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How Fast Could A Steamship Cross the Ocean?

The first so-called "ocean greyhound" brought out by the Cunard Line, was the Acadia, which made her maiden voyage some years ago. A comparison of her size and speed with those steamships that have subsequently made ''fast reputations" is interesting.

The following is a list. It will be noted that no steamship has made a speed record since the Mauretania made hers in 1908 and 1909.

Year and Vessel Line Length Tonnage Speed
1841 Acadia Cunard 250 1,834 11.25
1848 Europa Cunard 230 1,155 10.75
1851 Baltic Collins 282 2,860 13.25
1863 Scotia Cunard 379 3,870 14.
1872 Adriatic White Star 420 3,888 14.5
1873 Baltic White Star 420 4,500 15.
1875 City of Berlin Inman 488 5,491 15.25
1876 Britannic White Star 455 5,004 16.
1884 Oregon Guion 500 7,375 16.25
1887 Etruria Cunard 501 8,128 19.50
1888 La Bretagne French 510 8,300 19.60
1889 City of Paris Inman 560 10,674 20.5
1892 City of Paris Inman 560 10,674 21.
1892 La Touraine French 520 8,429 21.20
1893 Campania Cunard 620 12,950 21.88
1894 Lucania Cunard 620 12,952 22.
1897 Kaiser. Wilhelm der Grosse North German Lloyd . 649 14,349 23
1900 Deutschland Hamburg 686 16,502 23.51
1903 Kaiser Wilhelm II. North German Lloyd 706 19,500 23.58
1908 Lusitania Cunard 785 32,500 25.88
1908 Mauretania Cunard 790 32,500 26.06

Record Transatlantic Voyages

Course Year Time
New York to Queenstown 1909. 4d.13h.41m
New York to Cherbourg 1922 5 d. 8h.10m.
New York to Plymouth 1922 4d.23h.15m.
Queenstown to New York 1910. 4d.10h.21m
Cherbourg to New York 1922 5d. 7h.33m.
Southampton to New York via Cherbourg 1922. 5d.15h.55m


The record from New York to Havre was made by the SS France, of the French Line – 5 days 17 hours. From N. Y. to Southampton the record of 5 days. 17 hours 8 minutes was made by the Kaiser Wilhelm. der Grosse, of the North German Lloyd Line, in 1897, and that from New York to Naples by the Deutschland, Hamburg America Line, 7 days 16 hours 44 minutes in 1904.

In speed, both the Deutschland and the Kaiser Wilhelm surpass the Cunard boats; in size, the Oceanic surpasses everything. Over all, the White Star boat measures 704 feet; in speed, she can reel off with clock-like regularity about 20.5 knots, as against the 21.90 knots of the Lucania.

The best hourly average of the Kaiser Wilhelm is 22.6 knots; that of the Deutschland, as has already been said, is no less than 23.36, or nearly a knot an hour better. To the great Hamburg American flier must be given the title of queen of the seas.

The Deutschland's fastest passage from New York to Plymouth was made last September 1901, her time being five days, seven hours, and thirty-eight minutes -- about one fifth of the time taken by the Savannah. During this test of energy and speed, she developed 36,913 horsepower at a daily expenditure of 572 tons of coal.

The record for the fastest day's run was made by the Mauretania, of the Cunard Line, in January 1911-676 knots, or 27.04 knots.

Earlier Transatlantic Records

The following table shows the way the ocean passage was gradually cut down by the older steamships:

Year Steamer Time
1856 Persia. 9d.1h.45m
1866 Scotia 8d.2h.48m.
1869 City of Brussels 7d.22h.3m.
1873 Baltic 7d.20h.9m.
1875 City of Berlin 7d.15h.48m.
1876 Germanic 7d.11h.37m.
1877 Britannic 7d.10h.53m.
1880 Arizona 7d.7h.23m.
1882 Alaska 6d.18h.37m.
1884 Oregon 6d.11h.9m.
1884 America 6d.10h.
1887 Umbria 6d.4h.42m.
1888 Etruria 6d.1h.55m.
1891 Majestic 5d.18h.8m.
1891 Teutonic 5d.16h.31m.
1892 City of Paris 5d.14h.24m.
1893 Campania 5d.12h.7m.
1894 Lucania 5d.7h.23m.


This vessel has a record that is indeed enviable, and her reputation as an "ocean greyhound" has been well sustained. This remarkable racer in thirteen westward trips made an average passage of 6 days, 16 hours and 36 minutes.

