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RMS Queen Mary is a retired ocean liner that sailed the North Atlantic Oceanmarker from 1936 to 1967 for the Cunard Line (then Cunard-White Star when the vessel entered service). Built by John Brown and Companymarker, Clydebankmarker, Scotlandmarker, she was designed to be the first of Cunard's planned two-ship weekly express service from Southamptonmarker to Cherbourgmarker to New Yorkmarker, in answer to the mainland European superliners of the late 1920s and early 1930s. After their release from World War II troop transport duties, Queen Mary and her running mate commenced this two-ship service and continued it for two decades until Queen Mary's retirement in 1967. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is permanently berthed in Long Beach, Californiamarker serving as a museum ship and hotel. The Queen Mary celebrated the 70th anniversary of her launch in both Clydebankmarker and in Long Beach during 2004, and the 70th anniversary of her maiden voyage in 2006.

Construction and naming

With Germanymarker launching their and into service, the British did not want to be left out in the ship building race. White Star Line began construction on their 60,000 ton Oceanic in 1928, while Cunard planned a 75,000-ton unnamed ship of their own.

Construction on the ship, then known only as "Hull Number 534", began in December 1930 on the River Clyde by the John Brown & Company Shipbuilding and Engineeringmarker shipyard at Clydebankmarker Scotlandmarker. Work was halted in December 1931 due to the Great Depression and Cunard applied to the British Government for a loan to complete 534. The loan was granted, with enough money to complete the Queen Mary and to build a running mate, Hull No. 552 which would become the Queen Elizabeth. One condition of the loan was that Cunard would merge with the White Star Line, which was Cunard's chief British rival at the time and which had already been forced by the Depression to cancel construction on its Oceanic. Both lines agreed and the merger was completed in April 1934. Work on the Queen Mary resumed immediately and she was launched on 26 September 1934. Completion ultimately took 3½ years and cost 3½ million pounds sterling in total. Much of the ship's interior was designed and constructed by the Bromsgrove Guild.

The ship was named after Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. Until her launch the name she was to be given was kept a closely guarded secret. Legend has it that Cunard intended to name the ship "Victoria", in keeping with company tradition of giving its ships names ending in "ia". However, when company representatives asked the King's permission to name the ocean liner after Britainmarker's "greatest queen", he said his wife, Queen Mary, would be delighted. And so, the legend goes, the delegation had of course no other choice but to report that No. 534 would be called RMS Queen Mary. This story was denied by company officials, and traditionally the names of sovereigns have only been used for capital ships of the Royal Navy. Some support for the story was provided by Washington Post editor Felix Morley, who sailed as a guest of the Cunard Line on the 1936 maiden voyage of the Queen Mary. In his 1979 autobiography, For the Record, Morley wrote that he was placed at table with Sir Percy Bates, chairman of the Cunard Line. Bates told him the story of the naming of the ship "on condition you won't print it during my lifetime." The name Queen Mary could also have been decided upon as a compromise between Cunard and the White Star Line, with which Cunard had recently merged, both lines had tradition of using names either ending in "ic" with White Star and "ia" with Cunard.

History (1934-1939)

Queen Mary 1936
There was already a Clyde turbine steamer named Queen Mary, so Cunard White Star reached agreement with the owners that the existing steamer would be renamed TS Queen Mary IImarker, and in 1934 the new liner was launched by Queen Mary as RMS Queen Mary. On her way down the slipway, the Queen Mary was slowed by eighteen drag chains, which checked the liner's progress into the Clyde, a portion of which had been widened to accommodate the launch.

When she sailed on her maiden voyage from Southamptonmarker, Englandmarker on 27 May 1936, she was commanded by Sir Edgar T. Britten, who had been the master designate for Cunard White Star whilst the ship was under construction at the John Brown shipyard. The Queen Mary had a ; her rival, , which originally grossed 79,280 tonnes, had been modified the preceding winter to increase her size to (an enclosed tourist lounge was built on the aft boat deck on the area where the game court was), and therefore kept the title of the largest ocean liner. The Queen Mary sailed at high speeds for most of her maiden voyage to New Yorkmarker until heavy fog forced a reduction of speed on the final day of the crossing.

