The White Star Line (1845-1934) was founded in Liverpool, England in 1845, by Henry Threlfall Wilson and John Pilkington. At its inception it was called the “Aberdeen White Star Line”. Little did they know that it would become one of the greatest steamship companies of its time, and much later, one of the most famous of all times.
The company’s initial focus was on the great Australian gold rush. In the early 1850’s if you had sound ships and ran the Australian route, it would be difficult not to succeed.
In 1852 White Star Line launched and operated a fleet of wooden sailing clippers—the Blue Jacket (later renamed the White Star), the Red Jacket, the Ellen and the Iowa. With these vessels, they transported would-be prospectors from Liverpool, England to Melbourne, Australia in search of the newly found gold fields.
They returned to England, loaded with seal skins, whale oil and Australian wool and gold, the latter being its main cargo.
Pilkington and Wilson's initial business plan for the White Star Line included leasing and chartering vessels as opposed to purchasing them. As business and capital increased, they would purchase vessels. The first ship purchased under the White Star Line name was the 879-ton clipper ship Iowa, of the barque class.
In 1857, a 19 year old by the name of Thomas Henry Ismay, struggling to claim his stake in the business world, met up with a retired ship captain named Phillip Nelson. Nelson owned a ship, the Anne Nelson, named after his wife. The two became friends and decided to go into business together as shipbrokers.
After five years the partnership broke up and Ismay founded T.H. Ismay and Company in Liverpool. After a few quick years, T.H. Ismay and Company had become a recognized establishment in its own right and Ismay was becoming a wealthy man. Deciding it was time to make some outside
investments, Thomas Ismay began purchasing shares in the White Star Line.
In 1863 White Star Line purchased its first steamship, the Royal Standard, a move thought to be what White Star Line needed to pick up business. As it turned out, Royal Standard did not make a difference and the conglomerate was now on a rapid downhill spiral. The now slowing Australian gold rush made matters worse.
In an attempt to save itself, the White Star Line broke away from the merger. White Star Line decided to abandon the Australian run and reroute the Royal Standard to the North Atlantic run—Liverpool to New York.
Thomas Henry Ismay, by now 31- years old, and director of the National Line, saw an opportunity for the taking. Together with Sir Edward Harland (of Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders), they quickly purchased the White Star Line from the near penniless Henry Wilson on January 18, 1868, for £1,000 (the value today would be over £46,000). By purchasing the name and the house flag of the White Star Line, Thomas Ismay took on the company’s over £500,000 debt.
Thomas Ismay’s intention with the purchase of the White Star Line was to redirect the bankrupt company's attention from the Australian trade to the North Atlantic passenger service—a move that Henry Wilson had attempted, but failed. Almost immediately after the purchase, the White Star Line was back on its feet.
The full article is available in Volume 1. It includes printable parts to build your own model of the Titanic.