The Cunard Line is an American owned shipping company based at Santa Clarita, California with offices at Carnival House in Southampton, England, and owned by the dual listed company Carnival Corporation, PLC, headquartered in Miami, Florida. It has been a leading operator of passenger ships on the North Atlantic, celebrating 175 years in 2015.
In 1839, Nova Scotian Samuel Cunard was awarded the first British trans-Atlantic steamship mail contract, and the next year formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company to operate the line's four pioneer paddle steamers on the Liverpool–Halifax–Boston route. For most of the next 30 years, Cunard held the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic voyage. However, in the 1870s Cunard fell behind its main rivals, the White Star Line and the Inman Line. To meet this competition, in 1879 the firm was reorganised as Cunard Steamship Company, Ltd to raise capital.In 1839, Nova Scotian Samuel Cunard was awarded the first British trans-Atlantic steamship mail contract, and the next year formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company to operate the line's four pioneer paddle steamers on the Liverpool–Halifax–Boston route. For most of the next 30 years, Cunard held the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic voyage. However, in the 1870s Cunard fell behind its rivals, the White Star Line and the Inman Line. To meet this competition, in 1879 the firm was reorganised as Cunard Steamship Company, Ltd to raise capital.
In 1902, White Star joined the American owned International Mercantile Marine Co. and the British Government provided Cunard with substantial loans and a subsidy to build two superliners needed to retain its competitive position. Mauretania held the Blue Riband from 1909 to 1929. The sinking of her running mate Lusitania in 1915 was one of the causes of the United States' entering the First World War. In the late 1920s, Cunard faced new competition when the Germans, Italians and French built large prestige liners. Cunard was forced to suspend construction on its own new superliner because of the Great Depression. In 1934 the British Government offered Cunard loans to finish Queen Mary and to build a second ship, Queen Elizabeth, on the condition that Cunard merged with the then ailing White Star line to form Cunard-White Star Ltd. Cunard owned two-thirds of the new company. Cunard purchased White Star's share in 1947; the name reverted to the Cunard Line in 1950.
Winston Churchill estimated that the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth helped to shorten the Second World War by at least a year; fundamentally due to the large troop-carrying capacities of the ships. Upon the end of the war, Cunard regained its position as the largest Atlantic passenger line. By the mid-1950s, it operated twelve ships to the United States and Canada. After 1958, transAtlantic passenger ships became increasingly unprofitable because of the introduction of jet airliners. Cunard withdrew from its year round service in 1968 to concentrate on cruising and summer transatlantic voyages for vacationers. The Queens were replaced by Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), which was designed for the dual role.
In 1998 Cunard was acquired by the Carnival Corporation, and accounted for 8.7% of that company's revenue in 2012. Five years later, QE2 was replaced on the transAtlantic runs by Queen Mary 2 (QM2). The line also operates Queen Victoria (QV) and Queen Elizabeth (QE). At the moment, Cunard is the only shipping company to operate a scheduled passenger service between Europe and North America.
Early years: 1840–1850 Edit
Britannia of 1840 (1150 GRT), the first Cunard liner built for the transAtlantic service.
The British Government started operating monthly mail brigs from Falmouth, Cornwall, to New York in 1756. These ships carried few non-governmental passengers and no cargo. In 1818, the Black Ball Line opened a regularly scheduled New York–Liverpool service with clipper ships, beginning an era when American sailing packets dominated the North Atlantic saloon-passenger trade that lasted until the introduction of steamships. A Committee of Parliament decided in 1836 that to become more competitive, the mail packets operated by the Post Office should be replaced by private shipping companies. The Admiralty assumed responsibility for managing the contracts. Famed Arctic explorer, Admiral Sir William Edward Parry was appointed as Comptroller of Steam Machinery and Packet Service in April 1837. Nova Scotians led by their young Assembly Speaker, Joseph Howe lobbied for steam service to Halifax. On his arrival in London in May 1838, Howe discussed the enterprise with fellow Nova Scotian Samuel Cunard (1787–1865), a shipowner who was also visiting London on business. Cunard and Howe were associates and Howe also owed Cunard £300. (£23,568 as of 2014), Cunard returned to Halifax to raise capital, and Howe continued to lobby the British government. The Rebellions of 1837were ongoing and London realized that the proposed Halifax service was also important for the military.
