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Chapter 9:

The giant express steamers - The transatlantic crossing following 1900

"The ships must be regarded as pleasure yachts"
(By BÝrge Solem)

The ships underwent a tremendous development since mass migration began during the mid-1860s. During the 1890s, most companies began selling tickets in three different class categories, and the steerage disappeared. The majority of emigrants that earlier had traveled as steerage passengers, were now placed in third class. The large rooms in the steerage where passengers had previously eaten their meals, slept, and spent much of their time on board, were replaced by cabins, dining rooms and lounges. The ships were bigger, faster, and more comfortable for the passengers. Competition was keen between the companies -- the goal was to cross the Atlantic in the shortest time possible. The ship that held the record had a blue strip painted on the smokestack. This strip was known as "The blue ribbon," and a sign of great prestige. In addition to being constructed exclusively for transporting passengers, the ships incorporated new technology such as electric lights, heat, telegraph equipment and new navigational devices. The large steamships had passenger decks several storeys high. The ships were no longer equipped with sails in addition to engines. In the first decade or so following the turn of the century, a number of huge steamships were constructed such as the famous four stackers S/S Lusitania, S/S Mauretania, S/S Aquitania, S/S Olympic and S/S Titanic.

The Lusitania and Mauretania
The following is from a printed advertisement produced by the Cunard Line representative in Trondheim: The world's largest and fastest ships
To regain "the blue ribbon" from Germany, the Cunard Line launched two new ships in 1907, and it is no exaggeration to say that the construction of the Lusitania and Mauretania represent the most splendid piece of work ever completed in the history of the art of shipbuilding. They are therefore regarded as two of the world's greatest wonders. Not only are these ships the largest, fastest and -- for passengers -- the most luxuriously equipped steamships that exist. In utilizing steam turbines for locomotion, the Cunard Line has made an important step forward, in that all the fastest steamships on the Atlantic, up to now, have been equipped with piston engines.

The dimensions of these ships are: Length 790 feet (275 meters), width 88 feet (28 meters), depth 60 feet (19 meters), displacement 45 000 tons, register 23 000 tons. Anyone who has not seen such a steamship can hardly imagine what colossal concepts these figures represent, but the following details may help to illustrate the enormous size of these ships: They have 4 smokestacks each 155 feet high and 24 feet -- more than 7 meters -- in diameter. The two masts are each 216 feet, or 2 feet longer than the entire length of the Britannia, Cunard's first steamship.

S/S Mauretania
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This is an old postcard showing the S/S Mauretania compared to a football stadium. It was used to promote the ships of the Cunard Line, by showing their greatness. The impressing dimensions of the ship was used as a guaranty for safety. See more comparisons

In addition, each steamship has 10 storeys with decks that are divided into 175 rooms. The watertight doors can also be shut from the bridge where the captain stands 100 feet above the waterline, so the ships are as unsinkable as a ship can be. 4 million steel rivets have been used in the hull, with a total weight of 500 tons = 50 000 kilograms. Two electric elevators facilitate movement between decks, and there are also 6 elevators of the same type for mail and baggage. On board each ship there are no less than 1200 windows and 5000 electric lights and 50 percent more space than has been provided for passenger comfort on any other steamship.

S/S Aquitania
Some of the provisions required to feed this traveling city, the giant of the Aquitania on one trip: 12,561 lbs. butter, 625 boxes of oranges, 520 boxes of apples, 29,768 lbs. sugar, 239,584 eggs, 80 tons of meat, Fowl 19,112, Ham&Bacon 15 tons, fresh fish 30 tons, 16,000 qts. claims, 1.221 qts. oysters, 1,440 gals. milk, 4,807 lbs. potatoes, 5,139 lbs. cheese, 9,450 qts. ice cream, 125 geese, 250 turkeys, 500 ducks, 3,000 fowl, 75 Heads of Cattle and Calfs, 250 Sheep and Lambs, 150 pigs, 250 pheasants, 500 pigeons, 300 grouse, 1,000 quail, 300 partridge, 250 shipe

Each ship can carry 560 first class passengers, 500 second class passengers, and 1 400 third class passengers. Each has a crew of 800, so when the ships depart filled to capacity, they represent an entire little city and have more inhabitants than most of our towns. To drive this floating city on its way with 25 knots, which is top speed, powerful machinery is required, and to achieve this there are 8 steam turbines with a total force of 70 000 horsepower. To attain an increase in speed of 1.5 knots over the fastest of the German ships, machine power had to be increased from 40 000 to 70 000 horsepower.

