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The ocean liner develops

More power, more speed

The development of compound and later triple- and quadruple-expansion steam engines and finally the steam turbine  made steamers more economical, and also allowed higher speeds to be attained. Speed was particularly important on the highly competitive North Atlantic routes. Successive classes of ships were more powerful and faster than those that had gone before. For instance, Cunard’s Campania of 1893 had triple-expansion engines giving a speed of 21.5 knots. By 1907 the same company’s turbine-driven Mauretania established an Atlantic speed record of 27 knots. The next big advance came in the 1930s, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, also turbine-driven, achieving 28.5 knots. The honour of the fastest Atlantic liner belongs to the United States which could achieve the amazing speed of 42 knots - almost 50 miles per hour.

Steam around the world 

Although the biggest and fastest tended to be built for North Atlantic services, steam ships eventually came to offer regular passenger and cargo services to almost everywhere in the world. Reflecting the limitations of paddles, and the amount of coal the engines consumed, early steam ships on routes to Asia and Australia would often hug the coast where possible, and call at ports such as Durban or (after the Suez Canal opened) Aden for more bunker coal. As ships got bigger, more reliable and more efficient, services became more adventurous. Some of the big challenges included opening routes from Europe to New Zealand, and across the Pacific, as both required long ocean crossings with few opportunities of bunkering. Steam services to New Zealand, for instance, started only in the late 1870s, and for at least thirty years the steamers on this route also carried a big spread of sails. 

In contrast to liners crossing the Atlantic, most of the passenger-carrying steamers on other services also carried a good deal of cargo in order to pay their way. However, the problem for these passenger-cargo liners was that, whilst passengers walked off and on very quickly, the cargo was loaded and discharged much more slowly.   Hence these ships spent long periods in port, with their expensive passenger accommodation not being used, and stewards and hotel staff not working. The eventual solution was to build pure passenger ships, such as the Southern Cross which served Australia and New Zealand, and put all the cargo into pure cargo ships. However, before long air services had expanded to the extent that most passengers preferred to fly. The future of passenger ships lay in cruising.


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