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The White Star Line

    The White Star Line was founded in 1845 in Liverpool, England, by John Pilkington and Henry Threlfall.  Their focus was the Australian gold trade.  The first White Star liners were clipper ships. Clipper ships were sailing ships with composite hulls made of iron and wood. They were commonly used in the Chinese tea trade and were known for their speed and safety.
    By 1865, the White Star Line was in bad shape.  Its most recent ship, Sirius, had to be sold before it was even put into service.  White Star Line needed to expand its fleet to the North Atlantic shipping trade market. Its owners began mortgaging assets in an attempt to do so. The mortgages were assumed by the Royal Bank of Liverpool. In October of 1867, the bank was shut down. White Star Line owed a debt of £527,000. The White Star Line would be forced into bankruptcy unless it did something soon. It came up for sale.  In 1868, marine engineer, Sir Edward Harland of Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Nothern Ireland, and Thomas Henry Ismay of Ismay Imrie and Company, bought the White Star Line.
    In 1899, Henry Ismay died and was succeeded by his son, John Bruce Ismay.  Bruce Ismay worked as White Star Lineís managing director and chairman and ran the company rather smoothly, staying ahead of or at least keeping up with competitors. Then, in 1912, the Titanic sank. Ismay survived and was ridiculed for it by the public and the press. Ismay requested that he keep his position as chairman. His request was denied in June of 1913. Ismay then retired to his home with his family. He died in 1937 at the age of 74.
    The Titanic disaster was basically, the beginning of the end of White Star Line.  It was so shocking and devastating.  Titanic, the largest moving object ever built by the hand of man (for its time), struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage, killing over 1500 people, in what (still) is one of the worst shipwrecks in the history of mankind. It was just too horrible to imagine. That is the big story.
    There are also the small stories, the rumors, and things that add up to the sinking. Basically, everything went wrong. There was no wind, making it hard to see any water breaking at the surface of an obstacle, or that the binoculars for the crows nest were lost. There werenít enough lifeboats. Things like that.
    One very strange thing: There was a book written by Morgan Robertson, in 1898(14 years before the sinking), called Futility. This book was about a mighty ship called the Titan. It was the largest passenger liner ever built, with triple screws and enough room for up to 3000 passengers. Its measurements of length and width were within 50 or 100 feet of those of the Titanic. The story of the Titan was in every way, just like that of the Titanic.  Robertson was demonstrating how people were paying less respect to the forces of nature and were relying too much on technology.
    Whenever there is a major disaster, there are groups of people who think the governments of the world are out to get them and that the disaster is part of a conspiracy.  Titanic is no exception. The most common conspiracy theory is that it wasnít really the Titanic that sank, instead it was the Olympic that sank but it had all of Titanic's nameplates. Supposedly White Star was having insurance problems. However, we know it was the Titanic because the titanic had a closed in A deck and the Olympic did not. Another one is that the Titanic carried the mummy of the ancient Egyptian princess, Amen-Ra. It was said that this mummy had already sunken about seven other ships. Another one is that the whole thing was planned.  These conspiracy theories are the almost believable ones, the rest are totally, completely, and in every way, absurd.
    Just because the titanic sank doesnít mean it was a bad ship. It was a very fine liner built by a company called Harland and Wolff. In 1861, Harland & Wolff shipbuilders was founded by Sir Edward Harland and John Wolff, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1868, Sir Edward Harland, and Thomas Henry Ismay bought the White Star Line. White Star and Harland & Wolff made an agreement, Harland and Wolff would never build a ship for a company that was one of White Starís competitors, and White star would never have a ship built for it by a competitor of Harland and Wolff. This agreement worked well and was never broken. In 1895, Sir Edward Harland died and Lord W. J. Pirrie succeeded him as chairman of Harland and Wolff.  Thomas Andrews, nephew of W. J. Pirrie, was the managing director at Harland and Wolff until his death on the titanic in 1912, at the age of 39.
    Harland and Wolff  is still in business today and after 137 years of business, is still in Belfast. They now specialize in offshore oil drilling and build tankers and offshore rigging equipment.
In 1845, the White Star Line was formed.  In 1863 the White Star Line merged with Black Ball and Eagle Lines, forming the Liverpool, Melbourne and Oriental Steam Navigation company, Limited.  However, this did not work and White Star Line soon broke away from it.
Around 1939, came the worst stock market crash in U.S. history. Cunard and White Star were already in bad shape, now things were even worse, in order to save themselves, Cunard and White Star merged to form Cunard-White Star Ltd., with Cunard owning 62% of the shares. In 1957 Cunard bought off the remaining shares.  By 1958, the White Star Line ceased to exist.
    Cunard Line still exists today, with a variety of hotels, resorts and, of course, cruises. The Cunard fleet consists of the Queen Elizabeth II, the Royal Viking Sun, the Vistafjord, the Sea Goddess I and, Cunard's latest addition, the Sea Goddess II.


© 1998 Laura Hutchinson

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