The Observation Bar lounge.
The windows were once part of the enclosed Promenade Deck turnaround; the lounge was extended forward after 1967.
Queen Mary's design was criticized for being too traditional, especially when the Normandie's hull was revolutionary with a clipper-shaped, streamlined bow. Except for her spoon-shaped cruiser stern, she seemed to be simply an enlarged version of her Cunard and White Star predecessors from the pre-World War I era. Her interior design, while mostly Art Deco, still seemed restrained and conservative when compared to the ultramodern French liner. However, the Queen Mary proved to be the more popular vessel than its larger rival, in terms of passengers carried.

In August 1936, Queen Mary captured the Blue Riband from Normandie, with average speeds of 30.14 knots (55.82 km/h) westbound and 30.63 knots eastbound. Normandie was refitted with a new set of propellors in 1937 and reclaimed the honour, but in 1938 Queen Mary took back the Blue Riband in both directions with average speeds of 30.99 knots (57.39 km/h) westbound and 31.69 knots eastbound, records which stood until lost to the in 1952.


The First Class dining room map on the Queen Mary, which tracked the ship's progress across the Atlantic Ocean.
amenities on the Queen Mary varied according to class, with First Class passengers accorded the most space and luxury. Among facilities available on board the Queen Mary, the liner featured an indoor swimming pool, salon, ship's library, children's nursery, outdoor paddle tennis court, and ship's kennel. The largest room was the first-class dining room (grand salon), which spanned three stories in height and was anchored by wide columns. The indoor swimming pool facility also spanned over two decks in height.

The first-class dining room featured a large map of the transatlantic crossing, with twin tracks symbolizing the winter/spring route (further south to avoid icebergs) and the summer/autumn route. During each crossing, a motorized model of the Queen Mary would indicate the vessel's progress en route.

The First Class dining room on the Queen Mary, also known as the Grand Salon.
As an alternative to the first-class dining room, the Queen Mary featured a separate Verandah Grill on the Sun Deck at the upper aft of the ship. The Verandah Grill was an exclusive à la carte restaurant with a capacity of approximately 80 passengers, and was converted to the Starlight Club at night. Irish writer and broadcaster, Brian Cleeve spent several months as a commis waiter on the ship in 1938, after he ran away from school. Also on board was the Observation Bar, an Art Deco-styled lounge, with wide ocean views.

Woods from different regions of the British Empire were used in her public rooms and staterooms. Accommodations ranged from fully equipped, luxurious first-class staterooms to modest and cramped third class cabins. Artists commissioned by Cunard in 1933 for works of art in the interior include Edward Wadsworth and A. Duncan Carse.

World War II

Arriving in New York Harbor, 20 June 1945, with thousands of U.S. troops.
In late August 1939, the Queen Mary was on a return run from New York to Southampton. The international situation led to her being escorted by the battlecruiser . She arrived safely, and set out again for New York on 1 September. By the time she arrived, the Second World War had started and she was ordered to remain in port until further notice alongside the Normandie. In 1940 the Queen Mary and the Normandie were joined in New York by Queen Mary's new running mate , fresh from her secret dash from Clydebank. The three largest liners in the world sat idle for some time until the Allied commanders decided that all three ships could be used as troopships (unfortunately, the Normandie would be destroyed by fire during her troopship conversion). The Queen Mary left New York for Sydneymarker, where she, along with several other liners, was converted into a troopship to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the United Kingdommarker.In the conversion, her hull, superstructure and funnels were painted navy grey. Inside, stateroom furniture and decoration were removed and replaced with triple-tiered wooden bunks (which would later be replaced by standee bunks). Six miles of carpet, 220 cases of china, crystal and silver service, tapestries and paintings were removed and stored in warehouses for the duration of the war. The woodwork in the staterooms, the first-class dining room and other public areas were covered with leather. Eventually joined in troop service by the Queen Elizabeth, the two ships were the largest and fastest troopships involved in the war, often carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage, and often travelling out of convoy and without escort. Their high speed meant that it was difficult for U-Boats to catch them.

