Colossal Conspiracies About Why the Titanic Sank

By: Diana Brown

RMS Titanic
The RMS Titanic hit an iceberg the night of April 14, 1912 and sank in the early morning of April 15, killing more than 1,500 people on board. Universal History Archive/Getty Images 

Early in the morning of April 15, 1912, the luxury ocean liner RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg, dooming 1,500 people to their watery graves. One of the deadliest peacetime maritime tragedies on record, the sinking of the Titanic still grips people's imaginations today. Its story has inspired films, songs, exhibits in museums, and, indirectly, lots of "draw me like one of your French girls" memes. And of course, it has inspired plenty of conspiracy theories too.

Stuff They Don't Want You To Know hosts Matt Frederick, Ben Bowlin and Noel Brown talk Titanic conspiracies and try to get the truth behind what sunk this luxury ship.


The Titanic was one of three luxury Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line, which also included the HMHS Britannic and RMS Olympic. Captain John Smith, who helmed the doomed voyage, said "The Olympic is unsinkable, and Titanic will be the same when she is put in commission." But sink the Titanic did after the iceberg it hit on the starboard side caused breaches in the hull below the waterline, flooding five of its watertight compartments.

Evacuations began, but the ship had only enough lifeboats to carry half of the people on board. Worse, the crew launched the lifeboats when they were barely half-full. As the ship filled with water, hundreds of third-class passengers were trapped below decks and drowned. Just two-and-a-half hours after hitting the iceberg, the Titanic broke fully in half and sank to the bottom of the frigid North Atlantic, dumping the remaining passengers not in lifeboats in the brutally cold sea. Many froze within 30 minutes.

And while all of this sounds like a tragic accident, some aren't so convinced it was just that. First, the Titanic wasn't actually filled to capacity; it was capable of cruising with 3,547 passengers and crew, but had 2,224 on board during its fatal voyage. Why does this matter? Because several of the rich and powerful who were supposed to be on board, including White Star Line owner J.P. Morgan, canceled their trips. Did they know that some tragedy would befall the ocean liner or perhaps even orchestrate it?

Some have suggested that Morgan and the White Star Line conspired to swap the Titanic for its identical sister ship the Olympic, which had already been severely damaged in two collisions, and allowed it to sink in order to collect insurance. They then allowed the Titanic to sail on as the Olympic. Could that be why Morgan canceled his trip? But what company would risk its reputation, not to mention hundreds of lives, for an insurance scam?

Another theory rests on the passengers that did sail on the voyage: millionaires Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy's owner Isidor Straus and John Jacob Astor IV, who were against the creation of a Federal Reserve Bank, and all of whom went down with the ship. Is it possible that someone deliberately sank the Titanic just to kill the three powerful men? Some argue that these three were targets because of their outspoken opposition to federal tax. But targets enough to doom thousands of people to their deaths just to get rid of a couple of political opponents?

The list is endless when it comes to conspiracies around the sinking of the Titanic. But you'll have to listen to the entire podcast to see what Matt, Ben and Noel think about the many others including a coal fire, a German U-boat attack coverup and even a pharaoh's curse.