The Carpathia was primarily designed for the Hungarian emigrant service between Fiume and New York and made her inaugural voyage from Liverpool to New York, via Queenstown on 5 May 1903. The accommodation was far superior to anything previously offered to emigrants and the 3rd class accommodation was considered a good standard.
There were also public rooms for 3rd class passengers and all meals were included in the fare. The ship continued the Liverpool to New York service until November 1903 and then spent the winter carrying passengers from Trieste and Fiume.
On 17th May 1904 the Carpathia returned to the Liverpool-New York service. During the following years the ship would return to the Mediterranean service every winter, beginning with a positioning cruise from Liverpool to Naples. In 1905 the passenger accommodation was altered to accommodate 100 1st class, 200 2nd class and 2,250 3rd class passengers. By 1909 it was spending all year on the Mediterranean service, only returning to Liverpool at the end of each year for an annual overhaul.
One of the most dramatic events in the Carpathia's career was the rescue dash made to pick up the survivors of the ill-fated Titanic.The Titanic, on April 14th 1912 at approximately 11:40pm, struck an iceberg on her Starboard bow. The berg caused hull breaches in 5 of the vessels "water tight" compartments, which, given time, would cause the mighty vessel to founder.
Realizing this, Titanic's master (Captain Smith) ordered the international distress signal - C.Q.D to be sent from the vessel's wireless room (CQ meaning attention all vessels and D meaning distress or danger). The wireless operators, frustrated with the lack of responses, sent out the then new S.O.S signal, one of the first times that this signal has been sent.
Carpathia's wireless operator stumbled upon the Titanic's distress purely by accident. While listening to messages for Titanic being sent through Cape Cod, Carpathia's operator decided to try and rouse Titanic and alert them of these messages. His message of "I say old man do you know there is a lot of traffic for you at Cape Cod" was answered by Titanic, but the mood quickly changed when Titanic's operator Jack Phillips sent back, "We are sinking, come at once, this is CQD, old man".
Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, immediately set a course to Titanic's last known position, over 60 miles away, traveling at full speed. At 4.00am the Carpathia arrived at the scene after negotiating surrounding ice fields.
The Carpathia picked up the 705 survivors and 20 lifeboats from the sunken Titanic. Tragically 1,503 Titanic passengers had perished. As there was insufficient food on board to make it to Europe, Captain Rostron decided to sail back to New York. When Carpathia arrived at New York the full horror of the Titanic tragedy was learnt. Amidst the controversy and rumours that were rife over the next few months Captain Rostron, his crew and the Carpathia itself were beyond reproach.
Soon the Carpathia, now a famous ship, returned to its usual service, which continued until the outbreak of World War I. On 5th September 1914 the Carpathia incurred the wrath of the Italian government for failing to obtain an emigrant licence, which was required to carry their nationals, and was subsequently fined. The Carpathia continued its commercial service throughout the War, first operating from the Piraeus in Greece and then, in 1915, being transferred to the New York and Boston run from Liverpool.
On 17th July 1918 the Carpathia was traveling in convoy, bound for Boston, when it was struck by two German torpedoes some 120 miles west of Fastnet. A third torpedo hit the ship as the lifeboats were being manned. Five of the crew were killed by the explosions. The remainder of the crew and the 57 passengers on board were picked up by HMS Snowdrop and safely brought to Liverpool. The Carpathia sank at 12.40am that day.