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History Reflected in Silver




Steamship History

In 1834, the federal government opened land offices wishing to speed up, the settlement of Wisconsin. Steamboats on the Mississippi River connected Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico and immigrants and goods from the East came into the territory on Great Lakes steamships.

In 1849 the California Rush began launching one of the single largest migrations of people from around the world to California.  Many easterners from the New England states chose not to take the overland route. Instead, they chose to make the 14,000-mile journey by sea, around Cape Horn. Additionally, many European and Asian emigrants had no choice but to travel by sea. Steamships played an important role in these journeys.

The mass immigration to the United States that occurred in the late 19th, early 20th centuries (The Great Wave) is America's story. With the number of immigrants to America increasing, the market called for bigger and faster ships. The great steamship companies like White Star, Red Star, Cunard and Hamburg-America rose to the challenge. Most immigrants entered through New York Harbor because it was the most popular destination of steamship companies. From 1892 to 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor. Other port destinations included as Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco and Savannah, Miami, and New Orleans.

Tens of millions American family histories originate in Baltimore. In1867 the B&O Railroad signed an agreement with the North German Lloyd Steamship Company to jointly recruit and transport immigrants from Bremerhaven to Baltimore. The first steamship to land at the B&O Railroad’s Locust Point piers was the North German Lloyd Line’s “Baltimore” on March 24, 1868.

From the 1920's and until the 1960's, Atlantic liner steamships were built as palatial vessels with all the luxuries found at the most exclusive of metropolitan hotels. These super liners were not only a means of transportation, but also great symbols for their nations. Although this struggle waged chiefly between Great Britain and Germany, many nations wanted to boast that they had the best liners in the world.

From the early 1930's until the close of the 1960's, the transpacific and Hawaiian routes were dominated by the flagships of American shipping companies; American President Lines (1938-1925), Grace Line (1882-1969), and Matson Lines (1882-1980). The Collins Line (1848-1858) began as the New York & Liverpool United States' Mail Steamship Company. It owned the four finest ships then afloat--the Arctic, Atlantic, Baltic, and Pacific. However, it did not survive long. Collision removed the Arcticfrom the line in 1854, and other losses followed.

Steamship History

1802   First successful steamship a tugboat, the Charlotte Dundas, built by William Symington
1803   Fulton demonstrated a steam driven boat on the River Seine in France
1806   The "Phoenix" was the first steamboat able to navigate in the ocean
1817   The Savannah was the first paddle steamer to traverse the ocean
1822   The Aaroon Manby, the first iron steamship, was launched
1838   Two wooden liners, the Great Western and the Sirius, inaugurated transatlantic passenger service under steam.
1840   Cunard Shipping line opened
1843   First iron hulled, propeller driven steamship, SS Great Britain, is launched
1844   Great Western the first successful steam powered ship to make Atlantic crossing
1847   Cunard's Hermann and Washington steamships provide a regular cross-Atlantic service
1853   New York and California Steamship Company founded
1858   Great Eastern, the largest ship of the 19th century is launched
1870   Oceanic Company, predecessor to the White Star Line, built the Britannic and Germanic. These were the largest of its early ships
1902   White Star Line taken over by the International Mercantile Marine Company
1915   The Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo approximately 1,200 lives were lost.
1934   Cunard and White Star Lines merged forming Cunard-White Star

Some Ships of Note

Britannic part of the modern trend towards dieselization built in 1930 by the White Star Line. It was sister to the Titanic and Olympic.

RMS Queen Mary sailed the North Atlantic from 1936 - 1967.  Cunard Steamship Company

RMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from 1938 - 1968. She remained the largest passenger ship ever built until 1996.

S.S. America was launched in 1939. It was a US Merchant Marine vessel and the largest passenger vessel ever built in the Western Hemisphere.

Brittania a paddle steamer, was Samuel Cunard's first ship. It began transatlantic operation in  
1840 sailing from Liverpool to New York and Boston.

RMS Mauretania launched 1939, Cunard Line, was the most opulent liner of her time. She was built by agreement between Cunard and Parliament to re-establish the British supremacy on the Atlantic and win back the coveted Blue Riband from Germanic hands.

Great Britain was built in 1845 as a passenger liner for the Great Western Steamship Company. It was the world's first screw-driven, large iron steamship to cross the Atlantic.

Arctic was built in 1850 as a sidewheel steamship for the New York and Liverpool United States Mail Steamship Company, better known as the Collins Line, She was known as the Clipper of the Seas. In late September 1854, in reduced visibility, the Arctic collided with the French screw steamer Vesta and sank. Safety measures implemented in the wake of the tragedy included more widespread use of lifeboats and steam whistles.

Great Eastern (originally named Leviathan) was originally built in 1858 as a passenger liner. However, she is best remembered as the ship that laid the first successful Atlantic Cable in 1866.  When builtshe was five times larger than any vessel previously built and could carry 12,000 tons of coal and nearly 4,000 passengers. She was removed from service in 1872 and eventually scrapped.

