The 1890s were a fascinating time for engineering. Steel-hulled ocean liners were transforming society with their regularly scheduled ocean crossings, in ways nobody could have predicted.

My favourite ships from the time period were the Cunard Lucania and Campania; they were the largest, fastest, and most luxurious liners in North Atlantic service. Then the Germans surprised the world with the world’s first four-stackers, and started a building craze of one-upmanship that lead to the Lusitania and Titanic in the early 1900s. The rest, as they say…

Lucania—pictured above—and Campania had design elements that hinted at where the industry was going, with their clean lines, lack of sailing masts, and comparatively large size. But they also represented the pinnacle of existing design trends:

  • They were among the last ships to have bridges that were bridges. Steering rooms were originally built above the superstructure to afford the best possible views; later ships were sufficiently tall that they could just be built on the boat deck.

  • Their triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines were the tallest fitted to any ships, and are still among the largest ever constructed. They reached from the bottom of the ships right into the superstructure! Future ships employed turbines for all or some of their propulsion to save weight, volume, and fuel.

This photo below of Campania shows the balanced proportions of her funnels and superstructure with her hull. She looked so modern and elegant, especially compared to her contemporaries. All she needed was a white forecastle deck; but then again, that was White Star’s signature livery.