History of Cruises. Part 1. Origin | CruiseBe
Back to all travel blogs

History of Cruises. Part 1. Origin

10 minutes read • February 27th, 2017
We talk so much about the cruises. The cruise industry is now one of the most rapidly developing travel industries. However, few people know the

history of cruises

. It is incredible, because the ships have been used for thousands of years, but only 200 years have passed from the beginning of scheduled passenger operations to the modern tourist industry.

In this article, we’d like to introduce you to the amazing history of cruise ships!

The sea has allured travelers and adventurers for centuries. Great discoveries would have never happened without ships, we would have never found out about America and Australia. However, over the centuries the sea travel had been quite unattractive and dangerous.

In XVII-XVIII centuries, the spree of immigration has slightly changed the concept of the "sea travel", and not in a good way. Poor people often suffered terrible losses in order to cross the ocean.

An event that marked the beginning of the entire industry creation happened in 1817. The "Black Ball Line" company was established in New York. It was the first world’s shipping company that introduced scheduled passenger operations across the Atlantic. It should be said that passenger transportation at the time was an addition to freight shipping.

By the way, one of the main causes of such shipping origin was the fact that the ships sailed to the USA being packed to capacity by the immigrants, and went back absolutely empty.

As you may understand, there were the sail ships back then.

A real revolution in shipbuilding happened in the 1830’s and steamers replaced the sailing ships.

At the same time, two major companies became the true pioneers of the industry.

The " Cunard Line " company (at that time still known as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company) founded in 1840 proposed one of the first 14-day transatlantic voyages on the latest at the time paddle steamer called "SS Britannia". There even were cows on the ship that provided passengers with FRESH milk during the trip!

However, the real breakthrough was the British company founded in 1818 – P&O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company).

In 1844, the company was the first in the world to offer an option of almost cruise vacation with sails from Southampton to Gibraltar, Malta and Athens. In fact, these were the first forms of the cruise vacation as we know now. We can assume that the P&O company is  the oldest cruise company in the world!

By the way, the company quickly launched round-trip sailings from England to Alexandria and Constantinople, with stops in the European ports.
P&O ship in Venice (1870)

However, competitors kept pace. The "


" company was, probably, the most ardent opponent. It created several beautiful ships. Moreover, even at that time, the "Cunard" company tried to make the Atlantic crossing as fast and comfortable as possible.
SS Europa (1848)
SS Great Britain (1844)

While P&O focused on cruises,


concentrated on the Atlantic crossings and sailings from Britain to the United States.

"Quaker City" can be considered the first ship that set cruise from the USA to Europe. The steamer had a difficult fate, she participated in the American Civil War, but in 1867, she made the cruise from New York to Europe and Palestine. Mark Twain being on the ship wrote the book "The Innocents Abroad". We can say that this trip was a wonderful advertising of cruises as a way of traveling.

Closer to the second half of the 19th century, the industry began to develop rapidly. The P&O became the innovators again.

It was the first to build steel ship in 1881 – SS Ravena. It was also the first to launch the ship with electric lighting – SS Valetta (1889). The company was also the first to offer entertainment voyages and the first that tried conducting cruises throughout the year.

We should also mention Germany, which tried to be the market leader. The country was actively involved in the competition and its cruise ships contributed to the market development.

For example, the famous ship "Augusta Victoria" not only made the transatlantic crossing on the route Hamburg-Southampton-New York. She was also one of the first to take the cruise in the Mediterranean Sea during the winter period, which took place from January to March of the year 1891.

This cruise really popularized this type of vacation. A ship-owner of the "Hamburg-America line" company – Albert Ballin, who was among the 241 passengers of the cruise, was so imbued with this type, that "Hamburg-America Line" became the largest shipping company in the world having 58 (!) own ships already by 1898!
SS Augusta Victoria in the Mediterranean Sea

This company built the world's first luxury liner for cruises - Prinzessin Victoria Luise (1900).

Of course, we can’t forget about the White Star Line company. It was founded in 1845 and initially specialized in transportation between Great Britain and Australia.

