While the Titanic was one of the most famous ships ever built – primarily because of her tragic end – she was not the only ship launched by the White Star Line at that time.
She was the second of three ships in the Olympic Class, being preceded by the RMS Olympic.
How similar were the ships, what were the differences, and why did the Titanic become more famous? Let’s take a look…
Was the Olympic identical to the Titanic?
The Olympic and the Titanic were not identical ships, but they were very similar. The Olympic came first, and some tweaks were made to the design to improve the Titanic, making her a slightly more luxurious ship. They were identical in length and width, but Titanic was bigger due to a marginally larger gross tonnage.
The ships are often referred to as twin sisters because they were so similar, but they weren’t identical.
Titanic and Olympic Side Sy Side
Here’s a look at the two ships side-by-side – you can see how they look almost exactly the same.
The Main Differences – Olympic vs Titanic
Here’s a look at the main differences between the Olympic and the Titanic:
1. The Titanic was slightly larger than the Olympic
In terms of the length and width of the ships, the Titanic and the Olympic were very similar. However, due to some changes made to the design of the Titanic, her gross tonnage was slightly larger at 46,329, making Titanic the biggest ship in the world until she sank.
When the Olympic launched, she had a gross tonnage of 45,324 which made her the biggest ship in the world at the time – a title she unfortunately regained when her sister sank. She didn’t hold it for much longer though, as in 1913 she was overtaken by the German ship SS Imperator.
You can’t tell by looking at side-by-side pictures that Titanic was slightly bigger though, as they look to be identical.
2. The Titanic was more luxurious than the Olympic
Technically, the Titanic was slightly more luxurious than the Olympic. This had not been the intention – both ships were designed to be luxury ocean liners – but some design changes following lessons learned from the Olympic made Titanic more appealing to luxury guests.
When the Olympic launched, she was in some ways a guinea pig for the new class. And one of the features that didn’t quite work was a secondary promenade on B deck. Most people preferred to use the promenade on the higher A deck.
And so, when the Titanic was being built, the designs were modified to remove the secondary promenade and replace it with more first-class cabins and a couple of extra features to make the ship a more luxurious proposition.
3. The Titanic is only more well-known because of the tragic sinking
The reason that the Titanic is more famous than her sister ship the Olympic is purely down to her sinking. The massive loss of life had a huge effect on the whole cruise and shipping industry, whereas the Olympic had a much longer life and didn’t ultimately sink.
The Titanic sinking was a genuine tragedy, with so many lives lost at sea. It sparked huge changes in the safety standards of shipping around the world, and of course became a famous story thanks to the many books written about her, the museums telling her story, and the Hollywood blockbuster movie.
The Olympic never sank. She survived the First World War as a troopship, and returned to civilian service. She sailed in total for 24 years before she became unviable as a profitable ship, and she was retired and sold for scrap.
4. The Titanic was more sheltered on the Promenade Deck
Another design change made for the Titanic, following lessons learned from the Olympic, was the design of the promenade on A deck. On the Olympic the forward section of this deck was wide open, but it was sheltered by windows on the Titanic.
This was because people walking along the promenade on the Olympic were being hit by sea spray and getting wet a lot of the time. It was a relatively simple change to add the windows to the Titanic design to better protect those who were walking around the promenade.
5. The Titanic was, in theory, a safer ship
You might assume that the Titanic was a less safe ship – after all, she is the one that sank. However, the Olympic began life with exactly the same flaws as the Titanic, including a severe lack of lifeboats.
But there was one key difference which actually made the Titanic safer – her bridge extended out on the ship on both sides, giving the senior crew a better view around the sides of the ship. On the Olympic, the bridge was flush with the sides.
So it is just down to the circumstances of that particular sailing as to why the Titanic sank and not the Olympic. Put the Olympic in the place of the Titanic and she would’ve sank as well.
This did of course all change after the Titanic sank – the Olympic’s bridge was widened to make it safer, and more lifeboats were added so that passengers were much more likely to survive if the ship were to sink.
6. The Titanic had more dining options
Some of the changes made to the Titanic’s design included the addition of two new dining venues. When the B promenade was removed from the design, there was space on the starboard side of that deck to add a new restaurant.
And so Cafe Parisien, an a la carte restaurant serving upmarket French-style cuisine was introduced. The rest of the dining options were the same, so for its brief tenure Titanic had more options available to the guests that could afford to eat here.
7. The Titanic had more irregular windows
One of the few differences you can spot by looking at pictures of the Titanic and the Olympic next to each other is that the Titanic had more irregular port holes on B deck.
This is because of all the design changes that were made to that part of the ship during construction – it means that the windows were spaced out a lot more unevenly.
On the Olympic, because the plans were unchanged during construction, the windows are evenly spaced across that deck.
8. The Olympic wasn’t just an ocean liner
Because the Titanic sank so quickly after she was launched, she will forever be known as an ocean liner that sank in tragic circumstances. The Olympic had a much longer life, and so she was able to contribute her services to the war effort.
She was originally withdrawn from service in 1912 to be modified following the Titanic disaster, and then in 1914 she was given some cosmetic adjustments due to the war, blocking out portholes and painted a new colour. In 1915 she entered service, transporting troops where needed.
She returned to commercial passenger duties in 1919, and was restored to include more modern interiors and to repair damage from a torpedo strike.
Despite the ships being twins, there are a lot of differences in the design of both the Titanic and the Olympic, and sadly in their stories too. The Olympic was able to see her story to the end, and the Titanic’s was cut short, along with the lives of the many people who were victims of that tragedy.
The Olympic would serve as one of the first ships to learn the lessons of the Titanic with her refit in 1912, and it’s a good thing she isn’t as famous – another major tragedy like the Titanic could’ve ended the cruise industry before it really got going.
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