Cunard Celebrates 175 Years of Innovation

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Published May 1, 2015 8:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Cruise line Cunard is celebrating its 175 anniversary this year. Despite Samuel Cunard’s initial brave gamble to establish the company, Cunard mirrored its founder’s natural conservatism and took the view in its early years that innovations should be tackled by its competitors who would resolve any associated risks. Only after the technology had proved itself would it would be introduced into Cunard ships. This was the case with huge innovations such as propellers.

The overwhelming Cunard first, however, is that the company was the first to offer a regular transatlantic service, and Britannia was the first transatlantic mail carrier and the first ship to run to a timetable. 

Cunard would also offer the first World Cruise in 1922 on Laconia.

Cunard also introduced several shipboard firsts. In 1848 it originated the system of signal lights, now in general use on all ships, calling for a clear white light on the masthead; a green light on the starboard side and a red light on the port side. America, Niagara, Europa and Canada were the first ships to use this new system.

The first steel Cunard ship, Servia (1881), was also the first of all liners to be built featuring electric light.

Innovations in communication have been made on several Cunard ships over the decades. The Parthia Evening Post of September 11, 1882 is the first known example of a ship’s newspaper. Lucania had the distinction of introducing wireless to the ocean when Marconi himself experimented on board with his new invention in June 1901. 

Slavonia, wrecked at Flores in the Azores in 1909, was the first ship to send an SOS signal and in 1912 Carpathia was the first ship to answer an SOS signal – the one sent from Titanic

The first shore to ship transatlantic television transmission occurred on March 7, 1928 on Berengaria while the first live TV transmission from a ship at sea took place from QE2 in July 1986. QE2 was the first ship to offer a Computer Learning Centre and the first to have an email address.

Queen Mary 2 is perhaps the most innovative ship Cunard has built in terms of her propulsion system and the cache of ‘firsts’ and exclusives when she first entered service – many of them still unique to the flagship today. Technically with its four-podded propulsion system Queen Mary 2 is innovative, and one can only imagine what Samuel Cunard what have thought of this. He perhaps would still have insisted on the ship having paddlewheels as a back-up just in case.

Interesting Cunnard facts

•    Every year since starting the first scheduled service across the Atlantic Cunard ships have crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic, in peace and war, without fail.
•    Historically September is the busiest month for ship launches. Famous ships launched in September include Mauretania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2.
•    Churchill credited the roles played by Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Aquitania as shortening the war in Europe by at least a year.
•    The first liner to cross the Atlantic in under five days was Lusitania which left Liverpool on 5 October 1907. She completed the voyage from Daunts Rock to Sandy Hook in four days 19 hours and 55 minutes.

Some Cunard firsts in shipboard innovation

•    The Children’s Playroom on Arabia (1852) was the first room of its kind to go to sea.
•    Pianos first went to sea with Cunard in the Music Rooms of the early Cunarders. Organs were installed in Umbria and Etruria (1884) and Campania and Lucania (1893).
•    Bathrooms made their first appearance at sea on Abyssinia and Algeria in 1870.
•    Mauretania and Lusitania (1907) were the first ships to have cabins to supply running water.
•    A system of Thermotank ventilation by which passengers could operate the ventilation of their room at will was introduced on Saxonia in 1900.
•    Lucania carried the first ‘submarine signal apparatus’ to detect the approach of other ships.
•    The 15th Century style lift grilles on Mauretania (1907) represented the first use of aluminum in marine applications.
•    Franconia (1911) was the world’s first ship to have a gymnasium. Passengers also enjoyed Verandah Cafe and a sun deck for the first time. It was the first large liner to have hot and cold water in every cabin.
•    Media (1947) was the first Atlantic liner to be fitted with stabilizers.
•    QE2 (1969) was the first passenger ship designed and built to undertake two distinct roles. Its dual purpose design enabled it to both cross the Atlantic as a true ocean liner as well as able it to cruise in the winter months.