White Star Line was a prominent British shipping company, founded in Liverpool by John Pilkington and Henry Wilson in 1845. The company initially focused on the UK – Australia trade, which increased following the discovery of gold in Australia. In 1863 the company acquired its first steamship the Royal Standard.
It has long been customary for many shipping lines to have a common theme for the names of their ships. White Star gave their ships names ending in -ic such as Titanic. The line adopted a buff-coloured funnel with a black top as a distinguishing feature for their ships, as well as a distinctive house flag, a red broad pennant with two tails, bearing a white five-pointed star.
During the late 19th century, White Star operated many famous ships, such as Britannic, Germanic, Teutonic, and Majestic. Between 1901 and 1907 “the big four” (all around 24,000 tons) were brought into service : Celtic, Cedric, Baltic, and Adriatic. These ships carried a huge number of passengers : 400 passengers in First Class and Second Class, and over 2,000 in Third Class. In addition, they had extremely large cargo capacities, up to 17,000 tons of general cargo.
In 1902 White Star Line was absorbed into the International Mercantile Marine Company, a large American shipping conglomerate.
In 1922 White Star gained Majestic and Homeric, two former German liners which had been ceded to Britain as war reparations. Majestic was then the world’s largest liner and became the company’s flagship.
In 1927 White Star was purchased by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. In 1933 White Star was in serious financial difficulty and the company merged with Cunard in 1934 to form Cunard-White Star Ltd.
In 1950 Cunard took full control of the company and the last surviving White Star liners, Georgic and Britannic, flew the Cunard house flag above the White Star burgee until they were each withdrawn from service in 1956 and 1961 respectively.