182 years of shipshape Cunard service

Posted on March 04, 2022 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments

Cunard, a well-known shipping business and cruise line, approaches two centuries of operation. It started with a fleet of four steamships, which provided the first regular transatlantic mail service from Europe to North America. Cunard’s 182 years of history since includes impressive innovation, long-standing growth and celebrity attention, anchored by Atlantic Canadian roots.


Halifax-born Samuel Cunard, founder of Cunard (photo credit: Cunard).


Setting Sail

Born in Halifax, N.S., founder Samuel Cunard showed entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, owning a general store at 17. In the 1830s, Cunard began investing in the shipping industry. When the British Government opened bids to deliver mail to Canada and the U.S. by sea, he saw an opportunity and won the contract. This led to the first Atlantic Canadian line of steamships.

Originally known as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Cunard Line was officially founded in 1840. While steamship construction was underway, Cunard organized a test trip with an acquired vessel, the Unicorn. The success of the ship’s transatlantic crossing created a buzz about Cunard’s services. Weeks later, the first Cunard-made ship, the Britannia, set sail from Liverpool to Halifax, and then Boston. Samuel Cunard himself was on board for the initial voyage.


The Servia, the first steel ship to have electric lighting (photo credit: Cunard).


Making Waves

As Cunard grew over the years, the company made waves of innovation. Cunard ships were the first to have flushing toilets in 1870 and electric lighting in 1880 (onboard the Servia). Throughout the 1880s, Cunard aided in the mass immigration to America, transporting over 1-million passengers. In 1897, the first wireless ship-to-ship transmission happened on board a Cunard ship. Cunard also led the race to create the largest and fastest ship for years. At the beginning of the 20th century, Cunard’s vessels became known as “floating palaces”, with their design using inspiration from five-star hotels.

Well-known Cunard ships include Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2. The Carpathia is another notable vessel (for its rescue of survivors of the Titanic tragedy).

In 1878, Cunard became a public company, officially named Cunard Steamship Company Ltd. To support growth, Cunard acquired Canadian Northern Steamships and long-time competitor White Star Line over time. In 1999, Cunard became part of Carnival Corporation & PLC.


Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1982 traveling to the Falklands (photo credit: Cunard).


Stars at Sea

Cunard ships welcomed many famous faces over the years. In the early days, authors Charles Dickens and Mark Twain traveled with Cunard. Members of the royal family have visited Cunard ships, as well as Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Meryl Streep. Other notable guests include Walt Disney, Rod Stewart and David Bowie.


Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 (photo credit: Cruise Critic).


Smooth Sailing

Still part of Carnival Corporation, Cunard resumed operations in 2021 after an extended pause due to the pandemic. A recent press release announced the name of Cunard’s newest ship currently under construction: Queen Anne. 

Queen Anne is scheduled to set sail in 2024 and will bring Cunard’s fleet to four. Sture Myrmell, Carnival U.K. President, commented: “This marks a very special moment in Cunard’s 182-year history and showcases Cunard’s exciting global plans for the future, allowing even more guests around the world to set sail with Cunard.”


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