The RMS Lusitania was crossing the Atlantic one hundred years ago right now. It had left Manhattan’s West Side docks on May 1. The Lusitania, and her sister ship the RMS Mauretania, had been built several years earlier with the financial support of the British government. The idea was that Downing Street would help Cunard regain the lead in the competitive transatlantic shipping industry. The British had been falling behind for several years, to the Germans in particular. The government helped build the ships with the proviso that they could be used for military purposes in the case of war. When war indeed came, the Mauretania was converted for military human transport. The Lusitania remained a passenger liner.
The ship made several voyages after the outbreak of war. Woodrow Willson’s top aid, Colonel Edward M. House, sailed for Europe on the Lusitania on 31 January 1915. Halfway through that voyage, on February 4, the German government declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all shipping. The Lusitania made several crossings over the winter and spring of 1915. Public concern was growing and in March Cunard began offering discounts to second class passengers, many of whom had begun taking American liners believing they would be safer. In late April much of that concern seemed to have dissipated. There were over 1300 passengers on the Lusitania, plus a crew of several hundred more, when she left Pier 54 on the first day of May.
(image/The New York Public Library. “R.M.S. “Lusitania”” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1913. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c4f608d0-517d-0132-781b-58d385a7bbd0)