Did Captain Edward J. Smith, captain of the RMS Titanic, choose to go down with his sinking ship? Could the experienced captain have done more to prevent the "unsinkable" vessel's tragic end? What were his final words to the crew? These are just a few of the lingering questions surrounding the man who captained the most famous ship in history. Smith has, of course, been the subject of many myths, legends, and outright lies. But who was he, really? And why was he trusted with the Titanic?
A seasoned sailor on an "unsinkable" ship
Captain Edward J. Smith was 62 years old when he took command of the Titanic. By that point, he had 40 years of sailing experience and was the most senior of all of the captains working for White Star Line. He was born in England in 1850 to a lower-middle-class family and had dropped out of school at age 12 to work, which was typical for Victorian children. Smith started sailing at the age of 17 — and he never looked back.
Rising through the ranks — full steam ahead
Smith's apprenticeship started on a boat called Senator Weber in 1867. He earned a certificate to become a second mate in 1871 and a first mate in 1873. The first trade ship he captained was the Lizzie Fennell, and he began working for White Star Line in 1880. Five years later, he achieved the role of first officer on the Republic. His private life thrived, too, as he married Eleanor Pennington in 1887 and had a daughter in 1902. It wasn't all plain sailing, though.
His navigating skills were deemed a failure
In 2012 the website Ancestry.co.uk published the database UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850-1927. That's when researchers realized that Captain Smith failed his Master's exams on the first attempt because he didn't have adequate navigating skills. He tried again in 1888, at the age of 38, and made the cut. In fact, he went on to become one of the most beloved captains of his time.
A commander of the biggest ships
In 1904 Smith became the captain of one of the largest vessels in the sea at that time. It was called the Baltic, and her maiden voyage went without a hitch. He commanded that vessel for three years before White Star Line installed him as captain of its next "largest vessel in the world," the Adriatic. The Adriatic also had an incident-free maiden voyage under Smith, who stayed as captain until 1910. Then Smith joined the Olympic... and ran into a little trouble.