Social History: History of The Cunard Line – Getting there is half the fun!
Cunard Line was the only company to continue regular transatlantic ocean crossings by liners after the 1970s. The French Line, Italian Line, the United States Line had gone out of business. Swedish America Line, Holland America Line along with Home Lines continued but only operating cruise ships. Liner service between New York and Europe was only offered by Cunard. The QE 2 made numerous crossings into the 21st Century – making Cunard Line the only way to cross the pond and continuing the tradition of “getting there is half the fun.”
Sailing away on the RMS Queen Mary – Robert Montgomery, Loretta Young, Bob Hope and Alexis Smith…
Left: Walt Disney and Winston Churchill aboard the Cunard Line.
Of all the cruise lines in the market of today, perhaps the most venerable would be the Cunard line. A name that is synonymous with transatlantic crossing, the Cunard Cruise Ship Line is known in some capacity to just about everybody who knows anything about ships.
The famous old brand is of course most famous for its White Star Line ships of the early part of the last century, and in particular the tragic and ill-fated liner Titanic, which even those who care nothing for travel of any sort know at least something about. Even if it is only in connection with Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet, surely there is no-one reading this who does not know what happened, ultimately, to this most ambitious of passenger liners.
Gary Cooper on the RMS QUEEN MARY…
Today, the Cunard line still sails the sea, though today it is owned by the Carnival Corporation and has just two active ships – the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria. There are also plans afoot to build a third ship, which will be named for Britain’s current monarch Queen Elizabeth, after the old Queen Elizabeth II (or QE2) was retired from active service pending its conversion to a hotel ship, which will be moored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The current fleet is used principally for world cruises, and mixes the stately grandeur of its forebears with the inescapable touch of modernity – no cruise liner of the present day can afford to be without a spa complex, after all.
The ships of the present day notwithstanding, those who know the name Cunard will most likely know it through its impact on history. The sinking of the Titanic is as inextricably linked with the Cunard name as any company can be with a past event. No-one who has heard the story of the Titanic can possibly forget it. Spoken of before its launch in such glowing terms as to become legendary, the Titanic’s end was all the more shattering to the Cunard brand. The very moment the word “unsinkable” was uttered in connection with the ship, it was as though its fate were sealed. We all know what happened next – inevitably, tragically, the ship sank to a watery grave after a huge collision with an iceberg holed it beneath the water line.
It is, then, to Cunard’s credit that it is still in operation today, regardless of its status as part of the Carnival Cruises portfolio. On the Cunard Cruise Ship Line website there are still references to the company’s renowned “White Star Service”, even though two of the three White Star Line ships ended up sinking. The present day ships, although possessed of the same grandeur for which Cunard became a watchword, have made a seamless fit for the present-day requirements of the cruise liner. As indeed they must, for any ship that undertakes a world cruise taking up to three months at a time will need to lay on the very best in comforts for its passengers. In years to come, people will still remember the Titanic – but anyone who has sailed aboard the current Cunard fleet agrees that there is far more to the famous name of Cunard than that.
Press greet George Raft in New York. He’s just arrived from the UK aboard the RMS Queen Mary – late 1930s.
Cunard continues to be the gold standard for transatlantic ocean liner service. It is really a point to point crossing. Not a cruise – since you are going from New York to Southampton. It is a passenger service in the sense that you can enjoy transportation at a comparable price to a Business Class or many times full fare Economy Class airline ticket. You get six nights lodging, meals and the perks of a resort hotel. It is an ideal way to come back from Europe – because the time change is gradual. You don’t return exhausted from a long horrendous airline flight.
Cunard’s current success rests upon a rich heritage of 170 years of building and operating ocean liners on transatlantic voyages. From its earliest days, the Cunard name has been synonymous with leadership in ocean liners and transatlantic travel, a tradition that continues to this day.
Lord and Lady Astor arriving aboard a Cunard Line ship at Southampton
As its current company tag-line conveys, throughout history, Cunard has operated “The Most Famous Ocean Liners in the World™.” The first company to take passengers on regularly scheduled transatlantic departures, Cunard has built and continuously reinforced a reputation as an ocean liner pioneer. Today, it remains a transatlantic cruise leader, operating the world-famous Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 vessels.
Founder: Sir Samuel Cunard
Canadian entrepreneur Sir Samuel Cunard (1787-1865) founded the British and North American Steam Packet Company (later named Cunard Line) in 1839, when he and several colleagues won a bid to carry the British Royal Mail to the U.S. and Canada. Cunard, who had a reputation for being a savvy and diplomatic businessman, was inducted into the American Society of Travel Agents Travel Hall of Fame for his role in helping to develop transatlantic travel.
The Evolution of Cruising
In 1840, Cunard Line introduced four steamships making weekly transatlantic voyages with passengers and cargo. By 1881, the company introduced its first ocean liner intended solely for passenger travel. In the late 1940s, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth began transatlantic voyages and in 1949, Cunard introduced the first vessel akin to modern cruise ships. By the 1950s, Cunard had 12 ocean liners in service. In the following decades, Cunard continued to add features and enhance the luxury of its liners, leading to today’s top-of-the-line cruising experience.
Cunard built its legacy in part through many famous firsts. For example, in 1881, Cunard introduced the first ship to be lighted by electricity. Cunard’s Mauretania, in 1907, was the first ship to offer multiroom suites.
In 1934, the Queen Mary became the first merchant ship to be launched by a member of the Royal family. And the Queen Elizabeth 2 was the first (and still is the only) ship to sail 5 million nautical miles.
Cunard has continued to build upon its history of excellence into recent times. In 2003, the Queen Elizabeth 2 won a maritime Oscar above all other vessels in the large-ship category. In early 2009, tickets for the Queen Elizabeth’s October 2010 maiden voyage sold out in a record 29 minutes—beating the Cunard’s previous sellout record of 36 minutes for the Queen Elizabeth 2’s final voyage. Cunard continues to draw passengers with its strong reputation and growing array of on-board luxuries, such as Canyon Ranch Spas and five-star restaurants.