The White Star Line
It was in 1867 that British gentleman Thomas Henry Ismay purchased the bankrupt White Star Line, acquiring with the deal the company’s soon-to-be famous flag. Previously, White Star had only dealt with the Australian routes. Ismay decided to keep those routes in service, but shifted them into the background. Ismay instead decided to focus on the North Atlantic trade. When partnered with the eminent shipbuilding firm of Harland & Wolff, in Belfast, Ireland, White Star quickly began putting new ships into service. The company also found great success in the Atlantic competition.
In 1902, the company – now under the leadership of Thomas Ismay’s son J. Bruce Ismay – was bought out by American financier J. P. Morgan. The company was merged with Morgan’s monstrous International Mercantile Marine, and, backed by Morgan’s very deep pockets began to plan the next level of competition.
This was accomplished in the White Star Line’s “Big Four”, a series of four liners that entered service in rapid succession. The last and largest of these was the Adriatic of 1907. However comfortable these ships were, one fact was obvious: they were very slow.
Then Cunard put the Lusitania and Mauretania into service in the summer and late fall of 1907. At once, they were much faster and fifty per cent larger than the Adriatic. Hence, the plan was born for a pair of immense sister ships that were like nothing the world had ever seen before. Later, a third ship was added to the pair.
The three hyperlinks below will take you through the remarkable – and unexpectedly tragic – histories of the Olympic-class liners.
Another vessel, built for the White Star Line by Harland & Wolff, was specifically intended to service the Olympic-class vessels during their calls in Cherbourg, France. She was named Nomadic, and although the years have taken a terrible toll on her, she still survives today and has been returned to her birthplace of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Have a look at the last surviving White Star Line-built vessel in the world at Nomadic’s page.