THE ATLANTIC RACE
Titanic was born out of fierce competition between trans-Atlantic shipping
The idea of such famous ships as the Titanic, Olympic, Britannia and Majestic
was born out of the maritime revolution that replaced sail with steam.
In the early 19th century, paddle-steamers were regarded as a novelty and
were restricted to river use. Gradually, competition forced their owners
to look for other areas of operation and they began to trade along the coastlines
and, even, dare to make short sea crossings such as the North Sea, the Irish
Sea and the Straits of Dover.
Early paddle-boats were wooden affairs and closely resembled the sailing
ships they replaced. Their low-pressure machinery was incapable of producing
much speed, but enterprising owners were optimistic about their ultimate
potential. Like crossing the Atlantic? Well, yes actually.
On 18th April 1838, New York bid welcome to a bruised and battered little
paddle-boat, named The Sirius, which had beaten all the odds and completed
the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic under continuous steam power.
Sirius, designed only for the short crossing from England to Ireland, had
taken 15 days at a speed of 8.2 knots to plough her way across the North
Atlantic, despite atrocious weather conditions. Most of all, she started
folk rethinking the Atlantic concept.
Within days of Sirius' success, the British Admiralty decided to construct
four new ships, to transport mail across the Atlantic Ocean. A Canadian,
Samuel Cunard, won the contract.
Cunard revolutionised ship construction. For the North Atlantic contract,
he designed the Britannia, Arcadia, Caledonia and Columbia. Each ship was
68 metres in length and capable of a speed of 9 knots. Each was rigged as
a three-masted barque and sported a Cunard red funnel topped by a black
band: not totally confident enough yet to wholly trust to steam power!
On 16th July 1840, the triumphant maiden voyage of Britannia was made from
Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia. And the all-important duration of the
voyage?- just 12 days, having notched up an average speed of 8.5 knots.
As Cunard's reputation for providing the fastest and most reliable way to
cross the Atlantic Ocean grew, so too, naturally, did the size of his fleet,
(not to mention the size of the company's bank balance).
For seven glorious years, the Cunard Line dominated the Atlantic route.
But leaner times loomed when the American government launched a mail-and-passenger
competitor: the 'Washington'. This heralded the era of great rivalry for
Rivalry on the North Atlantic
And why did people, more and more, want to cross the N. Atlantic?
The growth of the American economy (late 19th century) tempted affluent
Americans to venture on to the high seas, both for financial reasons and
In Europe, the 'Go West, young man' promise of a new and better life lured
a steady stream of emigrants. During the latter half of the century, more
than 30,000,000 emigrants from Europe entered America to seek a better life
in the New World.
Between 1900 - 1920 the number of crossings reached a lucrative 14,500,000.
More traffic was carried on this main sea route than on all the other oceans
combined. It appeared an excellent time to be part of the shipping business!
Increased competition on the route stimulated demand for faster ships and
greater comfort. The fastest (and most economically operated) ships on the
North Atlantic belonged to Cunard- the superbly luxurious, quadruple-screw,
turbine-engined Lusitania and Mauretania.
Then, as if from nowhere, a modest but supremely ambitious competitor for