The company immediately tried to be the leader, and its ships often were the largest ones. For example, RMS Tayleur was the largest passenger sailing ship of her time.

Unfortunately, this ship suffered wreck, which was the largest at that time... Moreover, the ship wrecked on her first cruise...

RMS Oceanic built in 1870 was the first liner of the company. The ship was innovative in her own way – she had special privileges for first class passengers, vibration from motors was reduced, special dining salons were established and the windows were much higher than that of similar ships of that time. Moreover, there was tap water onboard and electric bells to call a steward.

By the way, the ship marked the beginning of the production of the whole family of sister vessels common nowadays. For example, RMS Oceanic had 3 sisters. This ship also put tradition to give the –ic ending to the names of the "White Star Line" ships. Oceanic, Adriatic, Olympic, Titanic...

We would mention "Cunard" along with "White Star Line". By the late 19th century, they formed the style, appearance, and services on ships.

RMS Campania (1893) - Cunard Line

Oceanic (II) (1899) - White Star Line

We’d like to mention separately the prestigious award - The Blue Riband. It was a challenge prize given to ocean liners for the Atlantic crossing speed.

Let’s look at some of the winners who received this award in the 19th century.

SS Colombia, the sister of SS Britannia, in 1841. The Cunard company. She Crossed the Atlantic for 10 days and 19 hours with a speed of 9.78 knots (18.11 km/h).

Then the Cunard ships won this award until the year 1850. The crossing time was reduced to 8 days, 14 hours and 50 minutes, and the speed increased to 12.25 knots (22.69 km/h) (ships of the SS Britannia and SS Europa type).

In 1850, Collins Line suddenly broke into the arena.

SS Pacific crossed the Atlantic in 1850 with the average speed of 12.46 knots (23.08 km/h).

SS Baltic (1851-1854) - 13.04 knots (24.15 km/h)

From 1856 to 1873, the leadership was held by Cunard. In 1872, "White Star Line" made a statement for the first time.

SS Germanic - 1875 - 14.65 knots (27.13 km/h)

The further main competition until the end of the 19th century was between Cunard and White Star Line.

New companies appeared from time to time. For example, the Inman Line company in 1875, 1889, 1892.

SS City of Berlin (1875)

SS City of Paris (1889, 1892)

As well as the "Guion Line" company, which kept the blue ribbon from 1882 to 1884.

SS Alaska

It should be noted that, apart from Collins Line and Black Ball Line (USA), all the companies awarded the Blue Riband until 1898 came from the British Empire.
Here are several more well-known liners that received the blue ribbon:

RMS Etruria – Cunard Line – 1885, 1888 – 19.56 knots (36.23 km/h)

RMS Majestic – White Star Line – 1891

RMS Teutonic - White Star Line - 1891 - 20.35 knots (37.69 km/h)

RMS Lucania - Cunard Line - 1894 - 21.81 knots (40.39 km/h)

In 1898, Germany actively joined the battle for the Blue Ribbon. SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse – the ship of the North German Lloyd company – took the Blue Ribbon after making the crossing for 5 days and 20 hours with the speed of 22.29 knots (41.28 km/h).

Two years later (in 1900), the Blue Ribbon was won by another German ship - SS Deutschland of the already familiar Hamburg America Line company.

However, in 1902, the North German Lloyd company ship - SS Kronprinz Wilhelm - took the SS Deutschland’s trophy for a year. Already in 1903, SS Deutschland reclaimed the title of the fastest ship in the Atlantic.
SS Kronprinz Wilhelm

Triumph of the Germans lasted until 1907... It is another story...

In the next article, we will tell you about the history of cruise industry in the period from the beginning of the 20th century and until the end of the First World War.

Perhaps it was one of the most spectacular stages in the history of cruise liners, and if only the RMS Titanic wreck and the terrible war had never happened, we would see a completely different industry now.

P.S. Many ships we’ve talked about wrecked. Indeed, the first cruises were quite dangerous. Perhaps in the future, we’ll write a separate historic article about the wrecked cruise ships...

Did you enjoy the post? Share with your friends!


Latest posts

Follow us on Facebook

Related blog posts you can't miss