In twelve eastward trips she accomplished the runs on an average of 6 days, 10 hours and 7 minutes. The average speed per hour during this time going to the westward 17.67 knots, and to the eastward 18.55 knots. The Umbria's fastest August record was a little over 6 days, 12 hours.

In 1867, the Clyde-built screw steamer, Russia, was added to the fleet, her gross tonnage was 2,960, and she carried 235 cabin passengers. This vessel quickly earned a reputation for speed and comfort, vieing with the Scotia as a passenger favourite; her fastest passage across the Atlantic was 8 days 28 minutes.

A remarkable feature in connection with these ships is the marvellous regularity with which they have crossed the Atlantic since they left the hands of the builders.

Their efficiency may be said to have increased year by year, for it was in July, 1892, that the "UMBRIA" made her fastest passage across the Atlantic, in 5 days, 22 hours, 7 minutes; and in September, 1892, the " ETRURIA " made her fastest passage, 6 days and 20 minutes.

The next additions to the Cunard fleet were the Catalonia, Pavonia and Cephalonia, which were placed upon the Boston service, and then, in 1883, came a new type of vessel in the Aurania, which, while 45 feet shorter than the Servia, was five feet wider in the beam -- a circumstance which enabled material improvements to be introduced in the accommodation for first-class passengers.

This same year saw the launching for another Atlantic line at the yard of Messrs. John Elder & Co., at Glasgow, of the Oregon, whose compound, direct-acting inverted engines developed 13,500 indicated horse power, and enabled a speed of 18 knots to be attained.

This sensational result immediately led the directors of the Cunard Line to order from the same builders two new vessels, which, while incorporating the best features of the Oregon, had others of their own, which, together, made the Umbria and Etruria, illustrated below, the fastest and finest ships then afloat.

With gross register of 8,127 tons, and engines indicating 14,500 horse power, a speed of 20 knots was secured. The Etruria, in its time, held the Atlantic record for speed, having accomplished the western passage in 5 days 20 hours and 55 minutes, and the eastern passage in 6 days 37 minutes.


During the past year these two steamers have maintained a regular fast Express Service between New York, Southampton and Hamburg, bringing passengers to London within 7 days, and to Hamburg within 8 days, while the actual ocean passage is reduced to 6 days.

Passengers leaving London at noon on a Friday, and boarding the Hamburg steamer at Southampton, have been landed in New York on the following Friday before noon, thus bringing them from their business in London to their business in New York in less than a week—a feat not equaled by any other line. This shows the wonderful convenience which these steamers offer to the traveling public.

The fastest runs were over 20 knots per hour, which is equal to 23 English miles, and exceeds the speed of transcontinental trains.


For the whole season on her trips to the eastward she averaged 19.12 knots, and to the westward 18.91 knots per hour. She has made a slightly better average than her sister, the favorite City of Paris, and she beat her powerful rival, the Teutonic, seven times out of ten during the past season.

The fastest westward trip on record is that of the City of Paris, her time of 5 days, 19 hours, and 18 minutes being undisputed. Her best eastward trip was made in 5 days, 22 hours, and 50 minutes, which is also the fastest trip on record to the eastward.

The lowest time claimed for the Teutonic, on a westward trip, is 5 days, 19 hours, and 5 minutes, but this record is in dispute, as there is a discrepancy of 55 minutes in the time of her arrival at Sandy Hook Lightship as shown by her log, and that given by the marine observers both at the Highlands of Nave-sink and Sandy Hook.

There is also a difference of 28 minutes in her leaving time from Roche's Point between the time shown by her log and the reported time by the Associated Press observer, which adds one hour and twenty-three minutes to the record claimed for her. Her fastest eastward voyage was made in 5 days, 23 hours, and 34 minutes.

The City of New York has made the westward voyage in 5 days, 21 hours, and 19 minutes; she made the eastward voyage in 5 days, 23 hours, and 14 minutes.

The Majestic's fastest westward trip was 5 days, 21 hours, and 20 minutes; and her fastest trip to the eastward was 5 days, 23 hours, and 16 minutes.

The Etruria has a record to the westward of 6 days, 1 hour, and 50 minutes; and to the eastward of 6 days, 5 hours, and 18 minutes.

The Umbria's record to the westward is 6 days, 4 hours, and 20 minutes; and her eastward record is 6 days, 3 hours, and 17 minutes.

