Passenger Ships

Until the early 19th century the evolution of ship design and shipbuilding had been incredibly slow. However, by the 1820s steam power, a key component of the industrial revolution, had made its way into seaborne transportation.

For centuries, sailing ships were the most reliable means of transiting long distances at sea, but a voyage onboard such a vessel was lengthy and risky. The first steamships were modest in design; they were simply sailing ships with steaming capabilities. At the time, crossing the Atlantic Ocean – the bridge linking the Old and the New World – onboard such a vessel was regarded as an impossible task.

The first steamship to make this daring voyage was the 1818-built SAVANNAH, an American hybrid sailing ship/paddle steamer, which in 1819 made the crossing in about 27 days, opening a new chapter in maritime history. The transit was, however, purely experimental as despite publicity, efforts to attract passengers and cargo were unsuccessful.

Over the coming years, thanks to the construction of higher specification ships, more and more steamships transited long distances other than the North Atlantic crossing, while the advancement in shipbuilding technology led to the first truly commercial liner ventures. In the late 1830s, the founders of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) launched a service between England and the Iberian Peninsula, while in 1840 the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company – the predecessor of the Cunard Line – established a transatlantic Royal Mail service.

Meanwhile, the difficult economic reality in Europe encouraged thousands of people to immigrate to the New World, which at the time offered great opportunities to hard-working and determined individuals.

In 1845, the GREAT BRITAIN – designed by the British engineering pioneer Isambard Kingdom Brunel – entered service, becoming the first iron-hulled steamship driven by a propeller to cross the Atlantic. She did so in 14 days; about half the time it had taken the SAVANNAH 26 years earlier. Brunel’s next creation, the GREAT EASTERN, completed in 1859, was a major step forward as she was more than twice her predecessor’s length and could carry up to 4,000 passengers. Moreover, she was capable of transiting from Britain to Australia without re-coaling. Despite her innovative design, the GREAT EASTERN was a financial failure and never made a voyage to Australia.

Even though the first steps in the transportation of passengers to remote locations by steamship had been made, a voyage from Europe to the East was still long and tiresome. However, things changed for the better with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which dramatically reduced steaming time.




Ocean Liners

A selection of ocean-going passenger ships employed in regular routes from the mid-19th century until air travel prevailed in the 1960s.




Cruise Ships

A selection of ocean-going passenger ships employed in regular routes for recreational purposes.

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