Scotia built in 1862 was the last Cunard paddle-wheel steamers.

Britannic (2) was launched on 26 February 1914, launching had been delayed so modifications following the Titanic disaster could be made. She never made a commercial sailing having been requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service; first carrying troops and then as a hospital ship. On November 21 1915 she struck a mine and sank in the Aegean

The RMS Caronia launched 1948 passenger comfort and convenience. It was Cunard's beautiful "Green Goddess". It was the first ship ever built for both TransAtlantic crossings, and more importantly, for cruising.  It was the world's first cruiseship.

California In 1848 the Postmaster General of the United States issued the first contracts for mail to be carried by steamship between New York and the Panamanian Isthmus When California reached Panama on January 17, 1849, she was met by more than 1,500 Americans who formed the first wave of forty-niners spurred west by President James K. Polk's official announcement of the California gold strikes earlier that year.

Washington This ship built in 1863, and her sisters, was soon to set a French standard for good food and comfort. In 1868 it had been proven that the propeller was superior and more economical than the conventional paddle wheels. So she was rebuilt with propellers. This refit of the Washington made her the first twin-screw liner on the North Atlantic. The City of New York was ‘the first transatlantic ship that was originally built with two propellers.

Russia 1867 Briefly held Blue Riband of the Atlantic for her maiden voyage of 8 days and 25 minutes. She was sold to Red Star Line in 1881 and renamed Waesland. She was lost in a collision in March 1902.

Parthia her keel was laid on what was to be the finest ship yet of the Cunard fleet in February of 1870.However, she would soon see a change; The Canadian Pacific Railway Co. was about to inaugurate their trans-Pacific service, together with several other ships, the Parthia was placed in Canadian Pacific service. On July 4 1887 she made her maiden arrival at the port of Vancouver. After her 20th and final sailing for the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. she taken in for a modernization refit. She emerged in 1892 with only two masts and with the new name Victoria.

City of Paris (1889) and her sister ship City of New York (1888) were the first twin-screw passenger ships on which the sailing rig was reduced to little more than decoration. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Paris was commissioned as the auxiliary cruiser USS Yaleand the New York was commissioned as the auxiliary cruiser USS Harvard.

St. Paul built in 1895 together with her sister ship "St Louis" (1894) were the first American built screw express steamers.

Olympic launched in 1910 was intended to be the premier transatlantic liner, combining great size and comfort  (running water in every cabin) with a moderate turn of speed On September20, 1911 she was badly damaged when off Portsmouth when her triple screws caused such massive suction that the cruiser HMS Hawke was pulled into her stern. The Olympic was extensively rebuilt after loss of sister Titanic in 1912.  Following she had a long and illustrious career, earning nickname "Old Reliable".  Retired in 1935.

United States built in1952 was a joint effort between the United States Navy and United States Lines. She was built to exacting Navy specifications, thus was inherently fireproof and heavily compartmentalized. On her maiden voyage, July 4, 1952, the United States smashed the transatlantic speed record held by the Queen Mary for the previous 14 years by over 10 hours.

Andrea Doria was built in 1953 by the Italian’s to regain their former glory on the Atlantic. She was the fastest, largest, most luxurious, and safest ship in the Italian fleet and known as the “Grand Dame of the Sea.” On 25 July 1956 in heavy fog, 60 miles off Nantucket Island at 11:10 p.m., the reinforced ice-breaking bow of the Swedish-American liner Stockholm tore into the starboard side of Andrea Doria sinking her.

Southern Cross was launched by HRH Queen Elizabeth II on 17 August 1954. She was the first merchant ship to be launched by a reigning Monarch. Her design revolutionized shipbuilding. Engines were placed aft, providing passengers with additional deck space. She was built to operate on the Australian, New Zealand service so her name was chosen befitting her destination. Australia and New Zealand use the Southern Cross constellation on their National flags

Four-funnel ships built between 1897 and 192

Norddeutscher Lloyd Co.
            Kaiser Wihelm Der Grosse (1897)
            Kronprinz Wilhelm (1901)
            Kaiser Wihelm II  (1902)
            Kronprinzessen Cecile (1907)
Hamburg America Line
            Deutschland (1900)
The Cunard Line
            RMS Lusitania (1906)
            RMS Mauretania (1906)
            RMS Aquitania (1913)
The White Star Line
            RMS Olympic (1911)
            RMS Titanic (1912)
            RMS Britannic II (1914)
The French Line
            France (1910)
The Union Castle Line
            RMS Windsor Castle (1921)
            Arundel Castle (1919)


Samuel Cunard (1787-1865)

The Cunard Line was founded by Samuel Cunard (1787-1865).  It began in 1840 as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.  The name was changed to the Cunard Steamship Company, Limited in 1878 and eventually shortened to just the Cunard Line. In 1934 the Cunard and White Star lines merged forming Cunard-White Star Limited.

