About Cruise History
Updated: May 13
Cruising as a commercial leisure phenomenon has existed for more than 175 years! I bet you didn’t know that. And you would not be alone; most people I run into assume it is a post-WWII American phenomenon, if they have given it any thought at all, and that it arose in the Caribbean at some point in the 1960’s or 70’s. But that would be wrong!
I did not know that either when I first started in the industry, but when I found out, I started to research it. I was intrigued by how more than 120 years’ worth of concept backstory could just be ‘lost’ to everyone but a few maritime experts and enthusiasts. What happened in those 120 years? How, where and why did cruising originate and how did it evolve? And what would a mid-19th century cruise even be like?
That will be the purpose of my ‘Cruise History’ category; to answer the question of what happened in the 120+ years leading up to the formation of the modern cruise industry. Not just in dry statistical terms of what ships sailed, where and when, but in the wider historical context of why they came about, how they operated, how key events and people evolved the concept and what it must have been like to be onboard, or even just around these events.
Before long I realized that one reason why the backstory was lost was due to a general shortage of reliable historical sources. No one has ever written the ‘Great Big Book on Cruise History’ (but maybe this is a start) and most books about cruise tourism set their jumping off point in the 1960’s with only a foreword’s mention of prior history. Of course, tourism in general has not been the subject of much scrutiny either – academic or otherwise – until fairly recently, and certainly not in the 19th century. So what documentation of ‘early cruising’ exists has survived in pop culture snippets, local historical resources or as brief asides in historical non-fiction on shipping or tourism.
Now, I am not a man of independent wealth – I cannot fire up my private jet to fly to Sitka, Alaska to rummage around the basement microfiche archives of the city museum for clues on the early Pacific Coast Steamship Company cruises to Alaska in the 1880’s. I am an armchair historian (or is it keyboard historian now?) and an amateur one at that. I find most of my information online, in non-fiction books or in whatever maritime / local museums I happen to visit while travelling. I do my best to vet and corroborate my sources to ensure the historical accuracy of what I write, but you will have to take my word for that. I will not be including any footnotes, references or sources because - in this forum - I am writing in the vein of ‘conscientious infotainment’, not as academic exposition.
I also enjoy taking some artistic license and/or throwing in an educated guess if it is in the service of establishing an atmosphere and I do not see any ‘factual harm’ arising from it, so be aware of that when I go all ‘live reporter’ style. Luckily, I remain welcoming to criticism (though not on Mondays and only after I’ve had my coffee), so if you spot an artistic pitch that’s gone awry, an anachronism or some other factual mistake, you are welcome to rub it in my face. Likewise I'd love to hear from you if you know of other great stories / trivia from the world of cruising that deserve attention.
With all that in mind, I hope you will enjoy reading about the lost history of cruising as much as I have enjoyed writing about it. Please comment, share, like, love, link or whatever it is people do in these forums (pardon me - I'm new to blogging).
PS: the articles are published and arranged in a roughly chronological order, which may be confusing as it is a different order from how they were originally published (and labeled) on LinkedIn.