Apr 15, 2022 - News

News of Titanic sinking suppressed by wealthy businessman

A newspaper clipping from the Tampa Daily Times with the headline "TITANIC, GREATEST STEAMER, IS AFLOAT; BADLY BATTERED"

The front page of the Tampa Daily Times on April 15, 1912. Photo: Newspapers.com

When the Tampa Daily Times hit newsstands the afternoon of April 15, 1912 β€” 110 years ago β€” its front page included a big mistake.

Flashback: The Times reported that the Titanic, "greatest steamship afloat," was being towed toward Halifax and her passengers had been transferred to another boat "without accident."

  • Newspapers across the country issued similar incorrect reports in the days after the behemoth settled 2.5 miles deep in the Atlantic.

Why it matters: At the center of the mess was a new piece of technology and the globetrotting Italian who invented it, then helped suppress the news of one of the world's most memorable disasters.

  • This part wasn't in the movie, but it's fascinating in a world where wealthy men still try to control communications platforms.

Catch up quick: Before it sank, the Titanic was communicating with shore and other vessels using Guglielmo Marconi's new wireless telegraph, even receiving news updates about industrial unrest on the railways and a high-profile murder in France.

Yes, but: After initial dispatches that the ship was sinking and lifeboats were being deployed, all comms fell silent.

  • Quiet, too, was a rescue boat called the Carpathia that was equipped with the same radio tech. Its operator heard the Titanic's distress call and raced to save passengers but didn't respond to official or press inquiries until they reached dock.
  • With no new information, reporters filled the void with conjecture and presumptions.

The intrigue: The USS Florida picked up several suspicious messages directed to the operator of the Carpathia from Marconi Company chief engineer Frederick Sammis.

  • "Arranged for your exclusive story for dollars in four figures," one read. "Mr. Marconi agreeing. Say nothing until you see me."

Marconi later testified to a Senate committee that he didn't order the telegraph operators to keep quiet, but did give them permission to sell their eye-witness accounts of the historic sinking.

Of note: A judge in 2020 gave salvage firm RMS Titanic Inc. permission to retrieve the telegraph machine from the Titanic. The firm set a target date for 2021, but the project was indefinitely delayed by the pandemic.


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