In 1867 a young businessman, Thomas Henry Ismay bought the ailing White Star Line, a shipping line which had largely be involved on routes to Australia. Ismay refocused the business on the North-Atlantic trade and through one of his backers, began an association with the Belfast Shipyard of Harland & Wolff. The first fruits of this association were the Oceanic (1870) and her sister ships. Prudent business sense combined with the quality and reliability of the Belfast shipyard led White Star to a dominant position on both the Atlantic and Australian passenger and freight trading routes.
In time Ismay brought his sons Joseph Bruce Ismay and James Ismay in to run the business day-to-day and they continued the partnership with Harland & Wollf, which also flourished under its apprenctice-turned-managing director William James, later Lord Pirrie. Pirrie helped broker a deal in 1902 that saw White Star subsumed into the International Mercantile Marine conglomerate under John Pierpont Morgan. Bruce Ismay became President of the combine. With flourishing trade, increased finance, and new vessels on the order book, future success seeemd assured.