Cunard had its beginnings in 1838 when Canadian shipping magnate Samuel Cunard, along with engineer Robert Napier, and businessmen James Donaldson, George Burns, and David MacIver formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The company successfully bid on the rights to run a transatlantic shipping company between England and America. Later, it would change its name to Cunard Steamships Limited becoming the greatest name in ocean travel in history.
In 1840 the company's first steamship, the Britannia, sailed from Liverpool to Boston marking the beginning of regular passenger and cargo service. Cunard faced many competitors from Britain, the United States and Germany but survived them all. This was mainly due to a great focus on safety. Cunard ships were usually not the largest or the fastest but they were the most reliable and the safest. The prosperous company eventually absorbed Canadian Northern Steamships Limited as well as Cunard's principal competition, the White Star Line, owners of the ill-fated RMS Titanic.
For more than a century and a half, Cunard dominated the Atlantic passenger trade and was one of the world's most important companies. Its ships played important roles in the development of the world economy, and also participated in all of Britain's major wars from Crimea to the Falklands War (where Cunard's container ship, Atlantic Conveyor was sunk by an Exocet missile).
The line began to decline in the 1950s, however, as speedy air travel began to replace ships as the main transporters of passengers and mail across the Atlantic. For much of the late 20th century, and the first few years of the 21st century, the line's only vessel making transatlantic crossings was the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 (also known as the QE2). In 2004 the QE2 was retired from transatlantic service and replaced by the RMS Queen Mary 2 (QM2).