Royal Mail steamships introduced on Atlantic routes

RMS BritanniaA major factor in the facilitation of international correspondence was the introduction of steamships on the Atlantic routes which could maintain a guaranteed average speed of 8–9 knots per hour from Liverpool to Boston, as compared with sailing ships which were dependent on the strength and direction of the wind. This, coupled with fierce competition between rival shipping companies – principally Cunard and Collins ‒ for the lucrative transatlantic mail and passenger business resulted in the sailing time from Liverpool to Boston being cut from 14 days and 8 hours in 1840 to just 12 days by the mid-1850s. Ultimately, it was the Cunard fleet of ocean steamers – six 1830-ton wooden paddle-steamers: America, Niagara, Europa, Canada, Asia and Africa, which triumphed, and the company was contracted by the Royal Mail to make weekly trips to Boston and New York alternately, except during the period December to March when there was a monthly service. Image: Britannia of 1840, the first Cunard liner built for the transatlantic service. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.


Susan Donovan, “How the Post Office and Postal Products Shaped Mid-Nineteenth-Century Letter-Writing”

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

1 Jan 1840

Event Source: