A less well known milestone than the moon landing occurred on the same date – July 20 – 90 years ago, when on its maiden voyage, the German superliner SS Bremen arrived in New York Harbor, breaking the record for the fastest westbound crossing of the Atlantic. The event triggered an intense struggle after a long hiatus between the European powers for supremacy on the Atlantic which was only ended by the outbreak of World War II.
Below is a selection of posters from International Poster Gallery that illustrate the ships that would dominate the news in the era:
1929: Germany’s Bremen breaks the speed record across the Atlantic
Bremen took the prestigious Blue Riband from the leader of the British fleet, Cunard’s RMS Mauretania, which had held the record for nearly 20 remarkable years. Equally shocking was that the Bremen also broke Mauretania’s record across the Atlantic on its maiden return voyage – a first such achievement – in under 5 days, averaging nearly 28 knots.
This was only part of the news. The Bremen was closely followed by the maiden voyage of a sister ship, the SS Europa. These two sleek greyhounds – as elegant, safe and comfortable as they were fast – signified a shift in the global balance of power and the reemergence of Germany. They were the first two ships fast enough to manage a weekly schedule across the Atlantic. Before them, three ships had been required.
Germany’s new ships spurred a wave of new technology and breakthroughs in safety and comfort. The Bremen’s success spurred an intense new rivalry for dominance of the seas. That these speedy, elegant ships could easily be converted in time of war to troop carriers was not lost on any of the world’s leaders.
1933: Italy’s Rex
Giovanni Patrone, 6 1/2 days to New York, 1932
In 1933 Italy’s Rex, the pride of Mussolini, usurped the title of world’s fastest ship from the Bremen, and was quickly joined by its own sister ship, the Conte di Savoia. The advertisement emphasized the Line’s sunny “Southern Route” which avoided the terrible cold of the more frequented northern passage.
The route led the Italians to add innovative design elements that have become standard on cruise ships worldwide. The so-called “Lido features” included outdoor swimming pools and extensive open air decks.
1935: France’s Normandie
A.M. Cassandre, Normandie, 1935
In 1935, France’s Normandie seized the title. The ship itself was a symbol of national honor. From the outset, its mission was to be the largest and fastest ocean liner, and the “ultimate expression of the artistic and scientific genius” of France. Despite a global Depression and fierce competition from Italy, Germany and England, the Normandie succeeded on all counts. It was the first liner to sustain a speed of 30 knots, and on its very first transatlantic voyage captured the Blue Ribbon for the fastest crossing ever — 4 days and a little more than 3 hours.
1936: Great Britain’s Queen Mary
A year later Britain finally regained the crown with its much delayed RMS Queen Mary. And on the eve of WWII, it was joined by its own running mate, the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which entered service as a troop carrier. The two ships would survive the war and dominated the Atlantic passenger market until the rise of the airlines spelled their obsolescence.