Nationalism and the quest for Riband Cup 1850-1914 Essay


The white star line was a famous ship line that was established around mid 19th century under the famous and lucrative company –Oceanic Steam Navigation. The famous name was a nickname resulting from the presence of a vivid white star in a red flag of this ship. The Oceanic Navigation Company entered into trade in 1869 and started plying its trade in the North Atlantic Ocean carrying passengers across. Heil, Scott and Terrance W. Peck, eds. (1998, 72).  This saw the company establish a network of agencies dealing with ticketing in all the famous ports of Europe at that time. Later on the white was to expand its network of links so that it included all the major ports of America especially the United States and Canada. The venturing into the later world was to expose her to the toughest competition ever.

Many other established shipping firms had already entered the waters across the Atlantic to the North American coast.Cunard Line was one of this well established firms and around 1871 it came into a direct competition with White Star Line by establishing networks and its agents to the Norway. De Kerbregh, R.P & Williams, DI (1988, 102). The Quest for the Riband is an acronym given to the trade battle between Britain, Germany and later on the United States with the sea as the battle field. The European super powers were fighting to outdo each other in sea trade. The run for money was sparked off by the two sea trade companies-the White Star Line of Britain and the Cunard Ship Line of Germany.

This early ships bore flags of their respective nations and this were hanged high up on these ships and therefore wherever they went they acted as symbols of their nations. In the events that follows there is unprecenteded effort in quest to produce the best model of the ship an indication of the superiority of the nation thus attracting passengers. This in essence was the beginning of nationalism and the quest for the riband.


[1]The German state under chancellor Otto Von Bismarck rose as a great nation in Western Europe. Still at this time Britain was a mighty nation in this region due to her superiority in the high seas. At around this time, 1871, the King of Prussia ascended into power and was named as Kaiser Wilhelm I. Hamish Hamilton. (1955, 34-39).

The new King of Prussia was in relationship with the authorities in Britain and vowed to continue to be in good terms with the later. It was to be realized that the intention of the new king was to challenge Britain because of her position in the high seas. Eighteen years into his rein, 1989, Kaiser Wilhelm ll was invited to attend the Spearhead Naval Review in London which was occasioned to mark a half a century of Queen Victoria as a queen. While inspecting the guard of honor Kaiser is said to have muttered that Germany needed to have ships like the one he was seeing with immediate effect. It was now clear that Kaiser was determined to challenge Britain in high seas.

Germany engineers were put to task of coming up more comfortable and prestigious ships that will that Germany ships attract more passengers than any other sea line available across the seas and by 1897,hardly seven years after the London visit, Kaiser de Wilhelm der Grosse ship plunged into the sea business. This ship became the largest ship in the waters of the Atlantic and shortly after this Briton was overthrown as the master of sea. In her first year into the sea she won the award Blue Riband which had since been held by Cunard’s Lucania.The award was described as having 22.3knots all westbound and eastbound.

Stiff competition that followed Germany provocation of Britain was unprecedented, with British engineers countering the stiff competition from Germany by coming up with faster, bigger and more comfortable ships. Why were nations fighting it out for supremacy in the sea? The ships were regarded as symbols of nations and even for more obvious reason that there was a sence of national pride to trade in the liner of a powerful nation. With regards to building better ships, many passengers were attracted to the most comfortable ship which meant that larger and comfortable made big profits especially in this period of massive emigration from Norway and from continental Europe to the Americas.

Meanwhile, the Great Britain was reinneventing herself and was prepared to give Germany a good run for her money .The White Star Line Company had almost given up in the quest but in the period between mid 1901and early 1907, the company flagged off four new liners namely the Baltic,Celtic,Cedric and Adriatic. Patrick Stephens, (1970, 100-110).  Shortly the Cunard will be added to this list to prove their mighty. By late 1907 Britain surpassed Germany by the birth of two more sophisticated ships-Mauretania and Lusitania.This became the world’s biggest sea liners. The evolution of engines in steam ships began in these ships which earned the reputation of being the world’s fastest sea liners. The Germans were now behind by far. The Olympics which followed later reaffirmed this position for Britons in addition to the two sister liners that were to follow shortly after. The Olympic could carry a luggage of 40,000 tones.

