Selections from the Thayer Family Collection
On April 15, 1912 the world awoke to the news of the sinking of Titanic, one of the worst disasters in maritime history, and the story continues to capture our imaginations today.
Items from the Museum's Thayer Family Collection illustrate the story of one family's life-altering experience with the infamous ship.
On April 10, 1912 the luxury liner began its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. At 11:40 p.m. April 14, the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes, with a loss of 1523 lives. Seven hundred five survivors escaped the ship in lifeboats, and were rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia the next morning.
Traveling aboard Titanic were Haverford, Pennsylvania residents John B. Thayer, Jr., second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, his wife Marian, and their 17-year-old son, John (Jack) B. Thayer III. With them was Mrs. Thayer's maid, Margaret Fleming.
The Thayers were preparing for bed when the collision occurred. After some confusion, Mrs. Thayer and her maid boarded lifeboat number 4, leaving Jack and his father on board.
According to his account entitled The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic, Jack and his parents were separated in the commotion. Jack and his friend Milton Long determined that they would jump from the ship as it was about to slide beneath the water. Long went first, sliding down the side of the ship. Jack took a moment to remove his overcoat and then jumped as far out from the ship as he could. Despite the mere seconds separating their escapes, Jack later surmised that Long fell victim to the suction of the sinking ship. Long's body would later be recovered.
Struggling against "terrific" cold and the shock that "took the breath out of [his] lungs," Jack swam "as hard as [he] could," surfacing near overturned collapsible lifeboat B. Several men were already precariously balanced atop this small boat, and they assisted Jack aboard. Twenty-eight survivors huddled together overnight "standing, sitting, kneeling, lying, in all conceivable positions, in order to get a small hold on the half inch overlap of the boat's planking, which was the only means of keeping ourselves from sliding off the slippery surface into that icy water."
In the morning, Jack and his mother were reunited aboard Carpathia. Mr. Thayer was lost with the ship and his body was never recovered.
The Thayer Family Collection was initially compiled by Jack Thayer, with later additions by his son John B. Thayer IV, and includes one of the only extant first class passenger lists from Titanic. The list was carried off the ship in Mrs. Thayer's overcoat pocket. It still bears the mark of being folded, and faint pencil marks, their meaning unknown, are noted next to certain names.
Titanic-related materials are actually only a small component of the 600-item collection of ocean liner ephemera dating from 1892 to 1986 that includes postcards, abstracts of logs, advertisements, passenger lists, menus, deck plans, photographs, stationery and baggage tags from ships of more than 40 lines, such as Cunard, White Star, Norddeutscher Lloyd, Red Star, Hamburg-Amerika, United States, and Compagnie Generale Transatlantique.
• View the entire First Class Passenger List Booklet »
• View the Guide to the Thayer Family Collection at ISM (PDF) »
• Encyclopedia Titanica features passenger and crew biographies, articles, and a message board »
• The Titanic Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the history of RMS Titanic and the White Star Line »