White Star Line appeared in 1845 after John Pilkington and Henry Wilson merged several earlier packet shipping companies. From the outset, its history combined cargo shipping with passenger service. White Star went on to become one of the largest cruise lines in its day.
Its demise did not stem from the infamous sinking of the Titanic in April of 1912. Neither did it fail from the loss of Atlantic in 1873, or Republic in 1909, and Britannic during World War I hostilities. The company did indeed suffer a public relations blow. Stories circulated that owner Bruce Ismay had urged Captain Smith of the Titanic to maintain full speed. He wanted to challenge the record time for an Atlantic crossing. This meant ignoring the known risks of icebergs in its path.
White Star Line eventually owed is decline to the worldwide depression of the 1930s, when the British government influenced its acquisition in 1934 by rival Cunard Lines.
During Ismay control, upon the death of father, Thomas Ismay, in 1899, son Bruce took over the reins. He was one of the passengers on Titanic’s maiden voyage. Bruce drew international condemnation for occupying one of the lifeboat seats while women and children with lower class tickets perished. Bruce Ismay retreated to a lodge in Ireland amidst the global condemnation. He resigned his positions with White Star. However, 20 years later when nearing insolvency, he mounted an unsuccessful bid to regain control of the company.
Changes of Control
The White Star Line remained under the control of the Ismay family until 1927. It was then sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.
There were several factors that led to the Ismay family’s decision to sell the White Star Line in 1927.
Firstly, the company had been struggling financially in the years following World War I. The war had taken a toll on the company’s fleet, and it had lost several ships to enemy action. In addition, the post-war economic downturn had reduced demand for luxury travel. This was the White Star Line’s main source of revenue.
Secondly, the Ismay family was also facing increasing competition from other shipping companies. The Cunard Line had recently launched its own luxury liner, the Queen Mary. It was bigger and more luxurious than anything the White Star Line had in its fleet.
Finally, there were also personal reasons that may have influenced the Ismay family’s decision to sell the company. Bruce Ismay, had been heavily criticized for his actions during the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
Overall, the combination of financial difficulties, increased competition, and personal factors likely contributed to the Ismay family’s decision to sell the White Star Line in 1927.
The company changed hands several more times over the following decades. Ownership passed to the Cunard Steamship Company in 1934 and then to the Cunard White Star Line in 1936.
In 1949, the British government nationalized the shipping industry. The Cunard White Star Line became part of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). In 1968, the shipping business was separated from BOAC and merged with the British European Airways Corporation (BEA) to form British Airways.
In better days, White Star Line sailed to nearly every continent. Its passenger vessels were synonymous with first class cuisine, service, and accommodations. Ironically, this fact accounted for the many famous passengers. People, such as Lady Duff Gordon, Margaret (Unsinkable Molly) Brown, John Jacob Astor IV, Isidor and Ira Straus, and Benjamin Guggenheim, were on Titanic when it sank.
- Year Started: 1845
- Year Ended: 1934
- Origin Of Name: meant to evoke a sense of prestige and luxury
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: Cunard Line
- Owner Original: John Pilkington and Henry Wilson
- Owner While In Use: White Star Line
- Owner Successor: Cunard White Star Line
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Carnival Cruise Line
- Naics Code: 483112
- Location Headquarters: Liverpool, UK