The Ocean Railway

By Stephen Fox

The great transatlantic steamship lines revolutionized Anglo-American commerce and travel. In a wave of British and American entrepreneurial zeal, the ploddingly slow, ugly and uncomfortable vessels of the early 19th century were transformed into vast, swift, graceful and often luxurious ocean-going liners. Steamships became emblems of an age, of a Victorian audacity of spirit - cathedrals to man's harnessing of new technology. Through the innovations and designs of key engineers and shipping magnates - Samuel Cunard (later Sir), Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Edward Knights Collins - "the largest moveable objects in human history" were created, and under turbine propulsion transatlantic crossing times shrank from six weeks to six days. To the wealthy, the great steamships would come to represent travel with style and glamour, but to most they offered cheap fast passage out of Europe to the New World and new opportunities. At their peak, the steamships would deliver one million new Americans each year, transforming the world's oceans from barriers into highways.

In this book, Stephen Fox also chronicles the tragedies that marked the evolution of the ocean liner, including, the sinking, in 1852, of Edward Knight Collins' steamship the Arctic, with the loss of 322 lives including Collins' wife and daughter, alongside the early 20th century losses of the Lusitania and the Titanic. Stephen Fox recreates the experience of transatlantic passage through contemporary records, diaries and writings (including those of Dickens and Emerson), and examines the societies created on the vast floating cities with cultures and conditions of their own.

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