The launching in 1843 of the SS Great Britain, first Trans-Atlantic passenger liner built with an iron hull and driven by a propeller, opened the way for the large-scale passenger transportation across the oceans. Steam propulsion had made this possible but the first passenger liners were still very primitive, and the SS Great Britain, painted with a livery following the style known as "Nelson Chequer", was very similar in appearance to the contemporary military ships. All of the several hundreds of passengers had to be accommodated inside the hull, in small and poorly ventilated cabins. In subsequent decades deckhouses were added upon the weather deck to improve the accommodation of the wealthiest passengers. During the remainder of the century such deckhouses were gradually integrated into a large superstructure, which during the following century would feature additional decks. Wholly painted in white, this superstructure would be a distinctive trait of passenger liners forever.

During the mid 19th century paddle-wheel propulsion coexisted together with sternpost propellers, but the disadvantages of that system were too important to allow its prevalence. The huge SS Great Eastern launched in 1858 used a combination of both propulsion systems. With a length of 211 meters and capacity for 4000 passengers, she remained as the largest ship of the world until the beginning of the 20th century. But despite representing a great technical feat, the SS Great Eastern was a disaster regarding financial terms. Surpassed in speed by smaller and cheaper steamships, she had to cross the ocean with only few cabins occupied, which caused her premature decommissioning from passenger service. Hence the subsequent oceanic passenger liners were of much modest dimensions. Common liners had attached the prefixes SS (Steam Ship) or MS (Motor Ship) to their name but a number of them, which carried mail, were labelled with the prefix RMS (Royal Mail Service).

As the 20th century dawns the design of the modern passenger liner reaches maturity. Sail riggings are definitely abandoned and accommodation progressively grows in both quantity and quality. Many thousands of passengers demand trans-oceanic transportation and the competition is fierce among the shipping companies, which have to offer the best regarding comfort and speed. In these years the recently invented Diesel engine displaces the reciprocating steam engine; the new engine occupies less space and is rather quieter. The importance that oceanic passenger traffic had gained in those years becomes clear by the fact that in 1906 the new liner RMS Mauretania and her sister RMS Lusitania are fitted with steam turbines, a totally new propulsion system which at the same time was being installed in the battleship HMS Dreadnought. Steam turbines would grant extra speed to the ships and allow for express service, but initially the companies were cautious because they were much noisier than Diesel engines.

SS Santa Rosa oceanic passenger liner

American oceanic passenger liner SS SANTA ROSA

SS United States Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

American Trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS UNITED STATES

RMS Queen Mary Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner RMS QUEEN MARY

RMS Titanic Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner RMS TITANIC

RMS Mauretania Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner RMS MAURETANIA

SS City of Paris Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS CITY OF PARIS

RMS Oceanic Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner RMS OCEANIC

SS Great Eastern Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS GREAT EASTERN

SS Great Britain Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

British Trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS GREAT BRITAIN

SS Rotterdam Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

Dutch Trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS ROTTERDAM

SS Michelangelo Trans-Atlantic passenger liner

Italian Trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS MICHELANGELO

SS Bore III passenger liner

Finnish (Swedish) passenger liner SS BORE III

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