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Ice! The Titanic Disaster

At 11:40 p.m. ship's time—9:50 p.m. in New York—on the night of April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The ice buckled hull plates and popped rivets along 300 feet of the vessel’s starboard side, breaching six of her watertight compartments. Emotions onboard staggered from disbelief, to resistance, and finally to panic as passengers and crew comprehended their ship’s unimaginable fate. In the radio room, frantic operators sent distress signals. With too few lifeboats, only 712 of the 2,229 people aboard Titanic lived to see sunrise on April 15.

Post Office Department Annual Report

Post Office Department Annual Report
Post Office Department Annual Report, 1912

The Post Office Department’s annual report for 1912 recounted the heroics of Titanic’s postal clerks. The post office, below the ship’s waterline on the forward starboard side, was among the first areas to flood:

“About a quarter of a hour after the collision the opening or lower room in the sea post office was found to be practically filled with water and the sacks in it adrift. The clerks were seen in the sorting room above, closing sacks and preparing to take on deck all the mails available. The last reports concerning their actions show that they were engaged in this work and in carrying the sacks up on deck to the last moment.”

U.S. Official Postal Guide

U.S. Official Postal Guide
U.S. Official Postal Guide, May 1912
Courtesy Diane DeBlois and Robert Dalton Harris

More than $150,000 in postal money orders sank along with Titanic’s mail. Officials had kept detailed records at issuance, and so many money orders were eventually reimbursed.

Titanic Cover

Titanic cover
Titanic cover, 1912

First-class passenger George E. Graham, a Canadian returning from a European buying trip for Eaton’s department store, addressed this folded letter on Titanic stationery. Destined for Berlin, the envelope was postmarked on the ship and sent ashore with the mail, probably at Cherbourg, France. The morgue ship Mackay-Bennett recovered Graham’s body.

Titanic Postcard

Titanic postcard
The picture side of the postcard shows a view of Olympic standing in for Titanic. The writer could have purchased it dockside or in the ship’s barber shop.
Loan from Dr. Edward and Joanne Dauer
Titanic postcard
Titanic postcard, 1912
Loan from Dr. Edward and Joanne Dauer

Signed “Love, Ugly” by an unknown passenger, this card addressed to “Miss Gwen” was postmarked aboard Titanic and sent ashore with the mail, probably at Queenstown, Ireland, the ship’s last port of call before heading westbound across the Atlantic.

Titanic Facing Slip

Titanic facing slip
Titanic facing slip, 1912

Found on Oscar Scott Woody’s body nine days after Titanic’s sinking, this facing slip bears one of the clearest surviving strikes of the ship’s onboard postmark (Transatlantic Post Office 7). Clerks placed facing slips on bundles of mail to indicate their destination.

Theodore Ely condolence letter

Francis D. Millet Condolence Letters
Noted American artist Francis (“Frank”) D. Millet died on Titanic. The Millet Family Papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art contain three folders of letters addressed to Lily Millet (his widow) and Laurence Millet (his son) in the days after the sinking.
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