On 2 October 1942, Queen Mary accidentally sank one of her escorts, slicing through the light cruiser off the Irish coast, with the loss of 338 lives. Due to the constant danger of being attacked by U-Boats, on board the Queen Mary Captain C. Gordon Illingworth was under strict orders not to stop for any reason, the Royal Navy destroyers accompanying the Queen were ordered to stay on course and not rescue any survivors.

The forward section of the Queen Mary was fitted with new big windows and anti-aircraft guns seen here in Long Beach.
In December 1942, the Queen Mary was carrying exactly 16,082 American troops from New York to Great Britain, a standing record for the most passengers ever transported on one vessel. While 700 miles from Scotland during a gale, she was suddenly hit broadside by a rogue wave that may have reached a height of 28 metres (92 ft). An account of this crossing can be found in Walter Ford Carter's book, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love. Carter's father, Dr. Norval Carter, part of the 110th Station Hospital on board at the time, wrote that at one point the Queen Mary "damned near capsized... One moment the top deck was at its usual height and then, swoom! Down, over, and forward she would pitch." It was calculated later that the ship tilted 52 degrees, and would have capsized had she rolled another 3 degrees. The incident inspired Paul Gallico to write his story, The Poseidon Adventure, which was later made into a film by the same name, using the Queen Mary as a stand-in for the .

During the war, the Queen Mary, captained by Commodore James Bissett, carried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic for meetings with fellow Allied forces officials, he would be listed on the passenger manifest as "Colonel Warden" and insisted that the lifeboat assigned to him be fitted with a .303 machine gun so that he could "resist capture at all costs".

After World War II

The Queen Mary in Southampton, June 1956
September 1946 to July 1947, Queen Mary was refitted for passenger service, adding air conditioning and upgrading her berth configuration to 711 first class, 707 cabin class and 577 tourist class passengers. Following refit, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth dominated the transatlantic passenger trade as Cunard White Star's two-ship weekly express service through the latter half of the 1940s and well into the 1950s. They proved highly profitable for Cunard. But in 1958, the first transatlantic flight by a jet began a completely new era of competition for the Cunard Queens. On some voyages, winters especially, Queen Mary sailed into harbour with more crew than passengers. (But she and her sister Queen Elizabeth still averaged over 1000 passengers per crossing into the middle 1960s.) By 1965, the entire Cunard fleet was leaving a trail of red ink. Hoping to continue financing their still under construction , Cunard mortgaged the majority of the fleet. Finally, under a combination of age, lack of public interest, inefficiency in a new market, and the damaging after-effects of the national seamen's strike, Cunard announced that both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth would be retired from service (the Elizabeth would leave service one year later) and were to be sold off. Many offers were submitted, but it was Long Beach, Californiamarker who beat the Japanese scrap merchants. And so, Queen Mary was retired from service in 1967, while her running mate Queen Elizabeth was withdrawn in 1968. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 took over the transatlantic route in 1969, and in turn was joined in 2004 by . Although greatly exceeded in size by her new namesake's , the Queen Mary, with a significantly deeper draft, is the heavier ship, with a displacement of over 80,000 tons compared to the newer ship's approximately 76,000 tons.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach

The Queen Mary from the Northern side of Long Beach harbor
After her retirement in 1967, she steamed to Long Beach, Californiamarker, where she is permanently moored as a tourist attraction. From 1983 to 1993, the Queen Mary was accompanied by Howard Hughes' Spruce Goosemarker, which was located in a large dome nearby (the dome is now used by Carnival Cruise Lines as a ship terminal, and formerly as a soundstage).

