In 1818, there were launched in Naples and Trieste the first two steamers in the Mediterranean, the Ferdinando I and Carolina I. At the dawn of steam navigation, these first ships undertook pleasure voyages to local islands and other famous places. Later, the early steamship companies set up in the Italian peninsular before the unification of the country, which occurred in 1861, earned their living primarily by carrying migrants: about 29 million people would leave Italy over the next century. This movement was reversed after the 1960s. Already, after the First World War, Italian companies had reinvented their passenger ships which now became a means of comfortable travel and also of cruising. This came about principally because of the virtual closure of the borders of the United States to new immigrants. Thanks to the beneficial influence of the Gulf Stream, the route of the Italian liners sailing to New York became known as “La Rotte del Sole” (The Sun Route) and offered a warm climate almost all year round. Our ships, on which had been installed the so-called Tourist Class, attracted many people, particularly North Americans desirous of taking a holiday in Europe, travelling for pleasure rather than out of necessity. The Roaring Twenties saw the growth of interest in sporting activity and physical fitness and, thanks to their southern route, the Italian liners offered many novelties for exercise, fun and entertainment never before seen on board ship:
for instance, cabins with verandahs; air-conditioning; lidos and swimming pools on the outer decks; spas; stabilisers to prevent mal de mer; etc. In a certain sense, Italy invented the cruise! A precedent, in 1907, was set by the steamship Thalia of the Lloyd of Trieste, whose “pleasure voyages” were very successful: the word “cruise” only came into use in the 'Thirties.
The success of this metamorphosis led to the evolution of the Italian shipbuilding industry and its advanced projects: before the Second World War Italy, once the Cinderella of the industrial nations, had already become the major builder of large ships, attracting numerous foreign clients and freeing the country's own shipowners from dependence on overseas builders, principally the British. From the Italian slipways, many famous and beloved ships entered the sea and received international praise. These great vessels had legendary names such as Victoria, Saturnia, Conte di Savoia, Augustus, Rex, all notable for their technology, comfort and their art. The greatest Italian professionals worked on the production of these ships: through them, the country's art, craftsmanship, architecture and Italian design became known to the four corners of the World, paving the way for the success of “Made in Italy”.