Mr. Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin Saloon Passenger Saved
image: Michael Poirer/US National Archives
Born Robert Rankin 23 March 1882 Ithaca, New York, United States
Died 10 August 1959 (age 76) Provincetown, Massachusetts, United States
Age on Lusitania 33
Ticket number 46151
Cabin number E 43
Traveling with Many colleagues on board, but on different tickets
Lifeboat 11
Rescued by - Wanderer (Peel 12) - Flying Fish
Occupation Electrical engineer
Citizenship United States
Residence São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Other name(s) none
Spouse(s) - Enid Scott (1911 - 1920, divorced) - Hilda Master Rigby (1923 - 1959, his death)
Robert Rankin (1882 - 1959), 33, from Ithaca, New York, was an electrical engineer who graduated from Cornell University and was working in Brazil. His ticket for the Lusitania was 46151 and his cabin was E-43. He booked passage on the Lusitania on the recommendation of his friend Fred Pearson. Rankin survived the Lusitania sinking and later brought his case to the Mixed Claims Commission. The following biography has been adapted from an article by Michael Poirier published in Titanic International's Voyage 46 of winter 2003-2004, now available in the articles section of this site.
  1. Youth and education
  2. Career and first marriage
  3. Lusitania
  4. Rescue and Queenstown
  5. Continued mobility
  6. Second marriage and later years
  7. Related pages

Youth and education

Robert Rankin born on 23 March 1882, the first son born to George and Sarah Rankin of Ithaca, New York. In an age of rapid technological progress, the a young boy was fascinated with electricity. When he graduated high school he enrolled at Cornell University. He was active in academics and in sports. His participation in sports gave him a number of scholarships, which his friends joked was bankrupting the Cornell treasury.

Career and first marriage

Soon after college, Rankin began working for Westinghouse. In his spare time he experimented with electromagnets and their properties. His work paid off and in two years after graduating he discovered the principal of electromagnetism in a vacuum. Rankin sold his discovery to General Electric in 1910. Rankin began working for San Paolo Electric Co. of Brazil and traveled much for his work. On one such voyage to South America, he met socialite Enid Scott, the daughter of Simon Scott, a New York merchant and art collector. Robert Rankin and Enid Scott had a whirlwind romance and married the following year. Through his profession, Rankin became friends with Dr. Fred Stark Pearson of the Pearson Engineering Corporation. Rankins' business dealings with Dr. Pearson led him to take the Lusitania on her last and fatal crossing. Pearson and his wife Mabel had already booked passage, and Pearson recommended booking the Lusitania to Rankin.


Rankin boarded the Lusitania for her final departure on 1 May 1915. The day was dull and overcast. Rankin's cabin was E-43, an inside cabin, and his ticket number was 46151. To his disappointment, the ship did not sail on time as she was taking on passengers from the Cameronia. The inventor's table companions were agreeable and Rankin became friends with Clinton "Bill" Bernard, who was on his way to Greenland on a geological expedition. Rankin also spent time with the Pearsons, Robert Dearbergh, and Thomas Bloomfield. The morning of Friday, 7 May 1915 had been foggy, but the was a clear sunny day. At about twelve noon, Rankin went to the writing room to write his wife Enid a long letter. As he was writing, Dr. Pearson passed through and stopped to talk with him. They discussed the sudden alteration in the ship's course. Rankin later recalled, "the ship turned northward from the course she had been holding making a huge semicircle and heeling well over to port". Rankin finished his letter and took a quick walk along the boat deck before lunch, where Fred and Mabel Pearson were taking a stroll as well. By 2:00 P.M. he was standing on the starboard side with Thomas Bloomfield and Robert Dearbergh when one of them caught a glimpse of something. "There's a whale," he heard. Looking out onto the dazzling blue sea, he knew at once what the black ridge was. Instantly, a white, foamy streak shot out from the submarine. "It looks like a torpedo," Dearbergh exclaimed. "My God, it is a torpedo," said Bloomfield. The three men watched the torpedo cut through the water. Rankin described the excitement of the moment in great detail, "It came straight for the ship. It was obvious it couldn't miss. It was aimed ahead of her and struck under the bridge". The three men stood there and for a brief moment waiting for it to detonate, there was a delay and they all hoped it would not explode. He then went on to say that, "The explosion came with a terrific crash, clear through the five decks destroying the boiler room and the main steam pipe....A mass of glass, wood, etc came pouring on our heads, 200 feet aft. We ducked into the smoking room shelter and I never saw my companions again". Rankin felt that Lusitania was doomed from the start and crossed the smoking room to the port side. He aided some men who were trying to push a lifeboat over the side, but thought it was a useless task as the ship was listing too far to starboard. Abandoning this effort, he entered the companionway and made his way down the stairs, trying not to bump into people who were rushing up the stairs. Rankin got as far as D deck when he heard the disconcerting sound of water very close to where he stood. Looking down, he saw that E deck was already flooding. He crossed the darkened passageway on D deck to a porthole and to his horror saw that the water was within twelve inches of the port. He came across Clinton Bernard in the stairwell who asked him, "have you a life preserver?" Rankin just shook his head. The two tablemates tried looking for lifejackets in a few cabins and found that they were all gone. The two decided that if they found one they would share it, "fifty-fifty". As the friends walked along B deck they found quite a few passengers millling about waiting to be told what to do. They mounted the stairs to A deck and watched the boats on the starboard side begin loading. To their dismay, boat number one drifted a way with what appeared to be just one person aboard. Rankin came across one of the "doughnut life preservers" attached to the rail and presented it to Bernard. They prepared to jump overboard with it when a steward claimed that there was an old lady who needed it. The gentleman unselfishly gave it away. The last minutes were a blur to Rankin, of which he said the following, " By this time the boat was sinking rapidly and Bernard said, 'Goodbye old chap' and grabbed me by the hand at the same time pulling out his money and throwing it away. The sixty foot deck was, by now, within six to ten feet of the water and I pulled off my coat and jumped, feet first, as far as I could and started to swim on my side. Looking straight up I saw the funnels coming over and thought that I would certainly be hit on the head. Then the funnels went back and the bow plunged and the ship went down." Rankin found the water to be like ice and that he was covered with a layer of soot from the funnels. He came across lifeboat 11 packed with sixty odd people, but the assistant deck steward pulled him in anyway. They drifted about at the mercy of the currents as they had no rudder.

