Harland and Wolff

Role
Commercial Shipbuilding Firm
Biography/History

Est. 1 Jan 1862 by Edward Harland (1831-95) and Gustav Wolff (1834-1913) following the purchase, in 1858, of the Belfast iron ship building firm, Robert Hickson & Co. (est. 1853) by Harland, in association with Wolff’s uncle, the Liverpool merchant and financier, Gustavus C. Schwabe (ca. 1813-97). Operations were located on the site of Hickson’s company on Queen’s Island, Belfast, an area reclaimed from the River Lagan by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners during the 1840s.The Company initially employed about 150-200 men. Although success was by no means guaranteed, Harland & Wolff benefited greatly from early orders placed by the Liverpool ship owners, J. Bibby & Sons & Company and later, from 1869, by Thomas Ismay (1837-99), owner of the White Star Line. Both of these companies were at the forefront of technological changes in the shipbuilding industry and actively encouraged the construction of bigger and better ships and facilities for passengers and merchants alike in the hope of improving their share of the increasingly lucrative world shipping market. Harland & Wolff answered this call and became highly successful in the production of larger sized vessels, and later, the construction of passenger liners. At the height of their success, in 1921 the Company was worth an estimated £8.1 million, employing approx. 15,000 men and had produced over 430 ships and output in excess of 2.2 million gross tons since their foundation in 1862. Of the many celebrated and renowned productions, the Oceanic (1870) and the ill-fated Titanic (1911) loom large. Despite a brief revival fuelled by the needs of the Second World War, the downturn within the ship building industry has had an inevitable impact on the fortunes of Harland & Wolff. Since the launch of the Canberra in 1960, the Company has increasingly turned its attentions to other areas of maritime engineering. Today, Harland and Wolff focuses primarily on the offshore oil and gas industry, building floating production and drilling units designed for deep water use, although the construction of naval ships and luxury passenger liners remains secondary. The company is today 78% owned by the Norwegian shipping firm Fred. Olsen Energy. See also: 'Shipbuilders to the world:125 years of Harland and Wolff, Belfast, 1861-1986,' Michael Moss and John R. Hume (Belfast, 1986)