LATEST
Home / CRUISE SHIPS / Shipping magnate Albert Ballin created the first pleasure cruise ship.
Shipping magnate Albert Ballin created the first pleasure cruise ship.

Shipping magnate Albert Ballin created the first pleasure cruise ship.

  • The German shipping magnate was responsible for turning Germany into a world leader in ocean travel prior to World War I.
  • With 25,000 employees, Hapag was the largest shipping line in the world for both freight and people (464,000 passengers in 1913).
  • It was Albert Ballin who also invented the pleasure cruise in 1891.

The first Pleasure Cruise

  • The world’s first pleasure cruise departed Cuxhaven, Germany on  January 22, 1891.
Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

The Mediterranean Cruise

  • Aboard the luxury steamship, Augusta Victoria were 241 passengers, including cruise host Albert Ballin and his wife Marianne.
  • This first-ever “Mediterranean Cruise” lasted 57 days, 11 hours and three minutes.
Augusta Victoria, Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

The Augusta Victoria, Officers, Public Rooms and gym.

  • Ballin’s guests enjoyed first-class cabins. There was also the first-class cuisine to match and a daily newspaper printed on board.
  • The cruise called at over a dozen ports, complete with shore excursions, beginning with Southampton, then sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

The Augusta Victoria

  • The Mediterranean ports of call included Genoa, Alexandria, Jaffa, Beirut, Constantinople (now Istanbul), Athens, Malta, Naples, and Lisbon.
  • When the Augusta Victoria returned home after its two-month voyage, the cruise was judged a great success.
  • Every year since then (except for periods of war), Hapag and other lines have offered similar cruises. Such ocean cruises to exotic places are considered normal today, but that was a pioneering idea in 1891.
Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

Clockwise: Albert Ballin with the Kaiser: Albert Ballin; Albert Ballin at the races.

Albert Ballin

  • Born in a poor section of Hamburg, Ballin (pronounced BALL-EEN) had achieved greatness and strongly influenced the passenger ship industry by the time he took his own life at the age of 61.
  • A decade before Albert Ballin’s birth, the company he would later head, the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hapag) had been founded on 27 May 1847, with the goal of operating a faster, more reliable liner service between Hamburg and North America, using the finest sailing ships. At that time a “fast” east-to-west Atlantic crossing took about 40 sailing days.
  • The return voyage, with favorable west winds, required “only” 28 days!
  • Ballin would change all that.

 

Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

Onboard the Hapag liners and Albert Ballin with the Kaiser.

From Steerage to Luxury

Although Ballin came from a humble background and had achieved his initial success by catering to steerage passengers (Zwischendeckpassagiere), the next stage of his business rise would come from his revolutionary view that a sea voyage should be more a pleasure cruise than a test of one’s endurance.

  • While his competitors became obsessed with speed and winning Blue Ribands for the shortest Atlantic crossing times, Ballin used luxurious accommodations to attract a wealthier clientele.
  • In the process, he would also invent the sea cruise.

  • Video of the Prinzessin Viktoria Luise was the world’s first ship built specifically for pleasure cruising. It was the culmination of Albert Ballin’s dream for luxury holidays.
Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

The Victoria Luis, on board the Albert Ballen and other Hapag liners.

Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

Onboard the Victoria Luise.

  • Having enjoyed his stays in luxury hotels in Paris, London and elsewhere, Ballin sought to recreate a similar atmosphere aboard Hapag’s ships. Although his luxury liners still had space for low-cost steerage passengers, the upper decks were designed to rival the palatial homes and hotels that more aristocratic, wealthy passengers were accustomed to.
Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

Albert Ballin’s Villa in Hamburg. The Kaiser was a frequent guest.

  • Ballin was also a pioneer in the technical realm. Hapag was the first German line to put twin-screw ships into service – at a time when the technology was still considered unproven. This gave Hapag’s ships not only more speed but better stability and safety. When its Bremen competitor NDL failed to do the same, Hapag had a distinct advantage for many years.
Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

Cruise posters and newspapers ads.

Ballin Invents the Pleasure Cruise

With the success of the world’s first pleasure cruise on the Augusta Victoria, Ballin offered other cruises during the off-season Winter months. He then built the first ships exclusively for cruising.

Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

Ballin’s Princess Victoria Luise. The first ship built for cruising.

  • Ballin’s guests enjoyed first-class cabins. There was also the first-class cuisine to match and a daily newspaper printed on board.
  • The cruise called at over a dozen ports, complete with shore excursions, beginning with Southampton, then sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • The Mediterranean ports of call included Genoa, Alexandria, Jaffa, Beirut, Constantinople (now Istanbul), Athens, Malta, Naples, and Lisbon.
  • When the Augusta Victoria returned home after its two-month voyage, the cruise was judged a great success.
  • Every year since then (except for periods of war), Hapag and other lines have offered similar cruises. Such ocean cruises to exotic places are considered normal today, but that was a pioneering idea in 1891.

Ballin and the Kaiser

(Left: Ballin greeting the Kaiser.) As a Jew in Hamburg and German society, Ballin was subject to the anti-Semitic prejudices of the time. However, because of his important position with Hapag, not even Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) could ignore him. In fact, he often met with the Jewish shipowner to discuss the political and financial aspects of Germany’s seafaring industry.

