A great fire aboard the Morro Castle ocean liner turned the once luxurious ship into a smoking ruin in a matter of a few hours on the night of September 7, 1934. What is the significance of this event for people nowadays? It may not be America’s first 9/11 the way the sinking of the Lusitania was in 1915, but the incident prompted the beginning of fire safety at sea.
Before 1934 luxury ships were built to resemble Versailles and Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon. Wood was used copiously for both furniture, floors, and paneling on the walls. Rooms were made up to look as if you were still on land. The Morro Castle burned so quickly after it was torched by a real-life saboteur. It would have burned much more slowly or perhaps not at all if it had been built of fire-retardant materials. The passengers would have had a chance to escape on the lifeboats and not be separated by a wall of flames from their only chance of survival on a night which was also full of storms and big waves.
The only modern ocean liner, Queen Mary 2, wouldn’t have been built the way it is now with fabrics, floors, and deck materials that are slow to catch fire if it hadn’t been for the tragedy that September eight decades ago.