The Talented Trio Behind Titanic
At the time it was built, the Titanic was the biggest and most technologically advanced ship ever built. While 15,000 workers at Harland & Wolff contributed to building the massive ship, these three individuals are most often credited with its design.
William James Pirrie
The leader of the project was William James Pirrie, (1847-1924) a Canadian-born British Lord. Pirrie was a director of White Star, the passenger line that owned the Titanic, and also chairman of Harland and Wolff, the firm that built the ship in its Belfast shipyard in the early 1910s. Pirrie started with the shipbuilding firm as an office boy and worked his way up to the top, gaining a reputation as a hands-on boss who oversaw every step of construction and frequently made unannounced inspections of projects. It was Pirrie who, along with White Star’s managing director J. Bruce Ismay, who in 1907 first dreamed of a ship big enough to overshadow the competing Cunard Line’s Lusitania. Pirrie directly supervised the Harland and Wolff draftsmen who created the first drawings of the Titanic in 1908.
Marine architect Thomas Andrews (1873-1912), native of Northern Ireland, was the Harland and Wolff’s construction manager and head of the design department. He also happened to be Lord Pirrie’s nephew, but Andrews rose though the ranks of the shipbuilding firm primarily due to his own energy and enthusiasm. During his apprenticeship, when he made the rounds of various departments learning rigging, plating, engine building, and other specialties, he came home after 12 hour workdays and took additional classes in mechanics, engineering and marine architecture on his own. It was Andrews who actually designed the ship’s complex inner steel framework. He also looked for possible flaws and tried to correct them. After observing a troubling amount of vibration during a sea trial of the Titanic’s sister ship Olympic, for example, Andrews added reinforcing steel in key areas, including where the Titanic’s double bottom met the main hull. When it came time for the Titanic’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic, it was Andrews who went along to represent Harland and Wolff in place of Lord Pirrie, who was ill at the time. After the ship’s fateful collision with an iceberg, he was the first person that the ship’s captain turned to for advice. After inspecting the damaged and flooded areas, Andrews determined that the ship was sinking, and that there was no way to prevent it. Andrews heroically ushered others to the lifeboats and helped them to flee to safety, while he stayed behind and perished with the ship that had been his crowning achievement.
Alexander M. Carlisle
Alexander M. Carlisle (1854-1926) was the shipyard’s general manager and chief draftsman. In addition to handing procurement of equipment and materials and overseeing the actual construction, Carlisle designed the ship’s lavish decor. Carlisle left Harland and Wolff in 1910, before the Titanic’s completion, to join Welin Davit and Engineering Co. Ltd. In 1911, Carlisle attended meetings of the project’s advisory committee, in which he proposed equipping the Titanic with a new type of davit developed by his company, each of which was capable of holding four wooden lifeboats. Carlisle hoped to put as many as 64 lifeboats on the Titanic, more than enough to handle the ship’s maximum capacity of 3,600 people. White Star agreed to install the davits but didn’t fill them. Instead, the company opted to carry just 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsible ones, which was enough to comply with regulations, even though that provided refuge for just 1,178 passengers and/or crew. Carlisle, who gave testimony to the British inquest into the Titanic disaster, spent the final dozen years of his life immersed in public controversy. He provoked the ire of many by angrily opposing repressive legislation about Ireland, and became a friend of the Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, visiting the deposed monarch after he was exiled to Holland following World War I.