In 1907, a limousine pulled up in front of a mansion. A man of medium height, with a dark mustache steps out of the car. He walked quickly up the walk, and up the steps to the entrance. As he enters, the butler quickly removes his long overcoat, and top hat. This man’s name is Joseph Bruce Ismay; he is the president of the White Star Line.
John Pilkington, and Henry Threlfall Wilson formed the White Star Line in 1845. All of the White Star Line’s business was conducted in Liverpool, England. This Shipping Line was started mainly to be involved in the Australian gold rush. The White Star Line Shipping Company used charted sailing ships from the time the company came into existence. Not until 1863 did the White Star Line acquire a steamer. After the fall of the Australian gold rush, the White Star Line concentrated on the shipping route between Liverpool and New York. In 1867, they invested heavily in new steamers, and at that time the Royal Bank of Liverpool failed. This disaster left the company bankrupt, with the outstanding debt of $527,000.00, and no way to pay it back. Thomas Ismay was the president of the White Star Line at this time [Bruce Ismay’s father] and came into contact with men by the name of Gustavus C. Schaube, and Gustav Wolff. If Thomas Ismay would agree to have Gustav Wolff [Harland & Wolff ship-builders] build his ships, Wolff’s uncle Schaube, would finance the ship-line. Thomas agreed, and a new partnership was formed between the White Star Line shipping company, and the Harland & Wolff, ship-builders. The agreement was this, H&W would build ships at cost, plus a fixed percentage, and they would not build ships for White Star Line’s rivals. So, on July 30th, 1869 the first orders were arranged with H&W. It was to be a new class of liners, the oceanic class. There would be four ships in this class, the Oceanic, Atlantic, Baltic, and Republic, and by 1871 the shipping company was on route again between New York and Liverpool.
Through the next years, the White Star Line would abound in profits. The shipping company also acquired new ships such as the Germanic, Teutonic, Majestic, Celtic, Cedric, Baltic, and Adriatic, all of these built in between 1875 and 1907. The Teutonic won the Blue Ribbon for being the fastest ship on the seas at the time.
In 1902 the International Mercantile Marine [IMM] took over many ship-lines, and Bruce Ismay wanted no part of it. But! He could not compete with it, so he joined it. So, by 1903 the White Star Line was part of a large American conglomerate, owned and directed by John Pierpont Morgan.
As Joseph Bruce Ismay entered Lord Pierre’s home, he had something on his mind, something very serious. After formal greetings were made all around, Ismay was shown into the dining room. Ismay and Pierre had a long friendship, not just as partners in the struggle to be the best shipping-line and ship-builders, it was deeper than that, they had a true friendship that went beyond the expectations of the shipping world. After the elaborate dinner and dessert, they set around a small table discussing many different things that had been going on. It was then, when they were sitting there smoking cigars and drinking hot tea, that one of the most important discussions of the age took place. Sooner or later shipping came up; there was a major problem.
The Cunard Line, the rival shipping company had built two ships like the world had never seen. Not in size, or luxury, or beauty like the others, but in speed. These new liners, the Lusitania, and Mauritania, had set new speed records, they were faster than any other cruise ship in the world at the time. Pierre and Ismay were not concerned about speed, but these new ships were cutting into their profits. The White Star Line didn’t have a ship to challenge these new queens. Ismay begin to sketch something on a piece of paper, things were running through Ismay’s mind, a new ship! That’s what we need to compete with the Cunard Liners! It would have to be a ship of grand scale, something like the world had never seen, something that would put the Cunard shipping line back in their seats. Something that would overcome the elements, something that would attract the paying eye, something….something…… We will build a ship that has more luxuries than any other ship, we will build a ship that is indestructible, and we will build a ship like the world has ever seen. That was definitely the answer! A new class of ships!
But what will this cost people, it was simple, the same fixed rate. Which was cost +10%, something everybody could afford, from first class, to third class. This would not be unusual for the White Star Line. They had been more concerned with luxury more than speed for the last several years. On the other hand the Cunard Line was definitely more concerned with speed. Ismay didn’t want to compete with the speed of these new ships, he would lose. This was a battle that neither party could afford to lose. As Lord Pierre, and Ismay started discussing this new class of liners, what were they doing? They were planning on building something that would cause men to worship, something that they could make for themselves that they could see, and touch, something almost as big as God himself. We don’t know how spiritually inclined either of these men were, but the fact that when somebody came up with the term later on “no, not even God himself could sink this ship” Ismay didn’t have a problem with it.
As the evening drew on, Ismay took his leave. Back at his house, he must have been more excited than words could tell, it wasn’t every day you get to build and own the biggest ship in the world!
As days grew into weeks, blue prints and plans were being made on a major scale. Finally, the H&W designers brought a small model of the new class of ships for Ismay to inspect. Ismay did not show his emotions as he viewed the ship with satisfaction. The head designer at H&W must have been shaking slightly as the president of the White Star Line inspected the design of the ship. Finally as Ismay stood up from crouching over the model, he said, “I think it’s fabulous!” The ship designer let out a sigh of relief.
This class of liners would need to have names that would fit them properly. Until this moment they were known as ships 400, 401 and 402. The first to be named, was Olympic, after the Greeks. Such a name sounded fitting for such a ship! What would they call ship 401, the second in the group of three? What about the mighty Titans, rivals of the Olympians in the early days, surely this ship must be named TITANIC! Ship 402 would have a simple name, but fitting never the less, Gigantic.On July 31, 1908, the order was put in at H&W for the new class of ships, R.M.S Olympic, and Titanic. Gigantic was ordered after Titanic and Olympic’s launch. As Joseph Bruce Ismay signed the contract with Harland & Wolff, these ships would be built no matter what happened. When Ismay put his pen to the contract, he had untold joy in his heart, finally these new ships were becoming a reality. For over a year he had dreamed of this moment.