Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


The term transatlantic refers to something occurring across the Atlantic Ocean. Most often, this refers to the exchange of passengers, cargo, information, or communication between the United States and Europe (or between North America and Europe).

Transatlantic crossings refer to the passage of passengers and cargo between North America and Europe. Prior to the 19th Century, transatlantic crossings were undertaken in sailing ships, which was a time consuming and often perilous journey. Transatlantic crossings became faster, safer, and more reliable with the advent of steamships. Grand ocean liners began making regularly scheduled crossings, and soon it became a symbol of national and company status to build the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ocean liner for transatlantic crossings. Examples of some famous transatlantic steamships are the RMS Titanic, RMS Queen Mary, RMS Queen Elizabeth, and the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.

From the 17th Century onward, almost all transatlantic crossings bound for North America were destined for New York City. Early transatlantic trade made New York the primary port of North America early on, and as a result New York attracted most future transatlantic cargo and passenger traffic. New York became a world class city and the business capital of the United States. In addition, all transatlantic immigrants arriving in the United States from Europe arrived in New York. As a result, New York was the primary destination for the rich and famous traveling in luxury aboard the transatlantic ocean liners as well as the poor immigrants traveling in the lower decks. Therefore, while transatlantic crossings can occur between any part of North America and Europe, they are almost always assumed to be based out of New York City, unless otherwise stated.

Transatlantic flights would eventually surpass ocean liners as the predominant mode of crossing the Atlantic by the late 20th Century. In 1919, the American NC-4 became the first airplane to cross the Atlantic (though it made a couple landings on islands along the way). Later that year, a British airplane piloted by two men named Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. In 1921, the British were the first to cross the Atlantic in an airship. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight in an airplane (between New York City and Paris).

The first serious attempt to take a share of the transatlantic passenger market away from the ocean liners was undertaken by Germany. In the 1930s, Germany crossed the Atlantic with zeppelins that could carry about 60 passengers in relatively the same luxurious style as the ocean liners. However, the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 put an end to transatlantic zeppelin flights. Beginning in the 1950s, the glory and predominance of ocean liners began to wane when larger and larger passenger airplanes began whisking passengers across the ocean in less and less time. The speed of crossing the ocean became more popular than the style of crossing it. By the 1970s, supersonic Concorde airplanes could cross the Atlantic in under four hours and only one ocean liner remained on the transatlantic route for those who favored the slower style of travel.

Transatlantic cables refer to cables that have been laid along the ocean floor to connect North America and Europe. Before the advent of radio, the only means of communication across the Atlantic Ocean was to physically connect the continents with a transatlantic telegraph cable, which was installed in 1858. Transatlantic radio-based communication replaced the telegraph in 1927 and the first transatlantic telephone cable was installed in 1955. Satellite technology vastly increased the speed and quality of transatlantic communication, but transatlantic cables are still in use today, with the more recent being fiber optic cables.