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Development and Construction
The Lusitania and Mauretania were commissioned by the Cunard Line in response to the large liners owned by the Hamburg-Amerika and Norddeutscher Lloyd Lines. The rapid emergence of German liners as the North Atlantic champions of both speed and luxury left the British shipping industry in a state of shock. With the creation of J. P. Morgan's International Mercantile Marine in 1901, it seemed as if Britain's shipping lines would fall under American control.
The president of Cunard, Lord Inverclyde, played the tactic of company patriotism and the threat of an American monopoly, that he was able to secure funding for two mammoth steamers that would not only maintain Cunard's status as a primary player in the North Atlantic passenger trade, but also secure the Blue Riband for Britain.
Initial planning called for two ships 750 feet in length, 78 feet at the widest, and with a designated speed of 24.5 knots. Furthermore, the British Admiralty would be given the ability to use the two ships as armed merchant cruisers in the event of war and agreed to pay Cunard £150,000 annual'y for them to carry royal mail.
The dimensions of the ships would change, making them longer and wider, but they would retain the sleekness that would eventually help them earn their reputations and oceangoing greyhounds.
Both ships were designed by Leonard Peskett, and the original 1903 plans showed the Lusitania and the Mauretania as three-funneled ships powered by reciprocating engines. As the sisters’ designs evolved, the sisters became four-funneled ships powered by Parsons turbines by 1904.
The Tyneside firm of Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson built the Mauretania, while the Lusitania was constructed by the Scottish firm John Brown and Co., of Clydebank.
What followed was a story of friendly rivalry between Scottish and British shipbuilders which spilled over into the careers of their work. Actual construction on the ships didn't start until 1904, the first two years being used for revising plans that had been on the drawing boards since 1901, gradually extending the liners' dimensions.
The two ships that began to grow in their separate yards seemed to be identical to the untrained eye: the Mauretania's rounded stern added an extra five feet to her overall length.