That November, Parry released a tender for North Atlantic monthly mail service to Halifax beginning in April 1839 using steamships with 300 horsepower. The Great Western Steamship Company, which had opened its pioneer Bristol–New York service earlier that year, bid £45,000 for a monthly Bristol–Halifax–New York service using three ships of 450 horsepower. While British American, the other pioneer transatlantic steamship company did not submit a tender, the St. George Steam Packet Company, owner of Sirius, bid £45,000 for a monthly Cork-Halifax service and £65,000 for a monthly Cork–Halifax–New York service. The Admiralty rejected both tenders because neither bid offered to begin services early enough.
Cunard, who was back in Halifax, unfortunately did not know of the tender until after the deadline. He returned to London and started negotiations with Admiral Parry, who was Cunard's good friend from when Parry was a young officer stationed in Halifax 20 years earlier. Cunard offered Parry a fortnightly service beginning in May 1840. While Cunard did not then own a steamship, he had been an investor in an earlier steamship venture, Royal William, and owned coal mines in Nova Scotia. Cunard's major backer was Robert Napier, who was the Royal Navy's supplier of steam engines. He also had the strong backing of Nova Scotian political leaders at the time when London needed to rebuild support in British North America after the rebellion.
Over Great Western's protests, in May 1839 Parry accepted Cunard's tender of £55,000 for a three-ship Liverpool–Halifax service with an extension to Boston and a supplementary service to Montreal. The annual subsidy was later raised £81,000 to add a fourth ship and departures from Liverpool were to be monthly during the winter and fortnightly for the rest of the year. Parliament investigated Great Western's complaints, and upheld the Admiralty's decision. Napier and Cunard recruited other investors including businessmen James Donaldson, Sir George Burns, and David MacIver. In May 1840, just before the first ship was ready, they formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company with initial capital of £270,000, later increased to £300,000.(£23,634,507 as of 2014), Cunard supplied £55,000. Burns supervised ship construction, McIver was responsible for day-to-day operations, and Cunard was the "first among equals' in the management structure. When MacIver died in 1845, his younger brother Charles assumed his responsibilities for the next 35 years. (For more detail of the first investors in the Cunard Line and also the early life of Charles Maciver, see Liverpool Nautical Research Society's Second Merseyside Maritime History, pp. 33–37 1991.)
In May 1840 the coastal paddle steamer Unicorn made the company's first voyage to Halifax to begin the supplementary service to Montreal. Two months later the first of the four ocean-going steamers of the Britannia Class, departed Liverpool, arriving in Halifax after 12 days and 10 hours, averaging 8.5 knots (15.7 km/h), before proceeding to Boston. During 1840–41, mean Liverpool–Halifax times for the quartet were 13 days 6 hours to Halifax and 11 days 4 hours homeward. Two larger ships were quickly ordered, one to replace the Columbia, which sank at Seal Island, Nova Scotia in 1843 without loss of life. By 1845, steamship lines led by Cunard carried more saloon passengers than the sailing packets. Three years later, the British Government increased the annual subsidy to £156,000 so that Cunard could double its frequency.Four additional wooden paddlers were ordered and alternate sailings were direct to New York instead of the Halifax-Boston route. The sailing packet lines were now reduced to the immigrant trade.
From the beginning Cunard's ships used the line's distinctive red funnel with two or three narrow black bands and black top. It appears that Robert Napier was responsible for this feature. His shipyard in Glasgow used this combination previously in 1830 on Thomas Assheton Smith's private steam yacht "Menai". The renovation of her model by Glasgow Museum of Transport revealed that she had vermilion funnels with black bands and black top.
Cunard's reputation for safety was one of the significant factors in the firm's early success. Both the first two transatlantic lines failed after major accidents. British and American collapsed after the President foundered in a gale and Great Western after Great Britain stranded because of a navigation error. Cunard's orders to his masters were, "Your ship is loaded, take her; speed is nothing, follow your own road, deliver her safe, bring her back safe – safety is all that is required." In particular, Charles MacIver's constant inspections were responsible for the firm's safety discipline.
New Competition: 1850–1879 Edit
A captain waves aboard a Cunard Line vessel.
In 1850 the American Collins Line and the British Inman Line started new Atlantic steamship services. The American Government supplied Collins with a large annual subsidy to operate four wooden paddlers that were superior to Cunard's best. Inman showed that iron-hulled, screw propelled steamers of modest speed could be profitable without subsidy. Inman also became the first steamship line to carry steerage passengers. Both of the newcomers suffered major disasters in 1854. The next year, Cunard put pressure on Collins by commissioning its first iron-hulled paddler, Persia, which won the Blue Riband with a Liverpool–New York voyage of 9 days 16 hours, averaging 13.11 knots (24.28 km/h).
