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Construction and Development
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.
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 Mauretania’s construction was contracted out to Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richarsdon at Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, England. To protect the nascent ship from the elements, the Mauretania was be constructed under a roof.
In 1906, the Mauretania was launched by the Duchess of Roxburghe. At the time of her launch, she was the largest moving structure ever built, and slightly larger in gross tonnage than the Lusitania. The main visual differences between the Mauretania and the Lusitania was that the Mauretania was five feet longer and had different vents (Mauretania had cowl vents and Lusitania had oil drum- shaped vents which proved fragile for winter runs and were slowly replaced with cowl design vents as her sisters). The Mauretania also had two extra stages of turbine blades in her forward turbines making her slightly faster than the Lusitania. The Mauretania and the Lusitania were the only ships with direct-drive steam turbines to hold the Blue Riband; in later ships, reduction-geared turbines were mainly used. The Mauretania's usage of the steam turbine was the largest yet application of the then-new technology, developed by Charles Algernon Parsons. During speed trials, these engines caused significant vibration at high speeds; in response, the Mauretania received strengthening members aft and redesigned propellers before entering service, which reduced vibration.
The Mauretania was designed to suit Edwardian tastes. The ship's interior was designed by Harold Peto, architect, and her public rooms were fitted out by two notable London design houses – Ch. Mellier & Sons and Turner and Lord, with twenty eight different types of wood, along with marble, tapestries, and other furnishings such as the stunning octagon table in the smoking room. Wood panelling for her first class public rooms was supposedly carved by three hundred craftsmen from Palestine but this seems unlikely, unnecessary and was probably executed by the yard or subcontracted, as were the majority of the second and third class areas. The multi-level first-class dining saloon of straw oak was decorated in Francis I style and topped by a large dome skylight. A series of elevators, then a rare new feature for liners and with grilles composed of the relatively new lightweight aluminum, were installed next to the Mauretania's walnut grand staircase. A new feature was the Verandah Café on the boat deck, where passengers were served beverages in a weather-protected environment, although this was enclosed within a year as it proved unrealistic.
The Mauretania was launched on