The son of a master carpenter and timber merchant, Samuel Cunard was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) on 21 November, 1787. His business and entrepreneurial skills were evident early in his life, when at the age of 17, he became manager of his own General Store.
Cunard matured to become a prominent figure in Halifax, joining his father's business where he expanded it to include coal, iron and shipping interests. During the War of 1812 (fought between the British Empire and the United States of America), Cunard volunteered for the 2nd battalion of the Halifax Regiment and rose to the rank of Captain. After his commission was complete, he returned to Halifax to take up high profile public roles including Lighthouse Commissioner. During this time he developed a reputation of being a shrewd yet honest and generous businessman.
In the 1830's, Cunard concentrated his focus more heavily on shipping, becoming involved in the pioneering steam packet, Royal William, while in 1839, Cunard relocated to the United Kingdom in order to tender for the Royal Mail contract to provide a regular scheduled trans-Atlantic mail service, between the old world and the new. Cunard won this tender, forming the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company - which later became Cunard Line.
In 1840, Cunard's first ship, the RMS Britannia successfully completed her maiden voyage, beginning an unbroken link of Cunard trans-Atlantic liners that has survived over seventeen decades!
Cunard's entrepreneurial spirit saw the potential for the inclusion of passengers on his mail service, and as such, his first ships carried a small (but significant) compliment of passengers on each voyage. Cunard was steadfast in his belief of Safety over Speed - instructing his Captains that they were to ensure their ships were never placed in danger for the sake of speed. This principle would form the basis for the company's excellent safety record, which survives to this day.
In 1859, Cunard was created a Baronet by HM Queen Victoria, in honour of his outstanding contribution to the British shipping industry. He died in Kensington at the age of 77 leaving control of Cunard Line to his son, William Cunard.