The birth of Titanic began in 1907 when Lord Perrie, Chairman of Harland & Wolff and Bruce Ismay, the President and Managing Director of the White Star Line, met in London. Lord Perrie, a partner in Harland & Wolff had taken on the position of chairman of the company after the death of Edward Harland in 1895. A long standing relationship existed between the two companies which went back to Harland & Wolff having been contracted to build the White Star ships, a business partnership brought together by the influence of Gustave Schwabe. Bruce Ismay continued in his role after the White Star Line was bought over by the International Mercantile Marine Company.
Both men were well aware of their main competitor Cunard, the Lusitania and her sister ship the Mauretania were the largest and fastest passenger ships ever built and both claimed the coveted Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. The Lusitania in 1907 and the Mauretania in 1909. The two men decided they had to build a new class of ocean liner, something that would outstrip anything that had gone before. They decided to compete not on speed which had been the objective of most liners but on luxury. The new class of ship would be called the Olympic Class.
Proposals were drawn up and the following year the Board of Harland & Wolff gave the go ahead for the construction of the Olympic, to be the first of three ships: the Olympic,Titanic and Brittanic. Under the direction of Lord Perrie, Alexander Carlisle who was the principal designer and managing director began work on the plans. He retired from Harland & Wolff in 1910 and handed the role over to Thomas Andrews who completed the project. Andrews was one of many workers from Harland & Wolff and the White Star Line who perished on the Titanic.
To facilitate the building of these huge liners much larger slipways had to be created, the three previously used slipways were re-engineered into two larger ones that could accept the new hulls. Four and a half feet of concrete was laid as foundations for the new slipways to support the weight of the planned hulls. Today you can walk along the length of the slipways once again and at night they are outlined in blue neon light. It is free to walk around the slipways, you do not need to pay the £14 + entrance fee to the Titanic Centre to do so at least not yet but I am sure their thinking about it.
A new gantry was constructed over the two slipways by Sir William Arrol & Company of Glasgow, his company was well experienced in this type of construction having built the famous Forth Rail Bridge in Scotland. The Gantry was 840 feet long, 270 feet wide and 228 feet tall at its highest point, it weighed in at 6,000 tons. Constructed of three rows of eleven towers, it had one central revolving crane, ten walking cranes, and six travelling frames, three over each slipway. Four lifts and numerous walkways providing access to the ship and gantry itself.
The keel of Olympic was laid on No 2 slipway in December 1908 followed by Titanic on No 3 slipway in March 1909. The two 46,000 ton ships took shape together and dominated the skyline of Queens Island. An estimated 17,000 men were employed in the shipyard during this period. Olympic was launched on October 20th 1910, and seven month later in May 1911 the Titanic was launched.