Note: Everyone knows the tragic story of the Titanic, the largest ocean liner in the world, which sank on its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic in 1912. This is the story of the company that built the Titanic.

The White Star Line was once one of the world's greatest steamship companies. Founded in 1845 as the Aberdeen White Star Line by Henry Threlfall Wilson and John Pilkington, the company initially operated a fleet of wooden sailing clippers to transport would-be prospectors to the newly found gold fields in Australia. The clippers, which first launched in 1852, operated between Liverpool and Melbourne, returning to England loaded with seal skins, whale oil, Australian wool and gold.

In 1863, Pilkington left the company to be replaced by James Chambers, who commissioned the company's first steamship, the Royal Standard. When this steamer hit the high seas, the passage time to Australia was cut to under 70 days. The following year, White Star joined forces with the Black Ball and Eagle lines to form a conglomerate company, but this was short-lived. Due to financial mismanagement and overzealous attempts to expand its fleet, White Star was forced into bankruptcy in January 1868 and was sold for £1000 to Thomas Henry Ismay, a 31 year old ship owner, who assumed the company's debts of over £500,000.

Ismay introduced iron-built sailing ships to the White Star Line, and envisioned operating a high-class passenger service between Britain and North America. Joined by William Imrie, Ismay began revolutionizing passenger luxury of the North Atlantic route by placing an order for four liners which had the first class accommodation amidships instead of aft, larger cabins and more port holes. They also incorporated a promenade deck which extended the full width of the ship, a concept which was to influence all future passenger ship design.

The first vessel, the 3707-ton Oceanic, was launched on August 27, 1870 and sailed on her maiden voyage in 1871, making all other Atlantic liners obsolete. While Ismay was competing with Inman, National, Guion and Cunard ship lines, the White Star Line made no attempt to build for speed until the 20-knot vessels Teutonic and the Majestic entered service in 1889, which were their first ships to operate without sails.

By the end of the 19th century, the White Star Line was the most powerful British shipping company, with vessels trading not only to North America but also to Australia and South Africa. Thomas Ismay died in 1899 and his eldest son, Bruce, became chairman and managing director. Having worked his way through the company, he took over where his father left off and maintained the company's ongoing policies.

However, the company was acquired in 1902 by the American industrialist J. Peirpont Morgan. The White Star Line became part of the International Mercantile Marine Company, with Bruce Ismay retaining his position as Chairman and Managing Director. With new American money, Ismay embarked on an ambitious expansion program. The company's primary concern was passenger comfort, and their ships got increasingly larger, until in 1911 when the 45,324-ton Olympic, the first of three sister ships, made a huge impact with the public as the world's largest liner.

The second and largest sister ship, the Titanic, followed in 1912, but met with disaster at the hands of an iceberg on her maiden voyage, sending 1,523 passengers to a watery grave. The third sister, the Britannic, entered service two years later, but was sunk in 1916 by a mine while operating in the Aegean Sea during World War I. In spite of these losses, the company continued to prosper after the war as a strong rival to its primary competitor, the Cunard Line.

The White Star Line was purchased by Lord Kylsant's failing Royal Mail group in the early 1930s, but because the worldwide shipping industry was suffering due to the Depression, the British government insisted that the White Star Line merge with Cunard. In 1934, the two fleets were combined as the Cunard White Star Line. The new company's ships flew double house flags until 1957, when Cunard liquidated White Star's assets and holdings. In 1958 it dropped the White Star name, returning to the original name, Cunard Steamship Company, and the famous White Star Line ceased to exist.

During its history, the White Star Line had over 120 ships in its fleet. Not all of these ships were built by Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, and not all of them were actually owned by the White Star Line. Several were purchased from the British Government, having been acquired through war reparations. Several others were only leased and managed by White Star.

Only one White Star vessel, the Nomadic, still exists today. It is privately owned and undergoing restoration. The last original White Star ship in service was the third Britannic, which was scrapped in 1961.

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