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Brief History of Cruising – From Britannia to the Love Boat

Brief History of Cruising – From Britannia to the Love Boat


  • The earliest ocean-going vessels were not primarily concerned with passengers, but rather with the cargo that they could carry.

  • Black Ball Line in New York, in 1818, was the first shipping company to offer regularly scheduled service from the United States to England and to be concerned with the comfort of their passengers.


  • By the 1830s steamships were introduced and dominated the transatlantic market of passenger and mail transport.
  • English companies dominated the market at this time, led by the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet (later the Cunard Line).brit1
  • On July 4, 1840, Britannia, the first ship under the Cunard name, left Liverpool with a cow on board to supply fresh milk to the passengers on the 14-day transatlantic crossing.
  • The advent of pleasure cruises is linked to the year 1844, and a new industry began.

Cunard Line – New York to Liverpool


  • During the 1850s and 1860s, there was a dramatic improvement in the quality of the voyage for passengers. Ships began to cater solely to passengers, rather than to cargo or mail contracts and added luxuries like electric lights, more deck space, and entertainment.


  • In 1867, Mark Twain was a passenger on the first cruise originating in America, documenting his adventures of the six month trip in the book Innocents Abroad.
  • The endorsement by the British Medical Journal of sea voyages for curative purposes in the 1880s further encouraged the public to take leisurely pleasure cruises as well as transatlantic travel.

Newspaper ad for sailings to Europe from New York

  • Ships also began to carry immigrants to the United States in “steerage” class.
  • In steerage, passengers were responsible for providing their food and slept in whatever space was available in the hold.

The Prinzessin Victoria Luise, built in 1901 by the American-Hamburg Company, was the first ship designed specifically with cruising in mind.


  • By the early 20th century the concept of the mammoth passenger liner was developed, and Germany led the market in the development of these massive and ornate floating hotels.
  • The design of these liners attempted to minimize the discomfort of ocean travel, masking the fact of being at sea and the extremes in weather as much as possible through elegant accommodations and planned activities.


  • The Mauritania and the Lusitania, both owned by the Cunard Line of England, started the tradition of dressing for dinner and advertised the romance of the voyage. Speed was still the deciding factor in the design of these ships.
  • There was no space for large public rooms, and passengers were required to share the dining tables.


Sailing to Europe in the 1920s.

  • The White Star Line, owned by American financier J.P. Morgan, introduced the most luxurious passenger ships ever seen in the Olympic (complete with swimming pool and tennis court) and Titanic.
  • Space and passenger comfort now took precedence over speed in the design of these ships resulting in larger, more stable liners.
  • The sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912 devastated the White Star Line.
  • In 1934, Cunard bought out White Star; the resulting company name, Cunard White Star, is seen in the advertisements in this project.
Passengers in the 1930s on board an a steamer cruising to Alaska.

Passengers in the 1930s on board a ship cruising to Alaska.

  • World War I interrupted the building of new passengers ships and many older liners were used as troop transports.
  • German superliners were given to both Great Britain and the United States as reparations at the end of the war.


  • The years between 1920 and 1930s were considered the most glamorous years for transatlantic passenger ships.
  • These ships branded an image for the rich and famous who were seen enjoying luxurious settings on numerous newsreels viewed by the general public.
  • They also carried millions of tourists in what became known as Tourist and Cabin Class.
  • American tourists interested in visiting Europe replaced immigrant passengers.
SS United States

The SS United States

  • Advertisements promoted the fashion of ocean travel, featuring the elegant food and onboard activities. The U.S. Government converted passenger liners were into troop carriers in World War II, and all worldwide commercial travel ceased until after the war.


  • In the 1940s and 1950s, many American passenger liners were built for services to Europe, South America, Carribean, Hawaii along with the Orient and South Pacific.
  • Such great passenger liners were operated by the United States, American Export, American President, Matson, Delta, Moore-McCormick, Matson and Farrell Lines into the 1960s.
  • Competition from air travel and jets made liner services impossible to continue.
  • Many of the ships began cruising but when they lost U.S. subsidies and were faced with high labor costs American passenger and cruise service under the U.S. flag ended.
The Europa arriving in New York.

The Europa arriving in New York.

  • European lines also reaped the benefits of transporting refugees to America and Canada, and business travelers and tourists to Europe after World War 2.
  • But like the American ships, many were pulled from service in the 1960s including the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, France and all the Italian Line ships in the 1970s.
  • Increasing air travel and the first non-stop flight to Europe in 1958, however, marked the ending of transatlantic business for ocean liners. Passenger ships were sold, and lines went bankrupt from the lack of business.


  • The 1960s witnessed the beginnings of the modern cruise industry. Cruise ship companies concentrated on vacation trips in the Caribbean and created a “fun ship” image which attracted many passengers who would have never had the opportunity to travel on the superliners of the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Cruise ships concentrated on creating a casual environment and providing extensive onboard entertainment.


  • There was a decrease in the role of ships in transporting people to a particular destination; rather, the emphasis was on the voyage itself.
  • The new cruise line image was solidified with the popularity of the TV series “The Love Boat” which ran from 1977 until 1986.

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