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Famous Historical Ships: Warships to Cruise Ships

Maritime vessels have evolved significantly since the first boats were created to venture out onto the waters. From manually propelled boats to majestic vessels with towering masts and sails, the history of ships can be a fascinating study. Ships often have a wide and varied past, whether they have been involved in military battles or have a story to tell about the passengers they have carried. Some ships have gone down in history for their unfortunate demise at the hands of nature or foreign aggression.

RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic may be the most famous cruise ship in history due to its historic size and opulence as well as the way its maiden voyage ended. Touted as the most luxurious ocean liner of its time, the Titanic set sail from Southampton on April 10, 1912. Just five days later, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Of the people on board the Titanic, about two-thirds perished at sea, making this event one of the worst peacetime sea disasters of all time.

  • The Titanic: The Titanic cost $7.5 million to build, and her fateful voyage began on April 10, 1912.
  • History Facts About the Titanic: Only 20 lifeboats were installed on the Titanic, with room enough to hold 1,178 passengers, and they were not filled to capacity when they were used.
  • Titanic: The Reality: The Titanic was 882.5 feet long and 11 stories tall, carrying more than 2,200 passengers on their way to New York.
  • Echoes of the Titanic: The sinking of the Titanic reinforced many cultural conflicts that were simmering, including class divisions and racism.
  • Titanic: The Artifact Expedition (PDF): Although the Titanic was filled with passengers, its main purpose was to carry mail, explaining its "RMS," or "royal mail ship," designation.
  • Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg: The Titanic struck the iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912.

Santa Maria

The Santa Maria earned her place in history as one of the ships in Christopher Columbus's fleet that sailed for the new world. The Santa Maria was a cargo ship, and it was the largest of the three ships. After the Santa Maria was damaged beyond repair, it was broken down and the wood salvaged to build another ship. The Santa Maria's actual design was unknown, so historians have been forced to guess about its original configuration.


The Mayflower was the merchant ship that carried the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620. Although not designed to carry passengers, the Mayflower transported 102 people across the Atlantic Ocean. Delays in the planned departure resulted in a tumultuous voyage that was filled with storms. The Mayflower eventually reached Cape Cod after two months at sea.

RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner that set sail from Liverpool, England, bound for New York City during World War I. During its crossing of the Atlantic, the Lusitania was stalked by German U-boats. On May 7, 1915, one of the U-boats launched a torpedo, which struck the Lusitania and sunk it. More than 1,100 people died in the sinking of the Lusitania, of which 120 were American.

  • Lusitania History: The Lusitania departed from Liverpool, headed for New York City until it was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat.
  • RMS Lusitania: When the Lusitania first launched, it was considered the most luxurious ship in the world.
  • Sinking of the RMS Lusitania: With the sinking of the Lusitania, 1,198 civilians died.
  • The Sinking of the Lusitania: After the torpedo struck the Lusitania in the early afternoon hours of May 7, 1915, the ship sank within 18 minutes.

U.S.S. Constitution

Nicknamed "Old Ironsides," the U.S.S. Constitution has weathered time and remains afloat as a museum near Boston. The U.S.S. Constitution was built in 1797 and was involved in various battles during the War of 1812. President George Washington commissioned the U.S.S. Constitution to help defend United States merchant ships from Barbary pirates. After extensive restoration and renovation, only a small portion of the ship's keel is in its original state today.

HMS Victory

The HMS Victory was a massive wooden warship that was designed and built for the British fleet. The HMS Victory was launched in 1765, and the ship fought against the French during the American Revolution. It also saw action during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War, most famously as the flagship of Britain's greatest victory at sea during the Battle of Trafalgar. Today, the Victory is a floating museum in Portsmouth, England.

  • HMS Victory History: The HMS Victory embarked on its maiden voyage on May 7, 1765. This ship was active during the American Revolution.
  • The Construction of HMS Victory Begins: It took about 6,000 trees to build the HMS Victory, many of which were solid oak trees.
  • HMS Victory: The HMS Victory is the only remaining British naval warship that shows off the building skills of designers and shipwrights from the 18th century.
  • History of HMS Victory: The HMS Victory was a fighting vessel with three decks and masts, spanning 227 feet.

Prinzessin Victoria Luise

The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was a German cruise ship, the first vessel of its kind built specifically to transport passengers in luxury. Albert Ballin was the mastermind behind the design of this ship, creating it to provide passengers with a first-class way to cross the Atlantic. The maiden voyage of the Prinzessin Victoria Luise occurred on Jan. 5, 1901, departing from Hamburg. Less than two weeks later, the ship arrived in New York City.


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