Since they started drilling for oil in Long Beach Harbor, some of the revenue had been set aside in the "Tidelands Oil Fund." Some of this money was allocated in 1958 for the future purchase of a maritime museum for Long Beach.


When the Queen Mary was bought by Long Beach, they decided that the ship would be an iconic host and not for preserving her as an ocean liner. It had been decided to clear almost every area of the ship below C deck (called R deck after 1950 to lessen passenger confusion—all the restaurants were on "R" deck) to make way for the museum. This would increase museum space to 400,000 square feet. It required removal of all the boiler rooms, the forward engine room, both turbo-generator rooms, the ship stabilisers and the water softening plant. The ship's now empty fuel tanks were then filled with local mud which would keep the ship's centre of gravity and draft at the correct levels, as these critical factors had been affected by the removal of all various components and structure. Only the aft-engine room and "shaft-alley", at the stern of the ship, would be spared from the cutter's torch. Remaining space would be used for storage or office space. One problem that arose during the conversion was a dispute between land-based and maritime unions over conversion jobs. The United States Coast Guard had final say; the Queen Mary was deemed a building, since most of her propellers had been removed and her machinery gutted. The ship was also repainted with its red water level paint a bit higher than its old design. During the conversion the funnels were removed and collapsed while being abandoned along the wharf which meant that the funnels had to be removed and replaced with replicas made out of stainless steel.

A passageway in First Class accommodation, now part of the onboard hotel
With all of the lower decks nearly gutted from R-deck and down, Diner's Club, the initial lessee of the ship, was to convert the remainder of the vessel into a hotel. Diner's Club Queen Mary dissolved and vacated the ship in 1970 after their parent company, Diner's Club International was sold, and a change in corporate direction was mandated amidst the conversion process. Specialty Restaurants, a Los Angeles based company that focused on theme based restaurants, would take over as master lessee the following year.

During this conversion, the plan was to convert most of her first and second-class cabins on A and B decks only into hotel rooms, and convert the main lounges and dining rooms into banquet spaces. On Promenade Deck, the starboard promenade deck would be enclosed to feature an upscale restaurant and cafe called Lord Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's themed like early 19th century sailing ships. The famed and elegant Observation Bar was redecorated as a western themed bar.

The Queen Mary's bridge, now open to visitors
The smaller first-class public rooms such as the Drawing Room, Library, Lecture Room and the Music studio would be stripped of most of their fittings and converted over to retail space, heavily expanding the retail presence on the ship. Two more shopping malls were built on the Sun Deck in separate spaces previously used for first class cabins and engineer's quarters.

A post-war feature of the ship, the first-class cinema, was removed for kitchen space for the new Promenade deck dining venues. The first-class lounge and smoking room were reconfigured and converted into banquet space, while the second-class smoking room would be subdivided into a wedding chapel and office space. On Sun Deck, the elegant Verandah Grill would be gutted and converted into a fast-food eatery, while a new upscale dining venue would be created directly above it on Sports Deck in space once used for crew quarters. The second-class lounges would be expanded to the sides of the ship and used for banqueting. On R-deck, the first-class dining room was reconfigured and subdivided into two banquet venues, the Royal Salon and the Windsor Room. The second-class dining room would be subdivided into kitchen storage and a crew mess hall, while the third-class dining room would initially be used as storage and crew space. Also on R-deck, the first-class Turkish bath complex, the 1930s equivalent to a spa, would be removed. The second-class pool would be removed and its space initially used for office space, while the first-class swimming pool would be used for hotel guests. Combined with modern safety codes, and the structural soundness of the area directly below, the swimming pool is no longer in use.

No crew cabins remain intact aboard the ship today. She now serves as a hotel, museum, tourist attraction, and for-rent site for events, but her financial results have been mixed.

