The Birth of Cruise Vacations
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Today's cruise industry can trace its lineage back to the nineteenth century, when passenger ships were a means of transportation, primarily from Europe to the United States and between Europe and it's far-flung colonies in Asia and Africa.
The arrival of commercial jet airplanes in the late 1950s marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic and transpacific liners. Many of the big ships went to the breakers to be cut up for salvage. But not that long afterward, a new concept took hold: the cruise ship. Here the ship itself took center stage as a floating resort hotel.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the traffic from Europe to America was so steady that the route across the North Atlantic became known as the "Atlantic Ferry."
The race was on, literally, as shipbuilders pushed for larger and faster ships. The queens of the line also became more and more opulent within, at least for the relatively few wealthy first class passengers; at the same time, builders crammed more and more low fare travelers into steerage areas, which were often more like bunkhouses than staterooms. Steerage, though, was the source of much of the shipping lines' profits because of the sheer number of those passengers.
The first commercial steamship to cross the Atlantic was the Savannah, an American coastal packet chip designed as a sailing vessel and 1818, but refitted with an engine during construction. The ship made its first crossing in 1819, a 28-day voyage from Savannah, Georgia, to Ireland and Liverpool; the ship was never a commercial success.
The real beginnings of the Atlantic ferry can be traced to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, chief engineer of the Great Western Railway way in Great Britain. The rail line between Bristol in London was nearly finished in the 1830s, and Brunel decided to extend his company's reach across the pond. The ship he designed, the Great Western, left England for New York on April 8, 1838.
In 1840 the Cunard Line began mail service across the Atlantic with a quartet of paddlewheel steamers that had auxiliary sales. In 1858 Brunel's company launched the Great Eastern, an iron hulled vessel that approached in size many of today's cruise ships, with a length of 692 feet. For the next two decades, British and American interests competed for supremacy as merchant marine powers. During the U.S. Civil War, however, much of the American fleet was destroyed, and Britain regained its leading role, a position it held for the rest of the nineteenth century.
Article Tags: Nineteenth Century
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