In 1905 the Cunard Steam-Ship Company embarked on a three-ship weekly mail service by ordering Lusitania and Mauretania; a quarter century afterwards work began on the first instalment of a two-ship service.
A 4½-day crossing [of the Atlantic] had to be the target, but such an increase in speed entailed a ship nearly 60 per cent larger than [Bremen] the German record-breaker. The cost of such a vessel would be enormous, but it would be possible to ‘turn her round’ in a week so that she and a sister could do the work previously performed by three. The Cunard Company therefore decided to build one 4½-day ship to replace Mauretania, follow her up with a second, and then retire Berengaria and Aquitania. The keel of the first was laid on December 27th, 1930. No name was allocated and she was referred to by her works number, ‘534’.
Building of ‘534’ began at an unfortunate moment, for the early 1930’s brought one of the worst depressions shipping has ever known. The Cunard Company was compelled to conserve its financial resources and suspended construction on December 10th, 1931. After an interval the British Government offered to lend £3 million on very favourable terms to complete ‘534’ and a maximum of £5 million to build a consort, on condition that the Cunard should amalgamate with the White Star Line. There was no practical alternative to acceptance.
Work was resumed in April 1934 and the ship was launched on September 26th of that year. Many names, including Victoria, had been suggested, but the hull slid into the water as the Queen Mary.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, 1952. [Abridged].
“I am happy to name this ship ‘Queen Mary‘.” Having bestowed her own name on the great vessel, formerly known as “534,” Her Majesty the Queen launched the world’s largest liner on the Clyde on September 26th, 1934. A quarter of a million people in Messrs. John Brown & Co.’s shipyard watched the huge shape gather momentum, cleanly take the water, and send a white wave foaming over the opposite shore. The King (who is seen with the Queen acknowledging the cheers as Their Majesties approached the launching platform) described the liner – the first built for the combined Cunard-White Star Fleet – as “the stateliest ship now in being.”
Caption on a cigarette card (above) issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1935.