was believed that the Marconi decreased the time necessary for other ships to get to the site of a disabled vessel.

    “During these early years, Marconi’s invention proved itself a lifesaving technology to a particular group of people:  those at sea. Marconi had hoped from the beginning that the system would end their isolation and give them a way to call for help. The first incident that demonstrated this potential came in 1899 when a vessel rammed by a steamship in heavy fog used the system to call for a lifeboat. In 1909, when the S.S. Republic collided with an Italian steamer, the Marconi radio operator onboard the Republic was able to guide rescue ships to its position to save more than 1,700 passengers.” [3]

    “There were a number of reasons as to why this was the case, but basically the reason was nobody thought that the lifeboats would be needed as a means to save everybody on board. Rather, they’d just be used as ferries to transport people from one ship to another in the event of an accident, the thinking there bringing us to the technology of Marconi radio. It was thought that it’d be possible to contact any ship in the area, and that they’d be nearby to lend assistance.” [4]

  • The Sinking Of The Titanic, April 15, 1912
  • “Titanic was fitted out with some of the best wireless equipment available.”
  • “But there was not yet an established practice of keeping a clear channel for emergency communications. . . . the channels were open to everyone at the same time. . . . Since Titanic’s wireless operators were transmitting over the same frequency as other ships, and the channels were jammed with passenger communications, several ice warnings from other vessels were either missed or ignored.” [1]
  • SOS or CQD?:  “The International Radiotelegraphic Convention, signed in 1906, had agreed on SOS—three dots, three dashes, three dots in Morse code—as the international distress signal. The Convention had come into force in 1908, but ‘CQD,’ the Marconi Company’s distress signal, was still widely used at the time of Titanic’s voyage, including by Jack Phillips.”
  • Britain’s Postmaster-General . . . . referring to the Titanic disaster: “Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi … and his marvellous invention.” [6]
  • “Marconi was offered free passage on the Titanic before she sank, but had taken the Lusitania three days earlier. As his daughter Degna later explained, he had paperwork to do and preferred the public stenographer aboard that vessel.” [6]

Titanic History:

  • The White Star Lines had made a decision to build a threesome of grand passenger ships to compete with the Cunard Lines, for Transatlantic voyages.
  • The competition was for ships that were larger, able to hold more passengers, and more luxurious.
  • The ships designed were so large that “Harland & Wolff – Belfast,”  the shipbuilder of that day, had to allocate space and redesign their dock building area to handle such large ships.
  • These three large sister ships were built between were . . . .

The Gigantic / or Olympic
The Britannic:
The Titanic: 

• Launched May 31, 1911
• 882.75 feet long / 92.5 feet wide / 45,000 gross tonnage
• Coal-burning steam-powered with 29 boilers / 159 furnaces / burned 600 tons of coal a day
• Ships Rudder: 78 feet 8 inches high / 15 feet 3 inches wide  / weight over 100 tons
• Maximum speed 21 knots
• Was built with 16 water-tight compartments.
• Could stay afloat with any two compartments flooded
• A British shipping trade journal labeled her “unsinkable.”
• Maiden Voyage – April 10, 1912
 It was equipped with a “radiotelegraph transmitter, able to send and receive “marconi-grams.”
• Lifeboat capacity was 1,178  — about half the number of passengers on board — This was because of the invention of the “radiotelegraph,” which was believed to now be able to communicate with other ships in the area and seek help were an emergency to occur on the high seas. [2] [3]
• The maiden voyage was delayed by two events:  #1 — The HMS Hawke had a collision with the Olympic. The owners wanted to repair any damage to the Olympic before the Titanic was launched. #2 — There was a coal strike, and coal had to be taken from the Adriatic and the Oceanic to fuel the maiden voyage.
• Stuck by an iceberg – Sunday evening, April 14, 1912
• Sank, the early morning hours on Monday, April 15, 1912
• Over 1500 people died
• The remains of the Titanic were discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985 and remain on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean – at approximately 12,415 feet underwater.
• The Titanic was the second largest ship that ever sank — its sister ship, The Britannic, being the largest



Key Illustrative Thoughts:

  • “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord.”
  • The Gospel
  • progress
  • trust
  • over-confidence
  • Salvation
  • Who knew?
  • false confidence
  • “The Titanic” – a metaphor for disaster
  • technology
  • wrong distress call
  • help
  • prayer
  • communication


Sermonic Example: 

(include whatever details you find useful)

. . . . Three dynamics were operating by the time the Titanic disaster took place . . . .

#1 – There was no established distress call. Some ships still used CDQ, and others were making the change to SOS. The Titanic was using the CDQ distress call letters until finally, someone ordered the use of SOS  since it might be the last distress signal that would be received.

#2 – No single frequency was reserved for ships issuing a distress call. The telegraph message could be “stepped on” by other users of the Marconi and were.

#3 – It was believed that the Marconi radio provided a significantly increased level of safety. Any ship in distress could use the Marconi to signal for help and arrive to lend the needed aid in plenty of time. Fewer lifeboats were required and were included on the Titanic for that reason.

Some of those same dynamics operate when it comes to the Lord directing us during difficult days! . . . .

Additional Information & Links:






“Communication by wireless had just emerged. It was a scant seventeen years after Guglielmo Marconi discovered an application for Hertzian waves, and only fifteen years following the formation of the ‘Marconi’s Wireless Company, Ltd.’, on Hall Street, Chelmsford, U.K. The installation of wireless on ocean going vessels began in the early 1900’s but the initial intent was profit from transmission and receipt of messages, mainly commercial to compete with the already well established overland wire services. Thus, the Titanic, as with other ocean liners, were equipped with Marconi wireless systems primarily for handling of message traffic for revenue. The responsibility of the wireless operator was transmitting and receiving messages known as “MarconiGrams”. These included stock exchange quotations, business, private and news services. Wireless for signaling distress was incidental. The multitude of ships in categories other than passenger carrying, had no purpose to be equipped with wireless This was the sentiment of the period. The implication of wireless as a means of safety at sea, was remote. The absence of regulations governing both safety of life at sea and wireless, contributed to the Titanic disaster.

To understand the role of wireless on the night of April 14th, is to understand the primitive stage of wireless technology of the period. To begin with, the generated signal of the spark transmitter was blunt and broad. The spectrum it occupied was for example, all of today’s broadcast band and then some. The lopsided theory of the period demanded brute force power for the wireless signal to reach the point of reception. The receiver aboard the Titanic utilized a magnetic detector, and a galena crystal receiver, each having
a poor selectivity characteristic. Selectivity as a specification for receivers and band-width for transmitters were yet to be an established criteria. Hence, in close proximity operation of stations, whoever hit the air first, occupied most of the spectrum. Thus, denying stations within close distance, the ability to communicate with others, unless a tuned circuit, such as a wave trap, was employed at the receiver to minimize the interfering signal.

The precise frequency of the Titanic and the Californian transmitters at the time of the incident is not known. Nevertheless, whatever the separation, poor receiver selectivity and the closeness of the two vessels about ten miles apart, allowed but one transmitter operation. Herein, because regulations and procedures were lacking governing the wireless operators, the inevitable blow to the Titanic was struck.

Aboard the Californian, the wireless operator Cyril Evans turned on his wireless to dispose of his routine traffic. But being only ten miles from the Titanic, the operator on duty on the Titanic advised Evans to “shut up”, as he was interfering with traffic to Cape Race, Newfoundland. Evans complied. Being the lone wireless operator on the Californian and having worked a long day, Evans retired for the night.” [2]

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