White Star Line: Sold for £1,000

White Star Line: Sold for £1,000

white star line sold

It was the deal of the century—the 19th century.

On 18 January 1868 shipping magnate Thomas Ismay purchased the house flag, trade name, and goodwill of the bankrupt White Star Line—for just £1,000.

During a game of billiards, Liverpool merchant Gustav Christian Schwabe and his nephew, shipbuilder Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, offered to help finance Ismay’s new venture, but only if the line agreed to having its ships built by Wolff’s company, a Belfast-based firm called Harland & Wolff. Ismay agreed, as long as Harland & Wolff didn’t build any vessels for competing lines. (That’s why you will never read about a story about Harland & Wolff building a ship for White Star’s arch-rival, Cunard Line.)

Harland & Wolff-started building liners for White Star in mid-1869. It quickly produced six Oceanic class ships: Oceanic, Atlantic, Baltic, Republic, Celtic and Adriatic. By 1871 the vessels began operating on regular schedules between Liverpool and New York.

white star line sold
Thomas Henry Ismay

Ismay remained president of White Star Line until 1899. Shortly after the launch of Oceanic (1899) on 14 January 1899, he complained of chest pains. Despite two operations Ismay suffered a heart attack, which led to his death on 23 November 1899.

Ismay’s son, J. Bruce Ismay, assumed control of his father’s company and eventually oversaw the creation of three luxurious Olympic class cruise liners: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Titanic sunk in April 1912 during her maiden voyage. The younger Ismay survived the disaster under controversial circumstances. A broken man, he soon relinquished direct control of the company.

Perhaps his father’s deal really was too good to be true.

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