Career

At 9 p.m. on Saturday 7 September 1907, Lusitania departed Liverpool, England for her maiden voyage to New York, New York, via Queenstown, Ireland.  She was commanded by Commodore James Watt.  A crowd 200,000 strong had gathered in Liverpool to see off Britain’s new queen of the seas. Lusitania would be the largest passenger ship afloat until the maiden voyage of her sister Mauretania that November.  Throughout her brief career, Lusitania would make 101 round-trip voyages out of Liverpool – that is, 202 individual crossings between Liverpool and New York. At the time of Lusitania’s maiden voyage, the Blue Riband, the unofficial prize for the fastest ship on the North Atlantic, was held by German ships.  The westbound record was held by Hamburg-America's Deutschland, and the eastbound record was held by Norddeutscher Lloyd’s Kaiser Wilhelm IILusitania attempted to wrest the title away from the German ships and reclaim the prize for Britain, but on her maiden voyage, Lusitania ran into two days of fog.  Furthermore, her engines still needed to be run in before she could achieve her maximum performance.  Lusitania completed her maiden crossing from Daunt’s Rock, Ireland, to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, in 5 days and 54 minutes.  Her time was 30 minutes shy of the record. Lusitania arrived in New York for the first time on Friday, 13 September 1907.  Hundreds of thousands of onlookers lined the New York City waterfront to get a look at this marvel of British engineering.  One American remarked that Lusitania was “more beautiful than Solomon’s Temple – and big enough to hold all his wives.” The New York City police was on patrol to control the massive crowds.  One hundred horse-drawn cabs awaited by Cunard’s Pier 54 to greet the disembarking passengers. In the week that Lusitania stayed in New York for the first time for turnaround, she had been open for guided tours.  Among those who visited her was the American writer Mark Twain, who came as a guest of Cunard.  Thoroughly impressed with everything had he had seen, at the end of the tour, Twain remarked, "I guess I'll have to tell Noah about it when I see him." Lusitania departed for the return leg of her maiden voyage on Saturday, 21 September at 3 p.m.  Once again she was delayed by fog and did not recapture the Blue Riband for Britain, arriving at Queenstown in the early morning hours of 27 September with a time of 5 days, 4 hours, and 19 minutes.  Also aboard Lusitania this trip were Fred McMurtry, Fred Pearson, and his wife Mabel.  All three of them would be passengers lost on Lusitania's final crossing. Lusitania took the Blue Riband for westbound crossings from Deutschland on her second Liverpool to New York run, from 6 to 11 October 1907.  Her time was 4 days, 19 hours, and 52 minutes, with an average speed of 24.002 knots (44.43 km/hr).  On her return trip from 19 to 24 October, she took the eastbound record as well with a time of 4 days, 22 hours, and 53 minutes with an average speed of 23.61 knots (43.73 km/hr).  Lusitania's Purser Lancaster coined this limerick for the occasion:
There was a young man in Westphalia, Who had charge of much costly regalia, To his sweetheart he said, 'My dear, when we're wed, We'll call our first girl Lucy Tania.'
She was the first ship to make the transatlantic crossing in less than 5 days.  Cunard publicized her as the "four day ship". Mauretania entered service on Saturday, 16 November.  On her maiden return trip from 30 November to 5 December, Mauretania took the eastbound speed record from Lusitania with a time of 4 days, 22 hours, and 29 minutes and an average speed of 23.69 knots.  Mauretania challenged her for the westbound record, but Lusitania was able to win it back and continued to break her own speed records. Lusitania’s performance improved after June 1908, when her two outer propellers were replaced with propellers with a greater blade pitch.  All four propellers were replaced in April 1909 with a four bladed design similar to those on Mauretania, which were six feet wider in diameter than the previous propellers and weighed 23 tons.  This change not only gave Lusitania an additional 1 knot increase in maximum speed but also reduced vibration.  Lusitania would set her fastest time on the westbound crossing of 8 to 12 August 1909, where she crossed in 4 days, 11 hours, and 42 minutes with an average speed of 25.85 knots.  Mauretania finally took this record from Lusitania on Mauretania’s 26 to 30 September 1909 westbound crossing, when the English ship crossed in 4 days, 10 hours, and 51 minutes with an average speed of 26.06 knots.  Mauretania would keep the record for the next 20 years until it was taken by the Norddeutscher Lloyd liner Bremen in July 1929. Conventional histories have recorded that Mauretania was the faster of the two sisters due to the English sister having a more powerful power plant, but it must be kept in mind that Lusitania’s first eight voyages were with propellers different from Mauretania.  After Lusitania’s 1909 propeller refitting, her speeds increased to become comparable to her sister’s.  One of Mauretania’s masters, who had also served on Lusitania, Captain Sandy G.S. McNeil, recalled that after Lusitania’s refitting, the twin sisters only had “a decimal difference” in speed. At the same time, the records show that Lusitania's best day's run was 656 miles (made 19 to 25 March 1910), Mauretania 's was 673 miles.  Yet, as Mauretania's engines showed throughout her career, as the turbines get broken in, ships can actually go faster as they age, and Lusitania might have been capable of this as well.  Even though Mauretania had the more powerful engine, had Lusitania survived the war she could have remained a serious, but friendly, competitor to her sister for the Blue Riband. On 30 May 1914, Lusitania and Mauretania were joined by a “half-sister,” Aquitania, commanded by Lusitania’s past and future master, Captain William Thomas Turner.  With Aquitania, Cunard was now able to have at least one large express passenger ship on the North Atlantic every week. Unlike Lusitania and Mauretania, which had lean designs and were built for speed, Aquitania was much larger, bulkier, and slightly slower.  In this respect, Cunard’s third ship bore a greater resemblance to their rival White Star Line’s Olympic-class ships, which emphasized size and luxury over speed. The next month, on 28 June 1914, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia, by a young Serbian by the name of Gavrilo Princip would plunge the world into a war of then-unprecedented entanglements and devastation. In her pre-war career, Lusitania had transported gold bullion, encountered rogue waves, and in 1909 participated in the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson's trip up the Hudson River and 100th the anniversary of Robert Fulton's steamboat Clermont. There, a Wright Brothers' Flyer even flew over Lusitania.  Lusitania completed 91 round-trip voyages before the outbreak of the First World War.

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