Rescue and Queenstown

The Wanderer of Peel (Peel 12) came to the rescue and pulled them aboard. They were then transferred to the Flying Fish and taken to Queenstown. The moment was surreal as the wet and weary survivors walked between a line of townspeople. The crowd cheered and applauded as they made their way forward. Rankin felt a lump in his throat as the magnitude of the tragedy hit him. A "jacky-tar" gave him a drink of hot whiskey and put him to bed. The next day, Rankin made his way through the town looking for friends. He found Clinton Bernard who had swum to a collapsible and rescued many people among them Stanley Lines and Dorothy Conner. Rankin saw Dr. Pearson lying in a makeshift morgue and arranged for his embalming. That Sunday, he and another shipboard acquaintance Robert Timmis motored over to Kinsale to help identify bodies, but found none that they knew. He also gave a brief description of his experiences to the American Consul which was sent to the state department in the form of a depositon. The following is his deposition:
At 12 pm ship began zigzag course off Irish coast. Walked deck till 1:30. Went to lunch 20 minutes. Arrived on rear starboard A Deck at about 2:00 pm, ships time of night before. At exactly 2:10 pm one of our group of four sighted submarine rising about 1/4 mile to starboard bow. Lusitania going slow all morning. Had been blowing fog horn till about 10:00 am and was still going about 15 knots. Torpedo left submarine almost instantly after sighted and travelled rapidly toward boat, leaving white trail. Struck ship not far from a line below the bridge and through boiler room. Explosion tore through deck, destroying part of forward lifeboat. A boiler exploded immediately. There was no second torpedo. Boat list immediately and began to fill through open ports as well as hole caused by explosion. Ship sank at 2:33 by watch of passenger who jumped in sea. Torpedo fired without warning and while most of passengers were below at breakfast [lunch].

Continued mobility

Rankin arrived in London, Monday afternoon to keep his business appointments though he had lost all his papers. He took the ship St. Louis back home along with Oscar Grab, Charles Hardwick, Arthur Mathews, Richard Taylor, and Fred Pearson's son. They arrived in New York on 7 June 1915. The Lusitania disaster did not deter Rankin from traveling and after leaving San Paolo Electric, he and his wife moved to Peking, China when he was made vice-president of Anderson Meyer and Co. and the Willard Straight Co. He also took on the position of director of the Chinese American Bank of Commerce. Unfortunately, relations between Robert and Enid were breaking down and they separated. His ex-wife moved back to New York and wrote a book called, Dominion of Sea and Air. It examined the causes of war and offered suggestions on preventing future wars. She passed away a few years later at age forty-three.

Second marriage and later years

Rankin retired in 1920 and traveled to forget about his failed marriage and to relax after many years of hard work. He met a woman named Hilda Master Rigby and the married on 24 February 1923. The two settled in Angmering on Sea, Sussex, England. Rankin filed a claim for compensation for lost effects and on 21 February 1924 he was awarded $1,362.00. Not content to settle down, the Rankins moved to St. Catherine's, Ontario where they stayed many years. He finally became a father, at age fifty-two, to a girl whom they named Virginia. Feeling he had much to contribute during World War II, he went to Washington, D.C., to work as an engineer with US Government. He became a technical adviser to Evans International Corp after the war. Rankin eventually settled back into retirement back in St. Catherine's, Ontario. He began vacationing in Provincetown, Massachussetts towards the end of his life and passed away there on 10 August 1959 at age 76.

Related pages

Robert Rankin at the Mixed Claims Commission Robert Rankin: Lusitania Survivor and Inventor
Contributors: Michael Poirier References: Poirier, Michael. "Robert Rankin: Lusitania Survivor and Inventor." Voyage (46). Winter 2003-2004.

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