The White Star flag was first flown in 1850 by a line of sailing vessels that carried British emigrants to Australia, in search of newly discovered gold. The owner of the line retired in 1867, passing the fleet subsequently to Thomas Henry Ismay, son of a Cumberland boatbuilder. The new owner endeavored to replace the wooden sailing ships with iron vessels. To do this he sought the financial support of Gustavus Schwabe. Even though the Australian route was profitable, both Ismay and Schwabe realized that the Atlantic route had the larger prize. The North Atlantic route became popular because of the rapid growth of the United States in the late 1800s. After Samuel Cunards Britannia started the first transatlantic steamship service in 1840 and before 1890, trade between the United States and Britain increased sevenfold, mostly in cotton, tobacco, and wheat. During the same period the population of the United States quadrupled. Cunards line focused on shuttling mail, cargo, and first-class passengers; Now there was a whole new market of lower-class passengers, commonly referred to as steerage. While countless people migrated to the United States, many, as much as 100,000, decided to leave the US because it wasnt what they had expected. In efforts to accommodate the sudden spikes in interest, ships grew bigger and faster.
When White Star Line first entered into the Atlantic market, Harland & Wolff took on the responsibility of designing and constructing White Stars new vessels. They began with the Oceanic, which was 420 ft long, 41 ft wide, and 31 ft deep, with a tonnage of 3,707. The Oceanic included a number of new improvements. More vessels followed with newer and more creative improvements, which placed White Star in direct competition with Cunard. By 1875, White Star Line ships, such as the Britannic and Germanic, could attain speeds of more than 16 knots, thus reducing the trip to seven and a half days. The first major ship improvement occurred in 1889 when White Star introduced its first twin-screw steamers, Teutonic and Majestic. This new design housed a new "screw" type mechanics that allowed the ships to travel at rates of 20 knots.
The Atlantic market increased rapidly, notably by the Germans and Americans. Inman Lines of Liverpool was sold to the International Navigation Company of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Despite the efforts of Thomas Henry Ismay, this enabled the Americans to gain access to superior British technology. Shortly after, John Pierpont Morgan, American financier, took control of the new line.
John Morgan immediately started expanding and conquering the Atlantic route by viciously eliminating all forms of competition. He then worked out an amalgamation with the leading German lines, and then turned around and started a price war with Cunards Line. Morgan started to offer 3rd class transatlantic passage for as little as 2 pounds. After Morgan hit Cunards market hard, he then shocked Cunard by attempting to purchase his line only to find the British government intervening in effort to stop another British company from falling into the hands of the Americans.
Lord Pirrie realized that Morgan posed a imminent threat to Harland & Wolffs continuation. If the price war continued there would be less money to build new ships. Most of Harland & Wolffs business comes from White Star Lines, which at this time was just as vulnerable as Cunards Line. In 1899 Thomas Henry Ismay passed away , leaving White Star Line with his son, J. Bruce Ismay, but he was inexperienced compared to such a brash entrepreneur as Morgan. Lord Pirrie made an aggressive and daring advancement and joined efforts with Morgan and purchased White Star Lines, in 1902. From that point on, White Star Lines was a subsidiary of International Mercantile Marine, of which Morgan was the main proprietor. Bruce Ismay continued to serve as chairman of White Star Lines, and all White Star ships continued to have British crews and fly the British flag, but the real skill was in America.
During the nineteenth century most ship builders were seeking to build larger and faster ship than ever created. In 1838 Sirius, a small wooden paddle ship, was the first vessel to cross the Atlantic continuously while under steam power. Sirius averaged a speed of seven and a half knots and was less than a quarter the size of the Titanic. Over the next few years the ships were getting larger and larger. Cunard built the 4,555-ton Bothnia in 1874. It was followed by the 7,718-ton Umbria in 1884, and the 12,950-ton Campania in 1893. Meanwhile, White Star built the 9,686-ton Teutonic and Majesticin 1890, and the 17,274-ton Oceanic in 1899.
The battle between the two big Lines intensified over the years. Before his death in 1899, Thomas Henry Ismay dreamed of four large liners for White Star, each emphasizing comfort rather than speed. Starting 1901, Bruce Ismay carried out his fathers dream and created the Celtic. The Cedric(1903), Baltic(1904), and the Adriatic(1907) followed shortly after. Cunard was heavily subsidized by the British government, who was alarmed by the sudden increase of mighty German liners, and responded by producing Lusitania and the Mauretania in 1907. These ships were larger and faster than any other ships created. The government hoped that these new vessels would be invaluable in case of war, and further more they featured a new method of propulsion, steam turbine, which was more economical and powerful than the traditional piston-based reciprocating engine. White Star Line knew it had to meet the competition, and fast, or White Star would begin to suffer.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century Lord Pirrie and Joseph Bruce Ismay were two of the most powerful men in shipbuilding. Lord Pirrie was the chairman of Harland & Wolff, the worldly renowned shipbuilding firm, and Bruce Ismay was the chairman of White Star Line, Britains greatest steamship company.
In the mid 1800s White Star Line was fighting the Cunard Line for control of the hugely popular and lucrative North Atlantic route between Britain and the United States. White Star Lines always contracted Harland & Wolff to build their ships, therefore the two men knew each other well. And both men realized that massive expansion and redesign was the only way to defeat Cunard.
In 1907 Bruce Ismay dined with Lord Pirrie at the Devonshire House in Mayfair, London. After dinner, Pirrie introduced the idea of three massive transatlantic liners, which would far exceed any other vessel afloat in size, speed, and opulence. Bruce Ismay listened impatiently as Lord Pirrie drew up rough plans for the three liners, each one larger than the last. They planned on naming the vessels the Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic to reflect their impressive size and class.
The first ship to leave port was the Olympic, and its Maiden Voyage paved the way for the Titanic by bringing wealth and demand to the White Star Lines. Titanic emerged from the shipbuilding yard just a few months after the Olympic, and the distinction that surrounded the Titanic drew people from around the world.