The celebration in the British camp was short lived though. By mid 1912 three ships were introduced by the Germans having the highest carrying capacity (50,000tones) in the sea. In May 1912 Imperator was launched and entered into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite technical hitches envisaged in the period immediately after her launch she   soon picked up.Vaterland came soon after the Imperator-having been fitted with engines and sophisticated internal fittings. This was finally delivered to the waters in April 1929.At this time diplomatic relations between Britain and Germany was becoming fragile.

Veterland entered the Hamburg-America sea line and was described as a wonderful ship by the public. The ship was specifically furnished to avoid any possible occurrences like the ones that had occurred to the Titanic-the ship struck an ice block in the shortly after it had been introduced. The sea accident caused a heavy loss of the demise of its over a thousand passengers and its crewmen .The Titanic disaster represents one of heaviest losses is the shipping industry. It should be remembered that the Titanic had been built by the White Star Company to counter competition from the Cunard’s two sister ships –Mauretania and Lusitania.

With the sea competition a notch high the period following this massive ship building saw the serious internal beautification of ships, the sail ships were scrapped off and replaced with far more efficient propellers for paddles. To edge out a competitor at this time ships were greatly expanded in size hence carrying more passengers of the immigrant groups to the new lands of America and the Caribbean. At this time therefore the market called for bigger and faster vessels.

Coming to the beginning of 20th century many ocean liners had already established their places in the shipping industry and at this time as has already been seen this ships were not only a means of transiportation,but also major symbols of the nations of their make shift. This spark of nationalism was in every part of Europe especially to the western part of the continent. The British and the Germany were controllers of this trade.

France and other minor nations of western Europe also had some fleet in the sea.Infact France had named her company as the Longest vessel of the sea. Despite the presence of their vessels in the sea their total contribution to the total sea trade was insignificant.

The beginning of the 20th century saw great advancements in science and technology. Nations rose to introduce the new advancements in ship building industry. The ships that were to follow this moment in time were highly sophisticated. The fast inclusion was the steam instead of paddles. The titanic was the first lucky ship to have been created in this period. The makers of the titanic had the idea of building what they called “a floating city at sea” which will be well endowed with an indoor swimming pool, a squash deck, and other amenities. This meant that the most comfortable fleet was from the powerful nation, hence the struggle ensued.

A decade into the 20th centuary,all the powerful shipping liners organized very large lines into the sea .The first nationalistic idea appeared in Kaiser by his refusal to name one of the ships as Europa and chose to name her Imperator because he thought this would sound more nationalistic than the former. The gigantic ship carried a mighty 52,000 tones and the largest at that time. Even after the name Imperator the high Germany nationalism forced the name to be changed to Vaterland or Fatherland. The gigantic ship was launched by prince Rupert in the sight of more than forty thousand nationalists. The Vertaland served for only few months in the sea before she was caught up in New York after the war had erupted in Europe. The events that followed after the beginning of the war were to leave a mark in the sea trade. De Kerbregh, R.P & Williams, DI (1988, 126)

Before going into the details of the war, it is important to put into consideration the opinion of the faithfuls in the face of great out cry for nationalism and advancement in technology. The modern man could survive with anything that was provided to him. At this time sociologist Auguste Comte developed the theory of positivism as a result of a positive feeling towards science and technology. The masses had been greatly influenced by the launch of the Titanic built on grounds of high technological advancement and even every body was it will work. The sociologists of this age postulated that man had moved away from theology and was only satisfied by what he called material world and that the fear of God had disappeared among the populace.

Germany shipping Company, the HAPAG, was determined to lead in the shipping and by the beginning of the second decade it launched three major ships and towed them in the waters of the Atlantic. This was the father company of the Vertaland, Titanic and the Leviathan. In the later days, Leviathan was to be seized by the United States and was surrendered to the later in the treaty following the period before the war. From this time onwards it was evident that the United States had officially entered noble competition of the sea.

It is justifiable that the sea trade warfare was the main cause of tension among the super powers. Under such conditions the peace pact of Vienna had signed been but the situation became worse especially with the advent of Industrialization which made it possible to use chemicals (flame throwers and poisonous gas) and submarines. The powerful industrial nations were France, the United States, England, Germany and Russia.

