The Ocean Liner: A Floating City

The Ocean Liner: A Floating City
Helen Taft: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two or more class periods


   Ocean liners were the equivalent to today’s supersonic passenger jets.  They were huge, fast, and elegant beyond belief.  And they were the only way to cross the ocean.  For the wealthy, they were a confirmation of status; for the immigrant they symbolized hope.  The great age of building these ocean liners coincided with the life of Nellie Taft.


   The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the wide variety of purposes ocean liners have played in our nation’s modern history—status symbol, immigrant transport, troop carrier, cruise liner, symbol of war’s inhumanity.  

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Ocean Liner timeline link Access to print reference materials


1.  Introduce the lesson to students by showing a picture of one of the grand liners of the past or perhaps a photograph of the Queen Elizabeth II. 
2.  Elicit from students the term “ocean liner.”  Explain that the term “liner” comes from the British phrase “Ship of the Line,” a phrase that indicated an expectation that these huge ships could take their place in the Royal Navy’s tactical “Line of Battle” in a previous sailing age.  Remind students that these ships were “floating cities” in which the wealthy as well as the poor traveled. 
3.  Divide students into 5 groups, one for each of the purposes the liners served (status symbol, immigrant transport, troop carrier, cruise liner, symbol of war’s inhumanity).  Their task is to research one ship that can serve as an example of their purpose.  Their group’s presentation should include the following items: 
  • The ship’s name and where it was built
  • A picture or drawing of the ship
  • Specifics about the ship (size, passenger numbers, crew size, number of rooms, etc)
  • Ship’s history
  • Reasons why this ship over all others in its class is the best example of the specific purpose the group is addressing
4.  Reports to the class should follow.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may decide to assign specific ships to the groups.  It is recommended that the teacher always keep in mind the 5 purposes of the great ocean liners.

Sources & Resources:

This site has excellent links. 
A superb site by someone whose family is connected to the Scottish shipyards.  Links are numerous and excellent.

This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.