Titanic exhibit in San Diego – dollars and time to cross the Atlantic

While taking some vacation time in San Diego this past weekend, my wife and I went to the Titanic exhibit hosted by the San Diego Natural History Museum. It was fantastic! By the way, the exhibit runs through September 9, 2012 if you are interested.

I plan to use the Titanic as a reference point for change in transportation costs. That idea struck me very strongly on this short vacation in San Diego.

The best starting point for the exhibit is a blog post at Well Heeled Blog. A quick read of the blog and related Facebook page shows the author wishes to remain anonymous.

Her post, The Personal Finances of RMS Titanic, describes her visit to the exhibit. My wife and I stopped by the museum on Sunday, the same day the Well Heeled blogger visited, but the lines were far too long for us. We went back on Monday and had a leisurely, uncrowded visit.

Several of the things that caught her attention were of interest to me as well. Check out her post for a fun discussion of the exhibit.

In this post I will lay out some of the basic info I will talk about later.

Ticket costs

Here are some stats for the cost of tickets from Jim’s Titanic Website, by Jim Sadur.

Cost of a ticket (one way)

  • First Class (parlor suite) £870/$4,350 ($83,200 today)
  • First Class (berth) £30/$150 ($2975 today)
  • Second Class £12/$60 ($1200 today)
  • Third Class £3 to £8/$40 ($298 to $793 today)

Note: In 1912, skilled shipyard workers who built Titanic earned £2 ($10) per week. Unskilled workers earned £1 or less per week. A single First Class berth would have cost these workers 4 to 8 months wages.

That information is consistent with what I’ve seen mentioned several other places on the ‘net.

The range of those prices for third class would probably correspond to open dorm style rooms for young men at the low price to 2 berth rooms at the high end. I’m guessing the 4 berth room that is recreated in the exhibit at the museum would be somewhere in between, probably at the higher end.

The first class berths would be for the butlers, maids, and valets accompanying the first class passengers.

Mr. Sadur’s post has a fun list of the provisions on board and the amount of dishes and linen needed.

Here’s more great information for prospective, also from Jim’s Titanic Website.

Crew Salaries

  • Captain E.J. Smith, Titanic: £105 a month
  • Captain Rostron, Carpathia: £53 per month
  • Seaman Edward Buley: £5 a month
  • Look-out G.A. Hogg: £5 and 5 shillings a month
  • Radio Operator Harold Bride: £48 per month
  • Steward Sidney Daniels: £3 and 15 shillings a month
  • Stewardess Annie Robinson: £3 and 10 shillings a month

 Annual salaries

Exchange rates listed above are $5 to £1

I calculated some annualized salaries:

  • £52/$260 or less – unskilled shipyard workers
  • £60/$300 – seaman
  • £104/$520 – skilled shipyard workers
  • £576/$2,880 – radio operator – this would be a near-cutting edge technology, maybe comparable to PC software techie today?
  • £624/$3,120 – Captain of Carpathia – I’m guessing this would be comparable to a line pilot on international flights at one of the major airlines.
  • £1,260/$6,300 – Captain Smith –  this would represent the career high comp of the ready-to-retire captain at the peak of his performance and reputation. Makes sense it would be double the salary of the Carpathia’s captain.

Transit time

Titanic departed on Wednesday, April 10, 1912 and made two stops to pick up more passengers.  Underway on Thursday, April 11 after loading last passengers and provisions.

If I’m inferring the timeline of the hopeful early arrival of Tuesday, April 16, that would make for a very fast five-day transit time. The Carpathia arrived in New York on Thursday, April 18, which was seven days after the Titanic’s departure.

This post at Gjenvick-Gjonvik Archive quotes at 1889 magazine article that speculated it might be possible with technology advancement to transit from London to New York in a mere four days 19 hours.

I came across one reference to the Titanic’s scheduled transit time being seven days.

So, for purposes of where I’m going with this series of posts, let’s go with five days as the transit time.  That gives credit for the gain in speed the captain was aiming for and excludes the extra day to load passengers at two more locations.

Where am I going?

I’ll compare that info to the price of an airline ticket today from London to New York.

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