The Lusitania Resource > RMS Lusitania > Construction and Trials

Construction and Trials

Lusitania moved off the drawing board and became a solid reality on 16 June 1904, when John Brown and Company on Clydebank, Scotland, laid the keel for Yard No. 367.  Cunard chairman Lord Inverclyde hammered in the first rivet.  She was to be built in tandem with her sister Mauretania, who would begin construction three months later at Swan Hunter on Tyne in England.  Although both ships would have the same overall design, the discretion of the two shipyards would lead to slight, but noticeable, differences between the two ships. Due to Lusitania’s unprecedented size, John Brown had to reorganize its shipyard.  Lusitania’s slipway took up the space of two previous slipways and was built on top of reinforcing piles to support the concentrated, unprecedented weight of Lusitania.  Railway tracks alongside the slipway and across the deck plating would aid in bringing in building materials. The ship’s record-breaking length also meant that Lusitania would have to be launched diagonally.  Lusitania was 787 feet long, longer than the river Clyde was wide.  The shipbuilders took advantage of where a tributary met the river Clyde to maximize the length available for Lusitania to slide and float. Instead of the traditional method of shipbuilding where construction starts at both ends and meets in the middle, Lusitania’s construction started at the bow and moved towards the stern.  The reason for this was actually because the plans for Lusitania’s engines and stern had not yet been finalized.  Lusitania’s turbine engine rotors were built on site.  The casings and shafts, however, were built separately in Sheffield, where John Brown’s Atlas works was located. The hull was completed to the level of the main deck.  The three-bladed propellers, each 17 feet across, were fitted onto the ship and then encased in wood to protect them during launch.  The superstructure would be built after the ship was launched.  Construction on the ship was delayed for eight weeks from 1 October to 22 November 1905 because of strikes. Cunard decided on the names Lusitania and Mauretania on 15 February 1906.  Controversy surrounded the spelling of Mauretania and whether her name should be spelled "Mauretania" or "Mauritania."  On 23 May did Cunard decide to spell the younger sister's name with an "e".  Cunard had a company tradition of naming its ships after provinces of the Roman Empire.  Such names drew parallels between the Roman and British Empire, the latter of which was the largest the world had ever seen and dubbed "the Empire on which the sun never sets." Lusitania’s construction proceeded much more smoothly than that of her English sister.  Swan Hunter was consistently asking Cunard for more input on construction advice.  A March 1906 surveyor’s report to Cunard’s directors wrote that “work on this ship [Mauretania] is satisfactory but not so far advanced as in the Lusitania.” Lusitania was launched at 12:30 p.m. on 7 June 1906 in a great celebration.  One newspaper called the occasion "an event . . . of national importance."  Princess Louise was invited to christen the ship but could not attend, so Lusitania was christened by Mary, Lady Inverclyde.  Lord Inverclyde was noticeably absent, as had died eight months previously and was unable to be present for the completion of his dream. Six hundred invited guests and thousands of spectators attended the launching ceremony.  As the ship slid down the slipway, cables held back the wooden support structure upon which the ship rested.  One thousand tons of drag chains were attached to the hull to slow Lusitania down once she was in the water.  Six tugs moved to capture Lusitania and move the ship to her fitting out berth. Due to tidal conditions at John Brown's Clydebank site, Lusitania’s outfitting was at Tail o' the Bank at Gourock, where  her superstructure, funnels, and interiors were completed. Lusitania’s engines were tested in June 1907, where she jaunted up and down the Clyde.  As Lusitania was a gigantic financial gamble for both Cunard and the British government, the full trials on 27 July were held in secret, with representatives from Cunard, John Brown, the Board of Trade, and the Admiralty on board. Should Lusitania not be able to reach her contract speed of 24 ½ knots, John Brown would be fined £10,000 for every 1/10 of a knot under the requirement for a maximum fine of £100,000.  To their delight, Lusitania reached a record-breaking 26.4 knots, and on 1 August attained 26.7 knots, far exceeding her contract speed.  But, to their horror, her high speed caused the stern to vibrate so violently that the second cabin accommodations were unlivable. The combined interference of the wakes of the inner and outer propellers was causing the violent shaking, and at high speeds the vibration resonated with the ship’s structure, exacerbating the problem.  The second cabin section had to be gutted and stiffened with additional supports, disguised in the décor as pillars and arches.  The additional support improved the comfort of the second cabin accommodations but never fully solved Lusitania’s vibration problem, which would remain throughout her career. A fully-braced and remodeled Lusitania was delivered to Cunard on 26 August 1907.

About the Author