During the Crimean War Cunard supplied 11 ships for war service. Every British North Atlantic route was suspended until 1856 except Cunard's Liverpool-Halifax-Boston service. While Collins' fortunes improved because of the lack of competition during the war, it collapsed in 1858 after the loss of two additional steamers. Cunard emerged as the leading carrier of saloon passengers and in 1862 commissionedScotia, the last paddle steamer to win the Blue Riband. Inman carried more passengers because of its success in the immigrant trade. To compete, in May 1863 Cunard started a secondary Liverpool-New York service with iron-hulled screw steamers that catered for steerage passengers. Beginning with China, the line also replaced the last three wooden paddlers on the New York mail service with iron screw steamers that only carried saloon passengers.
Persia of 1856 (3,300 GRT)
When Cunard died in 1865, the equally conservative Charles MacIver assumed Cunard's role. The firm retained its reluctance about change and was overtaken by competitors that more quickly adopted new technology. In 1866 Inman started to build screw propelled express liners that matched Cunard's premier unit, the Scotia. Cunard responded with its first high speed screw propellered steamer, Russiawhich was followed by two larger editions. In 1871 both companies faced a new rival when the White Star Line commissioned the Oceanicand her five sisters. The new White Star record-breakers were especially economical because of their use of compound engines. White Star also set new standards for comfort by placing the dining saloon midships and doubling the size of cabins. Inman rebuilt its express fleet to the new standard, but Cunard lagged behind both of its rivals. Throughout the 1870s Cunard passage times were longer than either White Star or Inman.
In 1867 responsibility for mail contracts was transferred back to the Post Office and opened for bid. Cunard, Inman and the German Norddeutscher Lloyd were each awarded one of the three weekly New York mail services. The fortnightly route to Halifax formerly held by Cunard went to Inman. Cunard continued to receive a £80,000 subsidy (£6,180,663 as of 2014), while NDL and Inman were paid sea postage. Two years later the service was rebid and Cunard was awarded a seven-year contract for two weekly New York mail services at £70,000 per annum. Inman was awarded a seven-year contract for the third weekly New York service at £35,000 per year.
The Panic of 1873 started a five-year shipping depression that strained the finances of all of the Atlantic competitors. In 1876 the mail contracts expired and the Post Office ended both Cunard's and Inman's subsidies. The new contracts were paid on the basis of weight, at a rate substantially higher than paid by the United States Post Office. Cunard's weekly New York mail sailings were reduced to one and White Star was awarded the third mail sailing. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday a liner from one of the three firms departed Liverpool with the mail for New York.
Cunard Steamship Company Ltd: 1879–1934 Edit
Etruria of 1885 (7,700 GRT)
Campania of 1893, (12,900 GRT)
To raise additional capital, in 1879 the privately held British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was reorganised as a public stock corporation, the Cunard Steamship Company, Ltd. Under Cunard's new chairman, John Burns (1839–1900), son of one of the firm's original founders, Cunard commissioned four steel-hulled express liners beginning with Servia of 1881, the first passenger liner with electric lighting throughout. In 1884, Cunard purchased the almost new Blue Riband winner Oregon from the Guion Line when that firm defaulted on payments to the shipyard. That year, Cunard also commissioned the record-breakers Umbria and Etruria capable of 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h). Starting in 1887, Cunard's newly won leadership on the North Atlantic was threatened when Inman and then White Star responded with twin screw record-breakers. In 1893 Cunard countered with two even faster Blue Riband winners, Campania and Lucania, capable of 21.8 knots (40.4 km/h).
No sooner had Cunard re-established its supremacy than new rivals emerged. Beginning in the late 1860s several German firms commissioned liners that were almost as fast as the British mail steamers from Liverpool. In 1897 Kaiser Wilhelm der Große of Norddeutscher Lloyd raised the Blue Riband to 22.3 knots (41.3 km/h), and was followed by a succession of German record-breakers.Rather than match the new German speedsters, White Star – a rival which Cunard line would acquire later – commissioned four very profitable Celtic-class liners of more moderate speed for its secondary Liverpool-New York service. In 1902 White Star joined the well-capitalized American combine, the International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM), which owned the American Line, including the old Inman Line, and other lines. IMM also had trade agreements with Hamburg–America and Norddeutscher Lloyd.
RMS Carpathia of 1901 (13,555 GRT) became famous for rescuing the survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
This was the Dreadnought era and British prestige was at stake. The British Government provided Cunard with an annual subsidy of £150,000 plus a low interest loan of £2.5 million (£235 million as of 2014), to pay for the construction of the two superliners, the Blue Riband winners Lusitania andMauretania, capable of 26.0 knots (48.2 km/h). In 1903 the firm started a Fiume–New York service with calls at Italian ports and Gibraltar. The next year Cunard commissioned two ships to compete directly with the Celtic-class liners on the secondary Liverpool-New York route. In 1911 Cunard entered the St Lawrence trade by purchasing the Thompson line, and absorbed the Royal line five years later.