The year 1914 was an ill-fated year in the history of Europe; major alliances were being formed and it was more obvious from the beginning that enemies could not form alliances.Therefore, Britain and Germany could not be in the same camp. Germany approached Russia and Italy for an alliance and soon this camp was joined by Austria-Hungary. The British camp included France and Serbia. The former alliance was referred to as the triple alliance and the later as the triple entente.

The war was sparked off by the murder of prince of Serbia by Austrian assassinator. In a move to find out an explanation from the Austrian authourities.The later declined to accept that prince Ferdinand was murdered in their soil. Serbia therefore declared war on Austria in move which saw the respective alliances come out in defense of their partner.

With the war already on, the different factions moved to sea. In the summer of mid 1916, British and Germany warships moved out to settle it to sea. After they met, the British warships encountered a Germany fleet and opened fire at them. In the battle that ensued many ships were sunk. The Germany warships retreated but the situation worsened when British warships further pursued them hence inflicting a heavy loss on the British side. Further interception by the Britons cost them over six thousand men and three battle cruisers. On the other hand only three thousand men and one battle ship on the Germany side were destroyed. Hugh Thompson (1938, 90)

At this point we are better placed to go back to the point of contention, the Blue Riband competition. As we have already seen the early transatlantic ships were those that relied on steam for power. Even with kind of power an urge arose among the sea liners companies to produce the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. This attitude graduated into a tough competition in which the winner was awarded the then a prestigious award, the Blue Riband Cup. The award was however not real but a mere recognition to a liner.

The contest traces its birth during the third decade of the 19th century when the first steam ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the new found lands of the Americas and the Caribbean. The first steam ship to cross the ocean was called ‘Royal William’ and was therefore awarded Blue Riband.This award however only became a famous recognition and a symbol as it was only an imagination of the marine shipping companies during the 1860s among the transatlantic shipping companies. In essence the Blue Riband became a ‘status symbol’ for shipping companies as meant a lot of prestige to have the fast running ship in its fleet. This award was only taken over by the faster and newer ship. Hugh Thompson (1938, 24)

It was this recognition that saw the gradual development of nationalism. Western Europe with the thirst to be recognized internationally and overpower each other plunged into the competition. Powerful sea companies like the White Star Company and the Cunard as we have already seen made ships in Britain and fitted them with flags representing Britain.

Germany on the hand also entered the sea to hassle it out with the and as we have seen the Germany Shipping company, the HAPAG started manufacturing ships already mentioned above. The ships which included the Vertaland, Lusatina and Mauretania were mighty ships which had the capacity to carry more passengers than their counterpart ships in Britain.Additionally, these ships were highly sophisticated with more technology included in them. De Kerbregh, R.P & Williams, DI (1988, 156);

During the early days of the Trans Atlantic transport the Britons controlled the waters. The two major shipping companies-  White Star Line and Cunard involved in bitter rivalry with each striving to establish agents in Norway and the United States. The White Star managed to win the Riband in this early days  before it was taken over by a more competitive and promising Cunard line. De Kerbregh, R.P & Williams, DI (1988, 27).

The two major companies were actually fathers of nationalism. In the period that followed many tycoons invested a lot in these shipping lines. Unfortunately for these shipping lines, the conditions in the ships were horrendous and security was not their concern, but the Star Liner was taken over by Thomas Henry Ismay the ships underwent a massive renovation. This was shortly before the liner suffered a set back by going around in the Atlantic. Heil, Scott and Terrance W. Peck, eds. (1998, 87)

When the Teutonic was built it won the Blue Ribband and also won the same for the White Star Line. This was after the ship set the record for crossing the Atlantic. This was the strategy Mr. Ismay needed to begin the work of expanding the company to increase its fleet. After this, competitors started to take notice of this lucrative company.

With the rise of the White Star the British companies felt threatened. The Cunard therefore moved to make changes which gave rise to the Lusitania and Mauretania.Not long after this; Lusitania took the Blue Ribband from the white star company. Heil, Scott and Terrance W. Peck, eds. (1998,46)


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[1] Bismarck’s confidential diplomatic circular to German representatives abroad, Berlin, 14 May 1872.” In: F.B.M. Hollyday, Bismarck, Prentice-Hall (1970) pp 42-44