The Titanic tragedy, as seen through editorial cartoons (1912)

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The Titanic disaster, as seen in editorial cartoons (1912)
The fact that the Titanic didn’t have enough lifeboats for all the passengers was sort of an open secret — and The White Star Line, owner of the Titanic, was able to get away with it because the ship was widely-considered to be “unsinkable.”

Apart from the themes of sadness and loss after the disaster, one recurring motif in many of the editorial cartoons during the days and weeks that followed the disaster of April 14, 1912, was the artists’ commentary on the absurdity of the situation. The Titanic was one of the most luxurious, well-appointed cruise liners ever, with seemingly no expense spared… except when it came to passenger safety in the event of an emergency — and that is a choice that has never been forgotten, or forgiven.

Foresaw tragedy through few lifeboats

Emil Taussig, president of the West Disinfecting Company of New York, who lost his life on the Titanic, made persistent endeavors while alive to get the United States steamship inspection service to enforce regulations that would compel steamships to carry enough boats to give every person on board a seat in case of an accident.

Letters written by Mr. Taussig to the officials of this service at Washington give evidence that he foresaw with remarkable clearness the possibility of Just such a disaster as the one which cost his life. Those letters were written in 1908 and 1909 and are in part as follows:

“It will certainly be calamitous if, at the next disaster which may occur, any of the passengers have lost their lives, simply because there were not lifeboats enough for them to get into. That is a responsibility that nobody would be willing to shoulder.

“In lieu of all these matters brought before you. and your experience in the service. is the board willing to take the responsibility that in case of an accident to a vessel a large number of people lose their lives due to the fact that there were lifeboats carried by the ship to save only a small portion of the passengers?

“Do you want to take the responsibility in view of the added facilities in the direction of entrusting steamships to carry a sufficient number of lifeboats to enable anyone to say these people lost their lives owing to the fact that the board of steamship supervising inspectors did not prescribe or compel steamships to carry more boats?

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“Just as sure as you are living and just as sure as there is a sun above us this thing will come to pass sooner or later, unless the rules are amended compelling steamships to carry more boats.”

Syndicated article, as published in The Citizen (Honesdale, Pennsylvania) on May 1, 1912

“The Whited Sepulchre”

Caption: “Luxuries of the sea: Swimming pool, tennis courts, elevators, Palm room, gymnasium, grill room, but FEW LIFE BOATS.”

From The Montgomery Times, Alabama

Everything for enjoying life, but not much to save it.

From the Detroit News

“Wireless Anarchy”

From the New York World

Time to get busy

Uncle Sam: “By Ginger, I’ll take a firmer grip on this business hereafter,” turning a ship wheel with “Navigation laws” written on it, while a “Steamship magnate” looks on.

From the St Louis Republic


From the Detroit News

MORE: Saved from the Titanic: A woman’s story (1912)

The Refuge

From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat


Book: “The Lost: John Jacob Astor, Henry B. Harris, [Major] Archibald Butt, Washington Roebling, Benj. Guggenheim, J.G. Widener, [Charles] M. Hays, W.T Stead, F.D Millet, Isidor Straus, Cart E.J. Smith. The Saved: J. Bruce Ismay.”

Cast in shadow

Paper: “Titanic Disaster, Final Report”

Globe: “The World”

From the Des Moines Register and Leader

Grieve not, the spirit of Manhood still lives

Woman: “Chivalry”

Paper: “Roll of Honor – ‘Women and children first'”, “First Cabin – Second Cabin – Third cabin – Steerage”, “Lost – 1,310”

From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat


Cuff: “U.S”

Pen: “Legislation”

Poster: “Modern Ocean Liner Equipment | Golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, grand dining saloons, electric elevators, gymnasium, Turkish baths, Verandah cases, glass site baroors, electric baths, squash racquet court”, (overlayed) “More life-saving boats”.

Desk: Paper reads “Titanic” – Desk reads “Steamship Company”

From the Cincinnati Post

The tragedy of the Titanic

Hand: “Fate”

Lever: 1,300 lives

Book: “International requirements governing life-boat equipment”

From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Nearer, my God, to thee

From Toledo News-Bee

Gettin’ the lesson

Uncle Sam: “It works out just the same every time!!”

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Pants: “U.S.”

Chalkboard: “2,500 passengers – 890 crew = 3,390 total capacity”, “Lifeboats = 20 | Capacity of each – 60 persons / 20 = 1200 total”, “3,390 – 1200 = 2,190 remain”.

From the Indianapolis News 

Lest we forget

Banner: “In memory of the brave men who died that so the women may live”

From the Indianapolis Star 

The eternal collision

Iceberg: “Fact”

Ship: “Theory”


Poster: “Luxury, Elegance, Speed, Grandeur, Magnitude”

Sign: “Safety”

Woman: “Humanity”

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The guardian angel of the sea pays tribute to the martyred heroes

Caption: “Toll for the brave! – The brave that are no more! All sunk beneath the wave, fast by their native shore. – Cowper”

Wreaths: “He was a man”, “Bravery”, “Women and children first”, “Hero Col. Astor”, “Hero”, “Henry B. Harris – Hero”, “Hero Major Butt”, “The Marine Band”, “Heroes” (2), “Sailors”, “Self-sacrifice”

Wreck of the Titanic

Ghostly figure: “Spirit of Heroism”, “Women and Children First!”

Boat: “Titanic”

From the Cincinnati Post


Drowning person pointing to the caption: “[Life saving appliances] were inadequate”

From the Columbus Evening Dispatch


Caption: “Fireproof”, “Non-sinkable”

From the Columbus Evening Dispatch


Caption: “Steamship agent — The Brobdingnagian has gymnasium, natatorium, playgrounds, elevators, etc. etc.

“Prospective travelers — How about seats in the lifeboats?

“Steamship agent — Ah, that’s different. We can’t afford the space or the weight.”

From The New York Mail

“A sacrifice to carelessless and greed”

Poseidon with the Titanic speared by his trident

From The Montgomery Times, Alabama

“Nothing we can call our own but death”

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania

“Truth lies at the bottom of the sea, and Dead men tell no tales”

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania

“To the heroes of the Titanic”

Caption: “Greater love hath no man than this. That a man lay down his life for his friends.”

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania

“Nature’s tribute”

Illustration: Ice floes, including one shaped like a weeping woman looking down into the dark ocean depths.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania

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