Aquitania of 1914 (45,650 GRT) served in both World Wars.
Not to be outdone, both White Star and Hamburg–America each ordered a trio of superliners. The White Star Olympic-class liners at 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h) and the Hapag Imperator-class liners at 22.5 knots (41.7 km/h) were larger and more luxurious than the Cunarders, but not as fast. Cunard also ordered a new ship, Aquitania, capable of 24.0 knots (44.4 km/h), to complete the Liverpool mail fleet. Events prevented the expected competition between the three sets of superliners. White Star'sTitanic sank on its maiden voyage, both White Star's Britannic and Cunard's Lusitania were war losses, and the three Hapag super-liners were handed over to the Allied powers as war reparations.
In 1916 Cunard Line completed its European headquarters in Liverpool, moving in on 12th June of that year. The grand neo-ClassicalCunard Building was the third of Liverpool's Three Graces. The headquarters were used by Cunard until the 1960s.
Due to First World War losses, Cunard began a post-war rebuilding programme including eleven intermediate liners. It acquired the former Hapag Imperator (renamed the Berengaria) to replace the lost Lusitania as the running mate for Mauretania and Aquitania, and Southamptonreplaced Liverpool as the British destination for the three-ship express service. By 1926 Cunard's fleet was larger than before the war, and White Star was in decline, having been sold by IMM.
Despite the dramatic reduction in North Atlantic passengers caused by the shipping depression beginning in 1929, the Germans, Italians and the French commissioned new "ships of state" prestige liners. The German Bremen took the Blue Riband at 27.8 knots (51.5 km/h) in 1933, the Italian Rex recorded 28.9 knots (53.5 km/h) on a westbound voyage the same year, and the French Normandie crossed the Atlantic in just under four days at 30.58 knots (56.63 km/h) in 1937. In 1930 Cunard ordered an 80,000 ton liner that was to be the first of two record-breakers fast enough to fit into a two-ship weekly Southampton-New York service. Work on hull 534 was halted in 1931 because of the economic conditions.
Trafalgar House years: 1971–1998
Queen Elizabeth 2 of 1969 (70,300 GRT) at Trondheim, Norway, in 2008.
In 1971, when the line was purchased by the conglomerate Trafalgar House, Cunard operated cargo and passenger ships, hotels and resorts. Its cargo fleet consisted of 42 ships in service, with 20 on order. The flagship of the passenger fleet was the two-year-old Queen Elizabeth 2. The fleet also included the remaining two intermediate liners from the 1950s, plus two purpose-built cruise ships on order. Trafalgar acquired two additional cruise ships and disposed of the intermediate liners and most of the cargo fleet. During the Falklands War, QE2 and Cunard Countess were chartered as troopships while Cunard's container ship Atlantic Conveyor was sunk by an Exocetmissile.
Cunard acquired the Norwegian America Line in 1983, with two classic ocean liner/cruise ships. Also in 1983, the Trafalgar attempted a hostile takeover of P&O, another large passenger and cargo shipping line, which was formed the same year as Cunard. P&O objected and forced the issue to the British Monopolies and Mergers Commission. In their filing, P&O was critical of Trafalgar's management of Cunard and their failure to correct QE2's mechanical problems. In 1984, the Commission ruled in favour of the merger, but Trafalgar decided against proceeding. In 1988, Cunard acquired Ellerman Lines and its small fleet of cargo vessels, organising the business as Cunard-Ellerman, however, only a few years later, Cunard decided to abandon the cargo business and focus solely on cruise ships. Cunard's cargo fleet was sold off between 1989 and 1991, with a single container ship, the second Atlantic Conveyor, remaining under Cunard ownership until 1996. In 1994 Cunard purchased the rights to the name of the Royal Viking Line and its Royal Viking Sun. The rest of Royal Viking Line's fleet stayed with the line's owner, Norwegian Cruise Line.
By the mid-1990s Cunard was ailing. The company was embarrassed in late 1994 when the QE2 experienced numerous defects during the first voyage of the season because of unfinished renovation work. Claims from passengers cost the company US$13 million. After Cunard reported a US$25 million loss in 1995, Trafalgar assigned a new CEO to the line, who concluded that the company had management issues. In 1996 the Norwegian conglomerate Kværner acquired Trafalgar House, and attempted to sell Cunard. When there were no takers, Kværner made substantial investments to turn around the company's tarnished reputation.