The keel for the Olympic, Harland & Wolff Yard No. 400, was laid on December 16, 1908 under the shipyard's new Arrol Gantry. Here sister, Titanic, was built alongside of her, trailing some several months in the Olympic's wake. The Olympic was launched on October 20, 1910.
The world's newest, largest and most luxurious ocean liner made her maiden voyage on June 14, 1911. Aboard the ship was J. Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line, son of the Line's founder. Also aboard was Harland & Wolff's Thomas Andrews, nephew of Lord Pirrie. Captain Smith - who would go on to command the Titanic on her legendary and ill-fated maiden voyage the following year - was in command. The Olympic was so remarkable that by the time she had docked in New York, the formal order for the third entrant of the Olympic-class was placed.
During the following ten months, the Olympic garnered the lion's share of the fame on the Atlantic. Her sister Titanic was not given anywhere near the attention as had been lavished on the Olympic in 1911 simply because she was the second of the class. Only after she sank did the Titanic eclipse the Olympic's fame.
Following the loss of the Titanic, the Olympic returned to Harland & Wolff for extensive modifications that included the addition of a new watertight bulkhead which divided her Electric Engine Room, the installation of an inner skin running the length of her Boiler and Engine Rooms, and the raising of several critical transverse bulkheads all the way to B Deck. During this refit, the Olympic was also endowed with several Titanic-like modifications, such as the Cafe Parisian, and emerged slightly larger than her younger sister had been in April of 1912.
Her career continued uninterrupted until the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. Thereafter, she saw an extensive layup in Belfast, which was followed by distinguished service as a troop transport. The ship enjoyed great success in this guise, earning a reputation for reliability which was sorely needed in the wake of the Titanic.
After the War, the ship was returned to commercial service following a large-scale refurbishment at Harland & Wolff which included her conversion to an oil-firing powerplant. Throughout the 1920's, she proved herself a solid, reliable vessel. But even the great Olympic could not survive the changing times. With the advent of newer, more modern-looking liners with more private bathrooms for their first class passengers, the Olympic began to look dated. When the Great Depression hit, this situation was made only worse as passenger bookings continued to decline. Nevertheless, the ship managed to help keep the White Star Line financially afloat.
Finally, the White Star Line was forced to merge with the Cunard Line on May 10, 1934. There was simply too many old ships in the newly combined fleet, and on April 12, 1935, she was laid up in Southampton. She went to the breakers and disappeared from the Atlantic scene forever. However, many of her furnishings and fittings were preserved, and can still be found today.
The displacement (or the weight of the seawater that the ship would displace, an estimate of literal weight rather than of enclosed space) of the Olympic and Titanic have often been cited at 66,000 tons. Researcher Mark Chirnside has recently developed an excellent article, now available on his site, that proves this figure inaccurate. What was the actual displacement for the Olympic and the Titanic, then? (The Britannic's displacement was slightly greater due to her larger beam and other modifications made to her design.)
Since the weight of the vessel would vary depending on her load status (i.e., fuel, cargo, provisions, etc.), the measurement of 52,310 tons (British tons of 2,240 pounds, or just over 117 million pounds) cited above would apply to the ship at a draught of 34' 7". At a draught of 27' 10 1/2", she displaced 40,850 tons; at a hypothetical draught of 36' (deeper than her standard in service load), she would still displace less than 55,000 tons. The displacement of the Titanic at 34' 7" was quoted by Edward Wilding at the British Inquiry as being identical to the Olympic at the same draught.
In this photograph, the Olympic and Titanic stand side by side on the stocks at Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Ireland. It is October of 1910; the Olympic is ready for launch. ~ Author's Collection.
The Olympic arrives in New York on her maiden voyage. ~ Library of Congress, Author's Collection.
Another photograph of the Olympic's maiden arrival in New York. ~ Author's Collection.
This outstanding color postcard of the Olympic is from the late 1920s, as is evidenced by her revised tonnage estimate in the upper right corner. ~ Author's Collection.
The R.M.S. Olympic, as she appeared in 1911 prior to the loss of the Titanic. This 3-D image has been prepared by graphic artist Christian Stenfelt, is copyright by the artist, and is not for re-use without his permission.
This photograph dates from the summer of 1934, and shows the Olympic leaving Southampton, England on one of her last crossings. The end of her career was less than a year away. ~ Author's Collection.
A late career photograph of the Olympic departing Ocean Dock. ~ Author's Collection.
Another late-career photograph of the Olympic, with a tug alongside. ~ Author's Collection.
Departing Ocean Dock, late career. ~ Author's Collection.
Tied up in Southampton. ~ Author's Collection.
Click here to purchase postcard-format copies of color illustrations of Olympic & Titanic's interior spaces.
"Old Reliable" pauses in Southampton. ~ Author's Collection.
The main stairwell on any ship was the prime way of moving throughout the various passenger levels, and many ships had grand First Class staircases.The stairwells on the Olympic and her sisters, however, was a spacious "cut-above" those found on many previous liners. Looking up from the A Deck landing, the wide open spaces and beautiful dome gave a feeling of wonderful spaciousness. The wood, which translates rather dak in black and white photographs, was rich and colorful. ~ Author's Collection.
In command on May 15, 1934
(collision w/Nantucket Lightship)
Captain Reginald Peel
In command for final transatlantic voyage,
March 27 - April 12, 1935
Olympic Laid Up, Southampton
April 12, 1935 - October 11, 1935
Captain P. R. Vaughan
October 11 - 13, 1935
(voyage to breakers)
Please follow these hyperlinks to find information on the Olympic today, and on the Nomadic.
Please follow this hyperlink to find information on the Titanic, and click here for information on the Britannic.
_______ * Frequently, Captain Hambelton's name is spelled "Alec Hambelton" or "Alec Hambleton." A relative of his, however, was kind enough to provide me with the correct spelling of his name: Alexander Hambelton.
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