S/S Aquitania
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Cross-section of the Cunard Line giant steamship S/S Aquitania built in 1913. Emigrants who traveled on third class were placed in the lowest decks of the ship, just above the cargo hold, where there was room for 2 052 passengers. The second class passengers were placed on the decks above them, with room for 614 passengers. First class passengers were placed in the upper decks, where there was room for 597 passengers. Both first and second class passengers could enjoy luxurious saloons. The ship weighed 45 647 gross tons and had a length of 901.5 feet and a width of 97 feet.

Passengers who traveled on third class could choose between cabins for two, four, or six persons. The ships were now equipped with separate dining rooms, smoking compartment for the men, a saloon for ladies, a party room with a piano, covered and open promenade decks, sick bay and drugstore. Later there were also playrooms for the children. The size of the ships gave them greater stability in rough seas so that seasickness was no longer so great a problem as before. The ships had doctors, interpreters and both male and female crewmembers. Hygiene and food on board were considerably improved. Both the captain and the ship's physician inspected the ship each day, and passengers with complaints could express them directly.

In 1898, the Thingvalla Line was taken over by Det Forenede Dampskibsselskab (DFDS) in Copenhagen. The line operated under the name Scandinavian America Line. Most of the older and smaller ships of the Thingvalla Line were gradually replaced. The company still had to struggle with its misfortune, and even its newest ships were much smaller and slower than the ships of the English and German lines. Even though, many Scandinavians preferred the line, as there were many advantages for those who did. One of these were the possibility of being able to travel directly from Norwegian ports to New York, and another was that the crew all spoke Scandinavian. Also the food an customs were familiar.

Standards on transatlantic ships were considerably better than what they had been, but progress was slower on the ships that brought Norwegians between Norway and England. Many were therefore happy to see the establishment of The Norwegian America Line (Den Norske Amerikalinjen) in 1913. This line could offer direct service from Oslo to New York via Kristiansand, Stavanger and Bergen. It had never been so easy to get from Norway to America. The standards on board the Norwegian vessels were according to the needs of the emigrants. The Norwegian America Line became a stiff competitor for the large, foreign lines. The establishment of a line with direct service between Norway and America signified a tremendous improvement for Norwegian emigrants. Unfortunately, this did not come into being until the end of the period of mass migration. From 1913 the number of emigrants decreased, and during WW1 very few made the trip. Following the war the USA introduced new immigration laws that led to a further decrease in emigration. Immediately following the war there was a new wave of emigrants, but emigration never reached the heights of the previous century. An historical epoch came thus to an end, but the ships continued to sail. The new market for the great passenger liners was cruise traffic. It was also more common for people in America to visit the Old Country. The Norwegian America Line continued to keep ties open between Norway and America for many decades after the end of mass emigration. In that way it became for many years an important channel for cultural exchanges between Norway and America.

Four berth stateroom on the Kristianiafjord & Bergensfjord. The picture is from a booklet by the company. To see more Norwegian America Line pictures, go to the NAL section of the Image Gallery .


The Transatlantic Crossing -

 -  Chapter 1:   Early Norwegian Emigrants
 -  Chapter 2:   Steerage Passengers - Emigrants Between Decks
 -  Chapter 3:   By sail across the ocean - daily life aboard
 -  Chapter 4:   Children of the ocean - life and death on the Atlantic
 -  Chapter 5:   Sailing ship provisions - Food and drink
 -  Chapter 6:   Sanitary conditions on board - health and sickness on emigrant ships
 -  Chapter 7:   From sail to steam
 -  Chapter 8:   The largest, the fastest and most comfortable ships - by steamship across the ocean
 -  Chapter 9:   The giant express steamers - The transatlantic crossing following 1900

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