"Today we come to the happy task of sending on her way the stateliest ship now in being. It has been the nation’s will that she should be completed, and today we can send her forth no longer a number on the books, but a ship with a name in the world, alive with beauty, energy and strength! May her life among great waters spread friendship among the nations!"
– King George V on the Queen Mary launch
The Queen Mary’s creation and launch was nothing if not extraordinary and her story is rich with history, elegance and grandeur. From the time her construction began in 1930 in Clydebank, Scotland, the Queen Mary was destined to stand in a class all her own. Despite suffering economic setbacks during the Great Depression, which stalled construction on the ship for several years, Cunard Line spared no expense on building the Queen Mary – which was originally known as job #534.
Legend has it that the board of directors at Cunard had decided to name the ship the Queen Victoria, which would have been in keeping with the tradition of Cunard ships having the "ia" suffix (Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengeria). As per protocol, legend states that the Cunard directors went to ask King George his blessing of the ship's proposed name saying, "We have decided to name our new ship after England's greatest Queen," meaning Queen Victoria, the King's Grandmother. Upon which the King is reported to have stated, "My wife (Queen Mary) will be delighted that you are naming the ship after her."
On May 27, 1936, the Queen Mary departed from Southampton, England embarking on her maiden voyage. She boasted five dining areas and lounges, two cocktail bars and swimming pools, a grand ballroom, a squash court and even a small hospital. The Queen Mary had set a new benchmark in transatlantic travel, which the rich and famous considered as the only civilized way to travel. She quickly seized the hearts and imaginations of the public on both sides of the Atlantic, representing the spirit of an era known for its elegance, class and style.
For three years after her maiden voyage, the Queen Mary was the grandest ocean liner in the world carrying Hollywood celebrities like Bob Hope and Clark Gable, royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and dignitaries like Winston Churchill. During this time she even set a new speed record, which she held for 14 years. But when the Queen Mary docked in New York in September 1939 that would be the last time she would carry civilian passengers for many years.
As World War II started, the Queen Mary's transformation into a troopship had begun. She was painted a camouflaged grey color and stripped of her luxurious amenities. Dubbed the "Grey Ghost" because of her stealth and stark color, the Queen Mary was the largest and fastest troopship to sail, capable of transporting as many as 16,000 troops at 30 knots. After the end of WWII, the Queen Mary began a 10-month retrofitting process, which would return the ship to her original glory. On July 21, 1947, the Queen Mary resumed regular passenger service across the Atlantic Ocean, and continued to do so for nearly two more decades.
The increasing popularity of air travel helped signal the end of an era for the Queen Mary. By 1965 the entire Cunard fleet was operating at a loss and they decided to retire and sell the legendary Queen Mary. On October 31, 1967, the Queen Mary departed on her final cruise, arriving in Long Beach, California, on December 9, 1967. She has called Southern California her home ever since. The Queen Mary is now a floating Hotel, Attraction and Event & Wedding Venue, home to three world-class restaurants and an icon in Southern California.