Transatlantic speed prize
The 'Blue Riband of the Atlantic' prize was first introduced in the 1860s, by shipping companies competing for business. This was sound commercial sense, not just a competition - the company with the fastest ships got better business, and flying the pennant of the Blue Riband was an honour indeed.

The origins of the prize had begun thirty years earlier, in 1833. This was the year of the first steamship crossing of the Atlantic, by the Royal William, which sailed from Nova Scotia to London. Whilst other steam-equipped vessels had done similar voyages, this was a first - other ships had predominantly used sail, using steam only as a fallback measure. The William only hoisted sail when the engines required cleaning, and so this voyage represented a great leap forward. Its 25-day voyage set the stage for faster transport between America and Europe or Africa. Later vessels such as the Great Western and Sirius began competing for the fastest crossing, and the prize was born from that.

Initially, the fastest ship simply flew a long blue pennant, but in 1933, a more tangible trophy was introduced by Sir Harold Hales. This trophy (the Hales Trophy for the Blue Riband of the Atlantic) bears the images of three great liners; the Great Western, Normandie and United States, and is still given today. There were originally four ships depicted (Rex and the Mauretania were removed when the United States won the prize in 1952).

The Fastest Ships

Note: there are too many winners to list comprehensively. I have taken the fastest ship of each decade, both Eastward and Westward. The complete list is currently available at:

  Vessel Name     Date of Arrival     Elapsed Time     Speed (knots)  
Great Western 23/4/1838 13d 12h 00m 9.52
Europa 23/10/1841 8d 23h 00m 11.79
Persia 29/4/1956 9d 16h 16m 13.11
Scotia 27/7/1863 9d 03h 00m 14.46
Germanic 13/4/1877 7d 18h 02m 15.21
City of Paris 28/8/1889 5d 19h 18m 20.01
Kaiser Wilhelm 5/4/1898 5d 20h 00m 22.29
Mauretania 30/9/1909 4d 10h 51m 26.06
Bremen 22/7/1929 4d 14h 30m 27.91
Queen Mary 8/7/1938 3d 21h 48m 30.99
United States 15/7/1952 3d 12h 12m 34.51

  Vessel Name     Date of Arrival     Elapsed Time     Speed (knots)  
Great Western 8/7/1838 12d 16h 34m 10.98
Canada 28/7/1949 8d 12h 44m 12.38
Persia 15/8/1856 8d 23h 19m 14.15
City of Brussels 12/12/1869 7d 20h 33m 14.74
Arizona 28/7/1879 7d 08h 11m 15.96
City of Paris 22/5/1889 6d 00h 29m 20.03
Kaiser Wilhelm 29/11/1897 5d 17h 23m 22.33
Mauretania 21/7/1909 4d 17h 21m 25.88
Bremen 1/8/1929 1d 14h 30m 27.91
Queen Mary 14/8/1938 3d 20h 42m 31.69
United States 7/7/1952 3d 10m 40m 35.59
Cat-Link V 20/7/1998 2d 20h 09m 41.28
Encyclopædia Britannica

Thanks ZamZ for reminding me that Blue Riband is also a chocolate snack bar available in the UK

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