Captain Edward J. Smith—Captain of the RMS Titanic
Captain of the Titanic. Born on January 27, 1850, in Hanley, Staffordshire, England. Captain Edward J. Smith played a role in one of the most famous disasters at sea in history, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The son of a potter and later a grocer, he attended a school in Etruria, which was supported by the Wedgwood pottery works. Smith stopped going to school around the age of 12. Beginning his life on the sea as a teenager, he signed on to the crew of the Senator Weber in 1867.
For years, Smith rose up the ranks and qualifications, earning certificates as a second mate in 1871, a first mate in 1873, and a master in 1875. The first vessel he commanded was the Lizzie Fennell, a 1,000-ton ship that moved goods to and from South America. Smith made the leap to passenger vessels in 1880 when he went to work for the White Star Line. By 1885, he was the first officer of the Republic. Two years later, Smith married Eleanor Pennington. The couple welcomed their only child, Helen, in 1902.
Eight years later, Smith took his first command of a passenger ship, the Baltic. He went on to serve as the captain of several other vessels in the White Star Line. From 1895 to 1904, Smith commanded the Majestic. He also served in the British Royal Navy during the Boer War in South Africa.
In 1902, the White Star Line was bought by the International Mercantile Marine (IMM) Company in a deal financed by famed banker J. P. Morgan. A new Baltic was added to the White Star Line fleet in 1904 with Smith as its captain. At 23,000 tons, the Baltic was one of the largest vessels at the time. His next ship, the Adriatic, was even larger. By this time, Smith was held in high esteem by his company and was well known and well regarded among travelers on the North Atlantic route between the United States and Europe.
The White Star Line planned to add even grander ships to its fleet. To compete with the Lusitania and Mauretania owned by Cunard, the company announced it was building two new ocean liners in 1907. (The order for the Gigantic was made later and was then renamed Britannic after the Titanic disaster) The first of the two vessels, the Olympic, was launched in 1910 with Smith in command. His ship was damaged in September 1911 when a British Royal Navy cruiser crashed into its side.
In 1912, Smith became the captain for the Titanic. He was in Belfast on April 2, 1912, for the vessel's first sea trials. Two days later, the ship docked in Southampton and was prepared for its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic. It was heralded as one of the biggest and most luxurious ships of the time.
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic left Southampton and stopped in Cherbourg, France, to pick up more passengers and mail. It made one stop in Queenstown, Ireland, the next day before setting out into the Atlantic. There the ship took on more passengers as well as mail to be delivered to the United States. In all, there were more than 2,200 people aboard the ship as it made its way across the ocean.