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The Titanic

The Titanic leaves Belfast to start her trials, pulled by tugs -- shortly before her disastrous maiden voyage of April 1912.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

We'd feel remiss if we didn't find a way to fit in a reference to the Titanic, the massive floating luxury hotel that met with a tragic fate by colliding with an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912. While the contemporary ocean liner Oasis of the Seas dwarfs the Titanic in size, the Oasis -- like most other modern big ships -- was floated by filling up its dry dock with water, so that it could sail out under its own power. The Titanic, in contrast, was launched the old-fashioned way, by using gravity to slide it down into the water.

On the day of its initial launch in May 1911 from the Belfast shipyard where it was built, the Titanic became the biggest object ever moved by humans up until that time. The ship, which at the time was still being finished, weighed roughly 26,000 tons (23,587 metric tons). Workers used 22 tons (20 metric tons) of tallow and soap to create a 1-inch-thick (2.5-centimeter) layer of lubrication on the slipway, so that the Titanic's bulk could be eased down into the water. At a quarter after noon that day, a rocket was launched in celebration and the timbers holding back the ship were knocked free, and it slid down into the water. The cheering crowd didn't realize it, but the ill-fated ship's launching also caused the first of its many fatalities -- a worker named James Dobbins was struck by one of the timbers [source: Eaton].

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