The Queen Mary as a tourist attraction

On 8 May 1971, the Queen Mary opened its doors to tourists. Initially, only portions of the ship were open to the public as Specialty Restaurants had yet to open its dining venues or the hotel. As a result, the ship was only open on weekends. In December of that year, Jacques Cousteau's Museum of the Sea opened, with only a quarter of the planned exhibits built. Within the decade, Cousteau's museum closed due to low ticket sales and the deaths of many of the fish that were housed in the museum. In November of the following year, the hotel opened its initial 150 guest rooms. Hyatt operated the hotel from 1974 to 1980, when the Jack Wrather Corporation signed a 66-year lease with the city of Long Beach to operate the entire property. Wrather was taken over by the Walt Disney Company in 1988, Wrather owned the Disneyland Hotelmarker, which Disney had been trying to buy for 30 years; the Queen Mary was thus an afterthought and was never marketed as a Disney property.

First Class accommodations on the Queen Mary, converted into a present-day hotel room with modern curtains, bedding and amenities surrounded by original wood paneling, portholes and light fixtures.
Through the late eighties and early nineties, the Queen Mary continued to struggle financially. During the Disney years, Disney planned to develop a theme park on the remaining land. This theme park eventually opened a decade later in Japan as DisneySeamarker, with a recreated oceanliner resembling the Queen Mary as its centerpiece. Hotel Queen Mary closed in 1992 when Disney gave up the lease on the ship to focus on what would become Disney's California Adventuremarker. The tourist attraction remained open for another two months, but by the end of 1992, the Queen Mary completely closed its doors to tourists and visitors.

In February 1993, under the direction of President and C.E.O. Joseph F. Prevratil, RMS Foundation, Inc began a five-year lease with the city of Long Beach to act as the operators of the property. Later that month, the tourist attraction reopened completely, while the hotel reopened in March. In 1995, RMS's lease was extended to twenty years while the extent of the lease was reduced to simply operation of the ship itself. A new company, Queen's Seaport Development, Inc. (QSDI) came into existence in 1995 controlling the real estate adjacent to the vessel. In 1998, the City of Long Beach extended the QSDI lease to 66 years. In 2005, QSDI sought Chapter 11 protection due to a rent credit dispute with the City. In 2006, the bankruptcy court requested bids from parties interesting in taking over the lease from QSDI. The minimum required opening bid was $41M. The operation of the ship, by RMS, remained independent of the bankruptcy. In Summer 2007, the Queen Mary's lease was sold to a group named "Save the Queen" managed by Hostmark Hospitality Group, who planned to develop the land adjacent to the Queen Mary, and upgrade, renovate, and restore the Queen Mary. During the time of their management, staterooms were updated with Ipod docking stations and flatscreen TV's, the ships three funnels were repainted their original Cunard Red color, as well as the ships waterline area, The portside Promenade Deck's planking was restored and refinished, as well as work on other parts of the ship, many lifeboats were repaired and patched, and the ships kitchens were renovated with new equipment.

In late September 2009, the Queen Mary's management was taken over by Delaware North Companies, who plan to continue restoration, and renovation of the ship and its property, and work to revitalize and enhance one of the grandest ocean liners of all time.

In 2004, the Queen Mary and Stargazer Productions added Tibbies Great American Cabaret to the space previously occupied by the ship's bank and wireless telegraph room. Stargazer Productions and the Queen Mary transformed the space into a working dinner theater complete with stage, lights, sound, and scullery.

Meeting of the Queens

On 23 February 2006, the saluted her predecessor as it made its port of call in Los Angeles Harbor, while on a cruise to Mexicomarker. The event was covered heavily by local and international media.

