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18 June 2014
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cranes high above the shipyard
© BBC 2004
The Yard

The young and ambitious Harland was impatient to open his own shipbuilding business and applied unsuccessfully to open yards at various locations in Liverpool. However, on the 21st September, 1858, he received an appetising letter from his employer, Robert Hickson :

“I offer you my interest and goodwill in the shipyard at the Queen`s Island, Belfast ……..for the sum of five thousand pounds….”

Edward James Harland and Company began on the 1st November 1858. A year earlier Gustav Schawbe`s nephew, Gustav Wilhelm Wolff was employed as a personal assistant with the Robert Hickson concern.Eventually in 1861, the two names synonymous with shipbuilding in every port in the world were galvanised, as Harland and Wolff was born.

The wealthy contacts acquired by both men enabled a steady flow of orders. This relatively early success alerted the attention of William James Pirrie. Another link in the chain of the H & W story began when Pirrie, the son of a Timber merchant and linked to a Linen business by marriage, started his apprenticeship at the yard, in 1862.

A small, well presented man with great energy and intelligence, Pirrie, later to become Chairman of the firm, would be instrumental in finding buyers, such as the White Star Line, for H&W`s huge ships. A succinct marker of how the three main partners worked together is given when Edward Harland answered a question posed to him by a lady at a company function :

What does a director do?

"Well, Wolff designs the ships, Pirrie sells them and I smoke the firm`s cigars."

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