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The Longest Run

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Today, we are going to take a break from the topic of piracy to explore the world of steamships 100 years ago today. This past summer, we saw a lot of coverage of the world’s fastest transatlantic steamship, the SS United States. But what was the fastest ship in the world a century ago today? After consulting the Herbert and Norma Beazley collection, which contains ephemera from hundreds of notable steamships, I found that the fastest steamship – and holder of the Blue Riband – was none other than the RMS Lusitania’s sister ship the RMS Mauretania.

A card and envelope, ‘Mauretania’ Leaving Southampton c1920 (from a painting by Harley Crossley.) From the Beazley collection.

The RMS Lusitania held the Blue Riband from 1907-1909, and the RMS Mauretania outdid her sister by taking the Riband in 1909 and holding it for 20 years straight! RMS Mauretania traveled 2,784 nautical miles in 4 days, 10 hours and 51 minutes, for an average speed of 26.06 knotts, beating RMS Lusitania’s speed of 25.65 knotts. During World War I, RMS Mauretania was docked in Liverpool until her sister, RMS Lusitania, was torpedoed and sunk in 1914. RMS Mauretania was thereafter used as a troopship and a hospital ship, and would resume ferrying passengers once the war was over.

Here are some pleasure cruise brochures from 1931 (L) and 1928 (R). From the Beazley collection.

The RMS Mauretania may not be as famous as the SS United States, but she deserves a place in our memory nonetheless. She had a length of 790 ft and a width of 88 ft, weighed in at 31,938 gross registered tons and had four direct-action Parsons steam engines that could put out 76,000 shaft horsepower. She held the Blue Riband for 20 years straight, the longest stretch of time by far save for the SS United States: the closest runner up to the RMS Mauretania in number of consecutive years is the MS Queen Mary, with a 14-year stretch. By all accounts, the RMS Mauretania was an impressive transatlantic steamship, and 100 years ago today she was the fastest one in the world.

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