White Star Line
History Website

Brief history of the White Star Line

The White Star Line was originally founded in 1845 by Henry Threlfall and John Pilkington. The shipping line operated a fleet of sailing clippers, sailing from Britain to Australia .  

In 1867 the Bank of Liverpool failed which left the White Star Line with a debt of £527.000, which resulted in the White Star Line going bankrupt.  

On 18th January 1868 the house flag and name of the White Star Line were purchased by Thomas Ismay for £1000. Thomas Ismay wanted to have a fleet of steam ships.  

The first ship built for the White Star Line (under the ownership of T Ismay) was the Oceanic, built by Harland and Wolff, Belfast in 1870. Harland and Wolff built every (brand new) White Star ship on a cost plus basis (except for the RMS Laurentic (II) in 1927).  

Oceanic was joined by many more ships and the White Star Line soon become one of the most powerful shipping lines in the world.  

On the 23 November 1899 Thomas Ismay died and by that time his son J Bruce Ismay had taken over his father as head of the White Star Line.

In 1902 the White Star line was bought by IMM which was headed by JP Morgan. J Bruce Ismay remained with the company as its managing director and become the president of IMM.  

On 10th April 1912 the RMS Titanic, the sister ship of the slightly younger RMS Olympic, left her berth at Southampton bound for New York but instead of landing in New York she collided with an iceberg on 14th April and sank within 2 hours and 40 minutes with over 1500 loosing their lives. The Titanic disaster is one of the worst disasters in maritime history.

J Bruce Ismay retired from his position as president of IMM in 1913 and left the White Star Line at the same time.

During the First World War a number of the ships of the White Star fleet were used for war duties, such as trooping and hospital ships. Two of which were the sister ships of the Titanic, Olympic which was used as a troop transport and Britannic which was used as a hospital ship. Olympic had a very successful career as a troop transport, the most exciting part of her career was when she rammed and sank the U-103 on 12th May 1918 . The Britannic was not as lucky as she hit a mine (many thought at the time it might have been a torpedo) in the Kea channel on 21st November 1916 and sank in just 55 minutes with the loss of 30 lives. After the war Olympic returned to passenger service and Britannic is now the largest liner on the ocean floor.

In 1927 the White Star Line was purchased from IMM by Lord kylsant and it was not long before the White Star Line was in terrible financial difficulties, mostly caused by the great depression and Lord kylsants take over of the line.

The last ever ship built for the White Star line, Georgic (II), was launched on 12th November 1931 and started her maiden voyage on 25th June 1932 .

On the 10th May 1934 the former rivals Cunard and White Star merged together, so that the British government would give around 10 million pounds to them to finally complete Cunards Queen Mary. The new merged company was called Cunard White Star.

By the end of 1936 all of the White Star Line ships had been sold except for Britannic, Georgic and Laurentic (Laurentic was mostly laid up from 1935 until the war).

By December 1949 the last White Star line shares had been bought and the White Star part of Cunard White Star was removed.

The last White Star ship in service for Cunard was Georgic's slightly younger sister ship Britannic (III). Britannic completed her last voyage for the company in 1960 and was sold for scrap soon after. She left Liverpool for the last time on 16th December 1960 bound for her ship breakers.

All of the former White Star Line ships have either sunk or have been scraped except for the tender Nomadic, which was built in Belfast in 1911. Nomadic has recently been returned to Belfast where she will be restored and opened to the public after being in France for many years.

The Cunard line is still in business today and own one of the largest passenger liners in the world the Queen Mary 2, which has been in service since January 2004, the magnificent Queen Elizabeth 2 which has been in service since 1969 and the Queen Victoria which entered service in 2007.

The Queen Mary is now an hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.

A more detailed history of the line will be available on this website soon.

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