The Kaiser was such a frequent guest at Ballin’s Hamburg villa, that it was known a bit scornfully as “Klein Potsdam” or “Little Potsdam.” (Potsdam being the site of the Prussian royal palaces, just south of Berlin.)

Some sources claim that Ballin was the only non-converted Jew with whom the Kaiser had a personal relationship. Although they were never close friends, they had a cordial relationship,

even though it was hardly a secret that the emperor and empress had a low regard for Jews.

Unlike the emperor, the empress (Kaiserin) refused to set foot in Ballin’s home. But over the years Ballin often had the Kaiser’s ear, and it was not until the “Kaiser’s Jew” vigorously opposed the war, that he lost all favor with Wilhelm.

Albert Ballin, Hamburg-America Line, Vaterland, Augusta Victoria, Amerika, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Immigration, Steamships, Hamburg, Liners, Cruise History, First Cruise Ship, Happag

We can gain a better understanding of Ballin’s attitude about his position as a Jew in Hamburg from this biographical excerpt:

“…[Hamburg] has had a lack of capable people, at least at times. The repeated observance of this fact and finding that the citizens of Hamburg frequently lacked what Bismarck, in speaking of Germans in general, called the missing “dash of champagne in the blood” once caused Ballin to remark: “I see quite clearly what this city lacks; this city lacks 10,000 Jews. I do not, by any means, shut my eyes to the unpleasant traits of the Jews, but I still must say that for Hamburg’s development 10,000 more of them would be a blessing.” [This comment is] further testimony of Ballin’s unprejudiced point of view concerning the Jews. Although not at all orthodox, rather indifferent in his religious views, he was much too proud to deny his heritage or his religion or to change [his faith], much less “improve” his name. Of someone who had done so, he said, with bitter scorn: “He insults his father.”

– From Albert Ballin by Bernhard Huldermann.

  • Huldermann was the head of the Hamburg-Amerika Linie when he wrote this book a few years after Ballin’s death “in memory of Albert Ballin in loyal admiration and heartfelt gratitude” (in the book’s dedication). Although the book seems to be accurate, his account of Ballin’s life and accomplishments must, therefore, be taken with a grain of salt. The author concentrates more on the shipping business and barely mentions Ballin’s wife or daughter, and even then not once by name. “

World War I and the runation of what Ballin had built for Germany

Albert ballin

Albert Ballin in the news. He was covered extensively in American newspapers.

Tragic End

Before his own suicide in 1918, Albert Ballin’s older brother, Joseph, had taken his own life rather dramatically almost exactly 11 years earlier. The New York Times and other American newspapers carried the story, dated November 13, 1907: “J. Ballin, a stockbroker and a brother of Albert Ballin, …committed suicide with a revolver this afternoon in a lavatory at the local Bourse [in Hamburg].” No reason was known.

Nor do we know exactly why Albert Ballin ended his own life. But a combination of factors came together in 1918 that probably overwhelmed the shipping magnate. A war he had been against from the start was coming to a very bad end for Germany. The Kaiser, who had once been his confidant, refused to speak to him anymore and was about to abdicate his throne. Ballin was now considered a pacifist traitor by his government and many Germans. The war had destroyed Hapag, and it would be years before it could even partially recover.

albert ballin

Albert Ballin dies; The SS Albert Ballin was one of the first stabilized ships. The Nazis changed the name of the ship and eradicated all references to Ballin.

If he could have seen 15 years into the future, when the Nazis came into power in 1932, he would have been even more depressed. As a Jew, he would have faced a very uncertain fate. Even in death, the Nazis tried to erase his name by changing the name of anything that had “Ballin” on it, including a ship and a street. It would be 1947 before his name would be restored in Germany.

Even without knowing that, the 61-year-old Ballin probably decided that his life’s work had come to nothing. For whatever reason, on the night of November 9, 1918, he took an overdose of sleeping pills, went to bed and never woke up.

Although Ballin’s death went largely unreported in Germany, it made headlines in the foreign press. However, the cause of death was reported as an “apoplectic stroke,” probably a cover story put out by Hapag to protect Ballin’s family.

albert ballin

“Mein Feld ist die Welt”

Albert Ballin’s and Hapag’s slogan was “Mein Feld ist die Welt” – which roughly translates as “The world is my oyster.” Although it may have colonialist or imperialist overtones, the saying truly reflected the worldwide coverage that the Hamburg-Amerika Linie had at its peak under Ballin. In the year before the First World War broke out, Hapag had 73 shipping routes between ports and countries all over the globe and a fleet of 175 steamships, including the three largest ocean liners in the world at that time.

With 25,000 employees, Hapag was the largest shipping line in the world for both freight and people (464,000 passengers in 1913).

Albert Ballin has a 21st Century Honor


albert ballin, jet, hapag,

Hapag Lloyd’s travel company’s jet is named after Albert Ballin offering luxury tours all over the world.

 

Use Facebook to Comment

Comments