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SS Olympic (1910)


Main image of SS Olympic (1910)
35mm, black and white, silent, 600 feet
Production CompanyKineto

The construction and launch of the SS Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic, at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

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SS Olympic was the sister ship of Titanic, and at the time of her launch on 20 October 1910, Olympic was the largest vessel ever built. One observer reported that 'the mind is almost staggered by her wonderful size, her general dimensions internally and the luxury and completeness of her appointments.'

This film captures the sheer scale of endeavour involved in building the Olympic-class ships - the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast had to be upgraded to accommodate Olympic and her sister ships, Titanic and Brittanic. The White Star company, for whom these three ships were built, intended them to surpass, in size and luxury, the largest ships of their chief rival Cunard, Lusitania and Mauretania.

The footage was shot at intervals from the early designing stage and the laying of the keel in 1908 through to the launch in 1910. For her launch, Olympic's hull was painted in a light grey colour, a common practice for the first ship in a new class, as it made the lines of the ship sharper in photographs. Immediately following the launch ceremony, the film negative was sent from Belfast to London where it arrived at 8am the following morning. It was developed, printed and released in cinemas later in the same day - a feat of speediness commented on admiringly by the film trade press at the time.

This visual spectacular was one of the many 'interest' films produced by the Kineto company, which specialised in 'what we venture to assert are the more permanent uses of the Kinematograph, namely its application to purposes of instruction, and the widening of general knowledge.' The surviving film footage in the BFI National Archive contained German intertitles, demonstrating that the distribution of this film extended beyond the UK.

Olympic's maiden voyage was to New York in 1911 and, unlike both her sisters, she served a long and illustrious career until 1935, both as a liner and as a troopship during World War I, when she earned the nickname 'Old Reliable'. Olympic was broken up in Jarrow in 1935 - providing much-needed work there during the Depression - and her fittings auctioned.

Ros Cranston

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Tales from the Shipyard', with piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Laying the keel (3:16)
2. Fixing and riveting (2:46)
3. The launch (1:30)
Complete film (7:58)
Shipbuilding on Film - The Early Years
Tales from the Shipyard