History of the Cruise Industry | 1929-1945


Depression and War Years Ends Golden Age of Cruising (1929 to 1945)

After a decade of wealth, success and spending, often referred to as the “roaring twenties”, the stock market crashed and led to 10 years of a downward spinning economy, called the Great Depression. In spite of it all, the strongest shipping companies survived the times through mergers and continued to build larger and faster ocean liners.

During this period, corruption in the corporate world bankrupts a number of companies and millionaires. Those that survive the crash must also face deadly maritime disasters that occur on passenger ships. In an effort to improve, more international maritime regulations and technologies are developed. By 1945 WWII has already began and thus marks an abrupt stop to leisure travel.

1929 – After a decade of “roaring twenties”, Wall Street crashes in October 1929. Republican Calvin Coolidge was the president between 1923 and 1928, during a period of rapid growth with unregulated stock market trading. Republican Herbert Hoover takes over the office as the president in January 1929. And, in October the stock market on Wall Street crashes which affects Europe as well as the Americas.

1930 – The Great Depression follows shortly after the stock market crash. Unfortunately, a number of shipping companies already had commitments to build new ships. For example, White Star Line’s Oceanic and Britannic were ordered in 1928. Cunard’s Queen Mary was ordered in April 1929. During 1930 all three ships were already under construction. Comparatively, P&O places an order during 1930 to have the Strathaird built.

1930 – Norddeutscher Lloyd (predecessor to Hapag Lloyd) completes the Europa. The passenger ship makes her maiden voyage in March 1930 breaking her sister’s Blue Riband record by 30 minutes and 8 knots faster. Meanwhile, White Star Line completes Britannic and launches her on her maiden voyage in June 1930.

1930 – Around the same time, Pan American World Airways survives the stock market crash and is the first American airline to offer international air express service. Meanwhile in April, the United States passes the Air Mail Act, a law to discourage airlines from carrying junk mail in order to boost profits. In July, Transcontinental & Western Air (T&WA) is formed through a merger between two other airlines.

1931 – White Star Line’s parent company, Royal Mail Steam Packet Company is investigated for fraud following the stock market crash. The chairman of Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Lord Kylsant, is investigated for corruption. Despite the company not earning profits since 1925, the company was still paying dividends and dipping into their reserves. They falsified accounts to make the company appear that they had money, so that more people would invest. By November, Lord Kylsant, is convicted of deceiving his shareholders about the true state of the company.

1931 – Work on the Queen Mary is halted because of financial difficulties. Around the same time, ocean liner, Manhattan is launched by Unites States Lines. At over 24,000 tons, the Manhattan (along with her sister, Washington) was the largest cruise ship built in the United States at that time. Meanwhile, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique starts work on their new build, Normandie and White Star Line’s Oceanic is dismantled to be used for the completion of Georgic.

1931 – Pan American World Airways builds their new “Clippers”. Like the sailing ships, they were coined as flying boats. These S-40 amphibious airplanes could carry 38 passengers. Meanwhile, Trans World Airlines (TWA) almost goes out of business after one of their planes crashes while carrying the University of Notre Dame football coach.

1931 – On December 11, 1931 the Statute of Westminster is passed. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa become independent from the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

1932 – In February, ocean liner, P&O’s Strathaird makes her maiden mail run voyage from Tilbury (UK) to Sydney, Australia via the Suez Canal. In June, White Star Line’s Georgic makes her maiden voyage on the Liverpool to New York route.

1932 – As a product of the economic downturn of the economy, three Italian shipping companies merge and form a state-controlled company. Italia Flotte Riunite (aka: Italian Line) would combine the assets of the shipping lines, Navigazione Generale Italiana (Genoa), Lloyd Sabaudo (Torino), and Cosulich (Trieste). During this year, Italian Line’s Rex starts her maiden voyage in September.

1933 – In January, the Safety of Life at Sea 1929 (SOLAS), enters into force. For all new ships, the total capacity of lifeboats and life rafts must accommodate 125 per cent of the persons on board. Additionally, one of the two annexes to the convention revises the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea.

1933 – Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt takes office as the president of the United States in March 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1933, an estimated 25% of the United States workforce is unemployed. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” is signed into law with a series of programs and initiatives to combat the economic devastation. Roosevelt also ends prohibition by approving the Cullen-Harrison Act.

1933 – In July Bremen takes back the Blue Riband from her sister, Europa. But in August, Italian Line’s Rex breaks the Blue Riband record by crossing the Atlantic three hours quicker at an average speed of 28.92 knots.

