Encyclopedia Titanica

Olympic & Titanic : The White Star Line

The Shipbuilder

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THE completion of the immense liner Olympic, to be followed very shortly by the sister ship Titanic, the largest ships in the world, adds yet another triumph of shipbuilding and engineering skill to the splendid list of vessels built for the Atlantic passenger service. In no other trade have such remarkable developments taken place in the size of ships and in the comfort and luxury provided for passengers. Competition between the great shipping companies engaged has been very keen, and efforts to secure pre-eminence have been quickly followed by the endeavours of rival lines to “go one better.” In this respect the White Star Line, or more properly the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, has always been in the first rank since the Company was formed in 1869, and the building of the Olympic and Titanic makes it evident that the characteristic policy of enterprise and foresight is being worthily maintained.

Fig. 1.—The First “Oceanic,” 1871.
(The Pioneer Steamship of the White Star Line.)

Early History.

The White Star flag was flown originally by a line of sailing vessels founded about 1850, and mainly engaged in the Australian trade to cope with the great rush to the newly found Australian goldfields. In 1867 the owner of this line retired and the fleet passed into the hands of the late Mr. Thomas Henry Ismay. Mr. Ismay commenced by introducing iron instead of wooden sailing ships ; but having had some experience of steamships and Atlantic traffic as a director of the National Line, he realized the advantages to be obtained by the establishment of a high-class service of steamships in the Atlantic passenger trade, and in 1869 formed the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company for this purpose.

Thomas H.Ismay
The Late Mr. Thomas H. Ismay.
(Founder of the White Star Line.)

In 1870 Mr. Ismay was joined in the management of this Company by Mr. William Imrie, the title of the managing firm being altered to Ismay, Imrie & Co. An order was immediately placed with Messrs. Harland and Wolff to build a new fleet, thus commencing that connection between owners and builders which has been maintained with such marked success up to the present day, all the subsequent vessels of the White Star Line, with the exception of the Cretic, having been built at the famous Belfast yard.

The First “Oceanic.”

The pioneer vessel of the new Line, the first Oceanic, was launched at Belfast in August, 1870, and arrived in the Mersey in February, 1871. She was 420 ft. long, 41 ft. broad, and 31 ft. deep, with a tonnage of 3,707, and she embodied a number of improvements previously unknown in the Atlantic trade. Her propelling machinery consisted of two sets of four-cylinder compound engines supplied by Messrs. Maudslay, Sons and Field, of London, working on a single shaft. Each set consisted of two 41-inch diameter high- pressure cylinders and two 78-in. diameter low- pressure cylinders, with a stroke of 60in. Steam was supplied by 12 boilers, having in all 24 furnaces, and working at 651b. pressure. The speed of the vessel was about 14 knots with a coal consumption of 65 tons per day.

Notable Vessels.

Following the Oceanic came a long list of notable vessels, as will be seen from the diagram showing the progress of White Star steamers given in Fig. 2. Specially noteworthy were the Britannic and Germanic, built in 1874 and 1875. These vessels had a speed of over 16 knots, and reduced the time of passage to less than 7J days. The Germanic, with new engines and boilers, made the passage in 6 days, 21 hours, 3 minutes, in August, 1896. No further development in the direction of high speed was attempted by the White Star Line until, in 1889, they placed on service the successful 20-knot vessels Teutonic and Majestic, their first twin-screw steamers, both of which, almost up to the advent of the Olympic, have been regularly employed between Southampton and New York, the Teutonic having been transferred to the Company’s Canadian service from Liverpool in May last.

In 1899 an important stage was reached by the completion of the second Oceanic, a vessel surpassing in dimensions anything previously attempted and the first ship to exceed the Great Eastern in length. No attempt was made in her design, however, to emulate the high speed attained by the contemporary Cunard and German record breakers. It was considered that a speed of 20 knots was sufficient to make the vessel a reliable seven-day boat, and in this respect she has amply fulfilled expectations. Following the Oceanic, a return was made to slower speed vessels of 16 to 17 knots, but the increase in size was maintained. The largest vessel of the Line prior to the completion of the Olympic was the Adriatic, built in 1907, her dimensions being 709ft. 3in., by 75ft. 6in., by 56ft. 9in., and speed 17 knots. The completion of the Olympic and Titanic bring up the total number of White Star liners to thirty-one, having an aggregate gross tonnage of about 460,000.


Fig. 2. -Diagram showing Development in Size of White Star Liners.

Later History.

Other notable events in the history of the Line have been the transference, in 1907, of the main service—Liverpool, Queenstown, and New York—to Southampton, Cherbourg, Queens¬ town, and New York, and the passage of its control to the International Mercantile Marine Company, of which the White Star Line forms the most important unit. In 1909 their first entry was made into Canadian traffic with the steamers Laurentic and Megantic, the largest vessels which have yet been employed in this service. The Laurentic and Megantic are further notable on account of the fact that whereas the Megantic is propelled with twin screws driven by reciprocating engines, the Laurentic, although otherwise of similar dimensions and form, is provided with triple screws and machinery combining two sets of reciprocating engines with a low-pressure Parsons turbine. This experiment was made in order that the relative merits of the two systems of propelling machinery could be ascertained. No results have been published regarding the performances of these ships, but the fact that it was decided to adopt the combined type of engines for the Olympic and Titanic, after the full experience of the two systems secured in this way, is significant.


The present chairman and managing director, Mr. Joseph Bruce Ismay, is the eldest son of the founder of the White Star Line, the late Mr. Thomas Ismay, and has occupied that position with great ability since the death of his father in 1899. Mr. Bruce Ismay was born in 1862. He was educated at Harrow and then served a seven years’ apprenticeship in the office of Messrs. Ismay, Imrie & Co., after which he proceeded to New York as agent for the White Star Line. Returning later to Liverpool, he was admitted a partner in the firm. Training and temperament alike have combined to fit Mr. Ismay eminently for the position of vast responsibility he holds, and the success of the Olympic is in no small measure due to the interest and initiative he has displayed in dealing with the many problems involved. Associated with Mr. Ismay in this work mention should be made of those officials of the Line who have devoted great ability and untiring energy to,the mass of detail connected with the building of the two latest and greatest Atlantic liners.


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2020) Olympic & Titanic : The White Star Line (The Shipbuilder, , ref: #202, published 28 October 2020, generated 6th July 2022 06:31:47 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-shipbuilder-the-white-star-line.html