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History of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique - French Line - Through 1910

A French undertaking known as the Compagnie Générale Maritime was founded in 1855. It owed its inception to the brothers Emile and Isaac Pereire. Services were first organized from Rouen to Algeria, between Havre and Hamburg, and between Marseilles and Antwerp, with calls at Spanish and Portuguese ports.

In 1861 the company was allowed to change its title to the more comprehensive one under which it is now known, and it then undertook its first contracts for the carriage of the French mails to the United States, the Antilles and Mexico.

Some of the earlier vessels employed in the New York service were very fine specimens of the naval architecture of their day. Among them may be instanced the great iron paddle-steamer Napoleon III, built in the year 1864 by Messrs Scott & Co. of Greenock, who at that time constructed most of the more important vessels for this service. This vessel with her imperially titled sisters suffered a change of name in the early 'seventies, when several of them were lengthened and altered to screws.

In the year 1881, again, there was a great movement towards the acceleration and improvement of the New York service, and a new fleet was begun with the singlescrew steamship La Normandie, launched at Barrow-in-Furness in 1883. Four larger vessels of much the same class followed, three of them being constructed in the owners' own yard at Penhoet.

In 1890 the first twin-screw steamer of the line appeared in La Touraine, and proving a success, the British-built L'Aquitaine was purchased. A new postal contract was arranged in 1898, and under its terms it became necessary for the company to build still larger and faster vessels.

Eventually four such ships were to be provided. These vessels are of 22 knots speed on trial, and are among the fastest on the Atlantic. The company maintains a weekly service to New York, as well as the lines to the Antilles and Mexico in the Atlantic. There are also communications with British and Algerian ports.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

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