Prior to the 19th century, transatlantic crossings were undertaken in sailing ships, and the journeys were time consuming and often perilous. The first trade route across the Atlantic was inaugurated by Spain a few decades after the European Discovery of America, with the establishment of the West Indies fleets in 1566, a convoy system that regularly linked its territories in the Americas with Spain for over two centuries. Portugal created a similar maritime route between its ports in Brazil and the Portuguese mainland. Other colonial powers followed, such as Britain, France and the Netherlands, as they colonized the New World.
Transatlantic crossings became faster, safer, and more reliable with the advent of steamships in the 19th century. 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. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy built the most famous ocean liners. Examples of some famous transatlantic liners are RMS Titanic (had only made one voyage that was unsuccessful due to striking an iceberg), RMS Lusitania, RMS Mauretania, RMS Olympic, SS Rex, SS America, SS United States, RMS Queen Mary, SS Île de France, SS Normandie, RMS Queen Elizabeth, SS France, Queen Elizabeth 2, and RMS Queen Mary 2.
The Blue Riband is awarded for the record fastest crossing by transatlantic liner. The current eastbound record was set by the American ocean liner United States in July 1952: the ship made the crossing in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes. Guinness Book of World Records has awarded world records to various classes such as luxury liners, sail boats, and rowing boats.
During World War II the transatlantic crossing was very important for the United Kingdom as much of Europe had been taken over by Germany and its allies preventing trade and supplies; the struggle is known as the Battle of the Atlantic.