The Cunard Line is oldest passengership line in existence today. It was among the first to enter the North Atlantic passenger trade, and the first to maintain regular service with a fleet of ships. One of its core principles was safety over speed and profit; thus, not a single life was lost on a Cunard ship in the first 65 years of the company’s history. It was Samuel Cunard who initiated the system of sailing with green lights to starboard, red to port, and white on the masthead. This system became the standard for the entire maritime world. The first disaster for the company did not occur until 50 years after the death of Samuel Cunard when a German submarine torpedoed the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

Importantly Samuel Cunard was one of the firsts to recognize the economic disadvantage of ships that were entirely dependent on the movement of winds. His dream was to create an “ocean railway” with passengers and cargo arriving by ship as punctually and as regularly as by railway trains. In 1833 the Royal William built in Quebec City for the "Quebec and Halifax Steam Navigation Company" was the first to ship to cross the Atlantic entirely by steam. Cunard was one of the principal shareholders.

Following the achievement of The Royal William he established the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and won the British Admiralty's first contract for a mail subsidy to deliver mail to Canada and the United States. The company built four steamships, (Britannia, Acadia, Caledonia, and Columbia) and on July 4, 1840, the Britannia the first of these mail steamers began sailing from Liverpool for Halifax and Boston.

In 1848 Cunard moved to London and, four years later, his company built the Andes. It had propellers at the stern instead of the less efficient paddle wheels. Four years later the Persia, the largest ship of its time, was launched and from there the Cunard fleet continued to grow.

In addition to the giant ships built by the Cunard Line, the company also built smaller 20,000-ton ships. These smaller ships meant more personal and attentive service. The Scynthia (1919), and the Samaria (1921) and Laconia (1921) were built to encourage the tourist trade and attract those wanting luxury at sea.

Today Cunard is part of the Carnival Corporation.

John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913)

John Pierpont Morgan was an American financier and banker, one of the richest men in America.
In 1871 he became a partner in Drexel, Morgan & Co. The firm became J.P. Morgan & Company in 1895, and was recognized to become one of the most powerful financial institutions in the world.

The International Navigation Company of Philadelphia was founded in 1871 but was better known as the "Red Star Line".  "Red Star Line was only a trade name, not a corporation. In 1893 under reorganization, the International Navigation Company of New Jersey would manage the Red Star Line.

In 1902 J.P. Morgan began started consolidating his shipping activities. A new conglomerate emerged under the name of International Mercantile and Marine Company. Through this holding, J. Pierpont Morgan not only controlled the International Navigation Company of New Jersey(which now included the Red Star Line) but also the International Navigation Company of Liverpool, and added other shipping lines, such as the White Star Line, the Atlantic Transport Line, the Dominion Line, and the Leyland Line.


Thomas Henry Ismay (1837 -1899)
Founder and Chairman of Board of Directors of White Star Line

The White Star Line that was founded in 1850 was purchased by Thomas Ismay in 1867 and set up to rival Cunard in Trans-Atlantic passenger traffic.  In 1902, J Pierpoint Morgan purchased the company keeping J. Bruce Ismay as managing director. Morgan's money meant that the company could build the large luxury liners necessary to attract the wealthy passengers. In 1907, the company decided to build two liners that were heavier, bigger and more luxurious than any others in the World. They were to be named Olympic and Titanic. If successful a third, Gigantic, (Britannic) would follow. The Titanic, the pride of the White Star Line, would go down in history when it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage, April 15, 1912.

Thomas Ismay had two sons, both active in the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay took over the company when his father died in 1899. He was serving as the Managing Director of the White Star Line when the Titanic sunk. The Titanic was actually American-owned because the White Star Line had been sold to J.P. Morgan's International Mercantile and Marine Company in 1902. On board the Titanic during the sinking, he boarded a lifeboat before all the women and children had been evacuated, as he did, his own daughter was still on board. The act that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  In 1913 he resigned from the company. The Titanic sinking did not cause the companies demise.

World War I hurt the White Star line financially just as it did other shipping lines. Very little income could be generated during the war years, so in 1927, the White Star Line ended up being sold and renamed as the White Star Line Limited. It was now (unofficially) part of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The company struggled to keep up maintenance on the obsolete vessels but it was hopeless.

Cunard and White Star lines were both suffering from serious financial problems resulting from the European depression that which began in 1929 following the 'Great "War". In 1934 the British Government forced the merger of the two lines, forming Cunard-White Star Ltd. Double house flags were flown on the new Cunard-White Star ships until 1957 at which time Cunard bought the remaining shares held by White Star and liquidated most of it's ships. By 1958, all traces of the famed White Star Line ceased to exist. During its lifespan, The White Star Line had been comprised of over 120 ships.



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