Ship's horn

The salute itself was carried out with the Queen Mary blowing her one working air horn in response to the Queen Mary 2 blowing her combination of two brand new horns pointing forward and an original 1932 Queen Mary horn (donated by the City of Long Beach) aimed aft. The Queen Mary originally had three whistles tuned to 55 Hz, a frequency chosen because it was low enough that the extremely loud sound of it would not be painful to human ears. Modern IMO regulations specify ships' horn frequencies to be in the range 70–200 Hz for vessels that are over in length. Traditionally, the lower the frequency, the larger the ship. The Queen Mary 2, being long, was given the lowest possible frequency (70 Hz) for her regulation whistles, in addition to the refurbished 55 Hz whistle on permanent loan. 55 Hz is the lower bass "A" note found an octave up from the lowest note of a piano keyboard. The air-driven Tyfon whistle can be heard at least ten miles away.


The Queen Mary's original, professionally manned wireless radio room was destroyed once the ship arrived in Long Beach. In its place an amateur radio room was created one deck above the original radio reception room with some of the discarded original radio equipment used for display purposes only. The amateur radio station with the call sign W6RO ("Whiskey Six Romeo Oscar") relies on volunteers from a local amateur radio club. They are present most of the time the ship is open to the public, and the radios can also be used by other licensed amateur radio operators.

In honor of his over forty years of dedication to W6RO and the Queen Mary, in November 2007 the Queen Mary Wireless Room was renamed The Nate Brightman Radio Room. This was announced on 28 October 2007 at Mr. Brightman's 90th birthday party by Joseph Prevratil, President and CEO of the Queen Mary.


Ghosts were reported on board only after permanently docked in California. Many areas are rumored to be haunted. Reports of hearing little children crying in the nursery room, actually used as the third-class playroom, and a mysterious splash noise in the drained first-class swimming pool are cited. In 1966, 18-year-old engineer John Pedder was crushed by a watertight door in the engine room during a fire drill, and his ghost is said to haunt the ship. There is also said to be the spirit of a young girl named Jackie who haunts the first class pool on board the ship.

The Queen Mary operates daily paranormal themed tours, some of which have theatrics applied for dramatic effect. The ship maintains a haunted maze and expands to multiple mazes during the Halloween season.

The Queen Mary has been the subject of numerous professional paranormal investigations by printed publications like Beyond Investigation Magazine, nationally televised shows like Ghost Hunters, The Othersiders, and radio's Coast to Coast AM. The UK paranormal television program, Most Haunted, investigated the ship in a special two-part episode.

The Queen Mary on screen

In its permanent berth in Long Beach, the Queen Mary has been used as a filming location for numerous films, television episodes, and commercials. Some examples are:

In popular culture

  • The album title for Apologies to the Queen Mary by Wolf Parade references an incident on the ship in which the band was involved.
  • Most of the series finale of Arrested Development takes place on the ship.
  • The music video of the Jonas Brothers song SOS was filmed aboard the Queen Mary.
  • A season one episode of Moonlight features the Queen Mary as the location of a murder of a stalked Hollywood star.
  • The Queen Mary is referenced in episode 7 of the ABC Family series The Middleman, "The Cursed Tuba Contingency". One of the episode's villains has a ship which he boasts is "three feet longer than the Queen Mary, and eighty-six feet longer than the Titanicmarker." In reality, the Queen Mary (at 965 feet perpendiculars) really is eighty-three feet longer than the Titanic (at 882 feet).
  • In the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, the Queen Mary plays a major part as the start of Edward's Journey. Edward, a china rabbit, is on the Queen Mary with his owner, a little girl named Abileine. Two boys accidentily throw Edward overboard, and the rabbit starts out on his journey. The Queen Mary is referenced in the text and in a painting in the book.


See also




  • The Cunard White Star Quadruple-screw North Atlantic Liner, Queen Mary. - Bonanza Books, 289 p., 1979. - ISBN 0517279290. Largely a reprint of a special edition of "The Shipbuilder and Marine Engine-builder" from 1936.
  • Cunard Line, Ltd., John Brown and Company archives.
  • Clydebank Central Library Clydebank, Scotland.
  • Roberts, Andrew, Masters and Commanders: How four titans won the war in the West, 1941-1945, Harper Collins e-Books, London

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