The trips of these six vessels are measured between Sandy Hook Lightship and Roche's Point, the entrance to Queenstown Harbor; the North-German Lloyd Line and the Hamburg-American measure the trips between Sandy Hook Lightship and the Needles, near Southampton.

The Columbia has made the journey eastward in 6 days, 15 hours; and to the westward in 6 days, 16 hours, and 2 minutes.

The Normannia has made the eastward trip in 6 days, 17 hours, and 20 minutes; and to the westward in 6 days, 17 hours, and 2 minutes.

The record of the Augusta Victoria is, eastward, 6 days, 22 hours, and 32 minutes; westward, 6 days, 22 hours, and 40 minutes.

The new steamship Spree, of the North German Lloyd Line, made the trip to the eastward in 6 days and 22 hours, on her third trip across the Atlantic; and the Lahn, of the same line, has a record to the eastward of 6 days, 22 hours, and 42 minutes.

The fast ships of several lines now make a seven-days' journey from port to port; these lines are the Cunard, Inman, White Star, North German Lloyd, Hamburg-American, French, Guion, and Anchor.

Their vessels are well fitted, the passengers find every convenience at hand, and, barring extremely bad weather, the traveler may imagine that he is confined but a few days to a first-rate hotel on land.

Nevertheless it may be worth while to mention one or two comparatively minor features that have been introduced lately to make the journey to Europe comfortable.

It is now possible to have your trunks checked at your house for delivery in London, although the steamship may terminate its journey at Liverpool.

Comparative Table of Atlantic Steamships and Their Speeds. Ocean Steamships 1891.

Comparative Table of Atlantic Steamships and Their Speeds. Ocean Steamships 1891. GGA Image ID # 147913ea81


Transatlantic Liverpool to New York in Days, Hours, Minutes:

Etruria  6, 5, 31

Umbria (sister ship) slightly longer

Oregon 6, 10, 35

America 6, 13, 44

City of Rome 6, 18, 0

Alaska 6, 18, 37

Servia 6, 23, 55

Aurania 7, 1, 1


The Lucania has a trifle the advantage of her sister vessel in the actual length of passage, and her fastest voyages have been : westward, 5 days 7 hours and 23 minutes; and eastward, 5 days 8 hours and 38 minutes. Her best average westward speed is 22.81 knots, and eastward 22.01 knots.

Records of the SS “Deutschland" of the Hamburg America Line

(As of 1907)

Maiden Record (Best Maiden Trip Ever Made)

Records of the Twin-Screw Express Steamer “Deutschland"

Left Plymouth July 6, 1900, Arrived New York, July 12, 1900

  • Time Of Passage —5 Days, 15 Hours, 46 Minutes
  • Total Distance —3,044 Miles
  • Average Speed —22.42 knots

Fastest Trip —Eastbound

In Point of Time —(Over Short Course) :

Left New York, Sept. 4, 1900, Arrived Plymouth, Sept. 10, 1900

  • Time Of Passage — 5 Days, 7 Hours, 38 Minutes
  • Total Distance —2,982 Miles
  • Average Speed — 23*36 knots

In Point of Speed—(Over Long Course) :

Left New York, July 11, 1901, Arrived Plymouth, July 17, 1901

  • Time Of Passage — 5 Days, 11 Hours, 5 Minutes
  • Total Distance —3,082 Miles
  • Average Speed — 23.51 knots

Fastest Trip — Westbound

Left Cherbourg, Sept. 2, 1903, Arrived New York, Sept. 8, 1903

  • Time Of Passage — 5 Days, 11 Hours, 54 Minutes
  • Total Distance —3,054 Miles
  • Average Speed —23.15 knots

Fastest Trip To Italy

Left New York, Jan. 20, 1904, Arrived Naples, Jan. 28, 1904

  • Time Of Passage —7 Days, 16 Hours, 44 Minutes
  • Total Distance—4,140 Miles
  • Average Speed—22.85 knots

Highest Day’s Run was made on July 30, 1901
Westbound at 601 Nautical Miles = 692 Statute Miles

Note: Many of the source documents used in this report indicated speed as "knots an hour" where a knot equals one nautical mile per hour, so it makes no sense to speak of “knots per hour,” or "knots an hour." We have altered the original text leaving off “per/an hour” when reporting the speed of a vessel in knots.

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