To mark the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I have written an article for Ships Monthly which will be published in their April edition celebrating the history of this iconic liner and marking the centennial since her famous demise. But, speaking of magazines, a century ago the ‘unsinkable Titanic’ left British shores to embark on a voyage which the Titanic was seemingly ordained never to complete, and declared unsinkable in a passage from a special edition of a respected Edwardian journal, The Shipbuilder, the label would follow Titanic to infamy and beyond and perpetuate the legend behind this famous disaster.

Indeed it is often overlooked that because of Titanic that ships had been declared unsinkable in one publication or another for as long ago as 1850, but what of the publisher whose declaration labelled the most famous unsinkable ship of all, the magazine itself. Here we explore the life and highs of the magazine whose evaluation of the Titanic’s watertight integrity spawned a fascination that would engross the world in to her legacy – an interest that remains impassioned and vivid – 100 years after the feted liner’s dramatic loss.

Exploring to within minute detail the makings and workings of grandiose and far more run-of-the-mill liners of the day, The Shipbuilder, the forerunner of car magazines of modern times, began life in 1904 as The Mid-Tyne Link, showcasing the latest express liners built at Newcastle’s famous and pioneering yards along the banks of the Tyne. Predominately, Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, a yard dating from 1880, builder of much of Cunard’s fleet. The magazine’s founder and publisher, Albert George Hood served as an employee of the yard, in fact as secretary to its founder, Sir George Burton Hunter. Albert broadened the scope of the magazine in 1906 to encompass the remaining yards of significance across Britain; namely John Brown of Clydebank, and Harland & Wolff of Belfast. Thusly a newly renamed magazine, The Shipbuilder, released its first edition on 10 July 1906, profiling the latest arrivals to the shipping arena of the day. The quality of its reporting soon earned the magazine both wide respect and appeal.

Filling its editions with all manner of grand designs, detailed blueprints, photographs, building and launch particulars, and room-by-room walkthroughs, the creation of the latest ships of the day had never before been unveiled to such generosity of detail. Indeed, cursory looks at the adverts it featured reveals the professional demographic of readership at which the magazine was intended. Advertisements for steam winches, nautical electrics, elevators, even stateroom bedsteads the magazine drew a wide and dedicated subscription and in result became a widely read and much respected publication, and bible for all the latest innovations in shipping.

Within a year of its launch its success inspired it to feature a ‘souvenir number’ dedicated especially to profiling a single craft; choosing Cunard’s twins, Lusitania and Mauretania. Its impressive sales saw this special, almost book-length edition, maintain the considerable interest of the regular magazine, and other ‘special numbers’ soon followed. Their second, infamously profiling the Titanic and sister RMS Olympic in 1911, in which an unknown author documenting their electronic watertight bulkhead doors famously declared the pair ‘practically unsinkable’.

Souvenir volumes

  • Lusitania & Mauretania (1907)
  • Olympic & Titanic (1911)
  • Aquitania (1914)
  • Empress of Britain (1931)
  • Conte Di Savoia (1933)
  • Normandie (1935)
  • Queen Mary (1936)
  • Mauretania, the second (1939)
  • Canberra (1961)

Profiling hundreds of liners throughout the Edwardian and interwar eras the magazine flourished, and indeed survives to this day as Shipping World and Shipbuilder. Its greatest notoriety, however, across its editions that have profiled almost every express liner over the past hundred years, its enduring proclamation of invincibility to the one ship that was to cataclysmically meet with an iceberg on its maiden voyage, would not have inspired a thousand headlines had it never produced that infamous dalliance with that word ‘unsinkable’; a word that will forever outshine its source that venerable magazine, The Shipbuilder.