1933 – In October, Air France is formed by merging four French airlines.

1934 – In February, President Roosevelt signs an order that cancels all airmail contracts with airlines. The Air Mail Act of 1934 also prohibits airlines and airplane manufacturers from sharing ownership. Therefore, the merger of Transcontinental and Western is dissolved. Around the same time, United States government introduces the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate Wall Street.

1934 – On May 10, Cunard and White Star Line merge. The British government lends the company around 10 million pounds, money spent to finish the Queen Mary.

1934 – On September 8, the Morro Castle cruise ship sinks on route from New York to Cuba. Within 20 minutes of a fire being discovered, the ship lost power, steering capacity, lighting and radio communication. The lack of fire retardant ship construction and no organized effort to control the fire, led to the ship quickly turning into an inferno. Of the 549 persons on board, 135 passengers and crew died.

1934 – During this year, Hitler becomes Head of State in Germany.

1935 – RAdio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) is demonstrated for the British Air Ministry. It had been developed as a reliable method to help pilots locate and avoid approaching thunderstorms. In the United States, the Navy Research Lab (NRL) starts developing their RADAR system. Around the same time, Italy and Germany were also developing their own version of RADAR.

1935 – Walter Kidde plc (originally established in 1917) is founded in the UK. The company becomes known for the design and manufacture of fire detection and extinguishing systems.

1935 – Pan American World Airways is the first airline to offer transpacific passenger and mail service between San Francisco and Honolulu.

1935 – French-based company, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique introduces Normandie. This steam turbo-electric powered ship offers transatlantic voyages from Le Havre to New York. On her maiden voyage she is awarded the Blue Riband for completing it with an average speed of about 30 knots.

1936 – Queen Mary makes her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. It broke a speed record for the voyage later in the year. During this year Cunard and the British government inked a deal to build Queen Elizabeth.

1937 – The Hindenburg explodes above New Jersey. The hydrogen inflated airship (aka: Zeppelin), contracted by American Airlines, had successfully crossed the Atlantic from Germany. Unfortunately, during “docking” it exploded. Although 36 passengers and crew died, there were 62 survivors.

1937 – Famous female pilot, Amelia Earhart goes missing on her solo transatlantic flight.

1937 – Pan American World Airways is the first airline to operate transatlantic passenger and mail service.

1938 – In December, the Navy Research Lab (NRL) installed a formalized RADAR prototype, called the XAF, on the battleship, USS New York. This would lead to RADAR in its commercial form, the CXAM.

1939 – In February, Norddeutscher Lloyd’s Bremen was the first passenger ship of her size to transit the Panama Canal. She was 51,656 tons and 939 feet long.

1939 – In May, Trans World Airlines offers their first scheduled transatlantic flights from Long Island, New York to Southampton, England.

1939 – Cruising was brought to a sudden stop in September 1939 with the start of World War II in Europe. It became necessary for cruise ships to transport enormous amounts of troops and supplies around the world and therefore they were requisitioned by various governments. P&O Cruises’ Strathaird was commissioned in 1939 as a troop carrier.

1940 – Queen Elizabeth leaves Clydebank bound for New York. This would be her first voyage although she was without paying passengers. She hadn’t even completed sea trials, yet. Later that year she would sail to Singapore to be converted to a troopship. P&O’s Viceroy of India is converted to a troopship in November.

1941 – Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary are fitted as troop carriers and start carrying troops from Sydney, Australia to Suez. Queen Elizabeth also carried troops from Esquimalt, Canada to Sydney, Australia. The ocean liner Manhattan of the United States Lines is operated as a Coast Guard ship.

1941 – On December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is attacked by the Japanese. This led to the Americans entering WWII. At this time the US Navy also understood the benefit of developing a long range navigational aid.

1942 – Queen Mary carries troops from New York to Scotland and Queen Elizabeth carries troops between New York and Gourock, UK. On one eastbound voyage, when the Queen Mary was carrying over 10,000 US Troops, she collided with her anti-aircraft escort ship. During this year, P&O’s Viceroy of India was sunk by a German U-boat torpedo.

1943 – The navigation system, LORAN becomes operational as stations are established in Greenland, the North Atlantic, the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and Hawaii. During these wartime years, ship borne RADAR is being developed further.

1945 – Although the war in Europe ends in May, the Pacific War continues as atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the beginning of August. Later in August, Japan surrenders.


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