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Ocean liners were the primary mode of intercontinental travel from the mid-19th century until the 1960s when they were supplanted by airliners. In addition to passengers, liners carried mail and cargo, which resulted in the British designation, RMS meaning Royal Mail Steamer or Ship. The busiest route for liners was between Europe and North America across the North Atlantic. It was on this route that the fastest, largest, and most luxurious liners operated. But most ocean liners historically were mid-sized vessels which served as the common carriers of passengers and freight in the pre-jet age. Well travelled routes included Europe to Africa, Asia, and South America, as well as Europe to North America, particularly as immigration increased during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After WWII, Europe to Canada and Australia were also popular routes.
The RMS Titanic was owned by the British shipping company White Star Line and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, United Kingdom. For her time, she was the largest passenger steamship in the world.
The Titanic was intended to be the largest, most luxurious ship ever to operate. Construction began on March 31, 1909, and her outfitting was completed by the following year. She was 882 feet long and 92 feet wide, with a gross register tonnage of 46,328 long tons and a height from the water line to the boat deck of 59 feet. She was equipped with two steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine, which powered three propellers. The 29 boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces produced a top speed of 23 knots. Only three of the four funnels were functional: the fourth, which served only for ventilation purposes, was added to make the ship look more impressive.
On the night of April 14, 1912, during the ship’s maiden voyage, Titanic hit an iceberg 400 miles south of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic and sank within three hours. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people, making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. While the ship had a total lifeboat capacity of only 1,178, she could carry 3,547 passengers and crew. This discrepancy resulted in an overly high percentage of male casualties as the crew enforced a women and children first evacuation. The Titanic has fascinated generations with the question of how such a large, technologically advanced ship could sink so fast and result in the loss of so many lives. Fortunatley, the tragedy resulted in better laws for life boat capacity, escape routes, passenger safety drills, hull design, and radio communications.
The SS Franconia was built for Cunard Line in 1923 by John Brown & Company, Limited, Clydebank, Scotland. She was 623 feet long, 73 feet wide, and could reach 16.5 knots with her steam turbines. With accommodations for 1,843 passengers, the Franconia served as a cruise liner primarily between Liverpool, England and New York. The Franconia covered considerable distances during the 1920s and 1930s and completed multiple circumnavigations of the globe. She served as a troopship during World War II and, after resuming Cunard service from 1949-1956, was scrapped in 1957.
SS United States
The SS United States was built in 1952 for the United States Lines. At 53,329 gross tons, she was the largest ocean liner built entirely in the United States. In 1952, on her maiden voyage as the new flagship of the United States Lines, the United States completed a transatlantic crossing in 3 days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes setting east- and westbound records and capturing the Blue Riband, an award given to the passenger liner with the highest speed across the Atlantic Ocean. The United States lost the eastbound record in 1990, but still holds the westbound record and remains the fastest ocean liner to cross in either direction. She continued to provide transatlantic passenger service until 1969 and is currently docked in Philadelphia awaiting the funds for restoration.
RMS Queen Mary 2
The RMS Queen Mary 2 is named after the earlier Cunard liner Queen Mary, whose namesake was Mary of Teck, the wife of George V. At the time of her construction in 2003, the Queen Mary 2 was the longest (1,132 ft.), widest (135 ft.) and tallest (13 decks) passenger ship ever built, and at a gross tonnage of 148,528 tons, she was also the largest. With a capacity of over 2,500 passengers, her cost was equivalent to $300,000 per berthing space. Her crew of 1,253 can attain speeds of 30 knots, which allowed her to circle the globe in just 81 days, despite the fact that she is too wide to fit through the Panama Canal. Queen Mary 2′s facilities include 15 restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and a planetarium. Today she is the only remaining active passenger-carrying ocean liner.