Albert Ballin (15 August 1857 – 9 November 1918) was a German businessman. He was born into a modest Jewish family of Hamburg with origins in Denmark.
His father was part owner of an emigration agency that arranged passages to the United States, and when he died in 1874, young Albert took over the business. He developed it into an independent shipping line, saving costs by carrying cargo on the return trip from the US. This brought him to the attention of Hamburg America Line, who hired him in 1886, and made him general director in 1899.
Although extremely successful in developing the business, as a Jew, and only being the director, but not the owner of a company, he was not accepted by all of Hamburg society. Nevertheless, he was respected and admired by the Kaiser (Wilhelm II) and was designated as being "hoffähig" (welcomed and acceptable at court) an honor given to few by Wilhelm. Ballin's home in Hamburg still stands and has a suite of rooms that were built specifically for the Kaiser, to be used when he visited Hamburg. Many different ship companies began to include ocean liners among their fleet, to add luxury and comfort to sea travel. Due to bad weather conditions in the winter months the transatlantic ocean liners could not operate at full capacity, and Ballin thought of a scheme to increase the occupancy by offering idle ships to travel agencies in Europe and America in the winter. The first modern cruise, which defined the journey not just as transport but as the actual reward, commenced on 22 January 1891, when the SS Auguste Victoria (named after the German empress) set sail to cruise the Mediterranean for six weeks. The competitors initially sniggered at Ballin, who organized and supervised the voyage personally, but the project was a huge success. In order to accommodate the growing demand another three of the SS Auguste Victoria’s sister ships operated as cruise liners, and in 1899 the Hamburg-America Line commissioned Blohm & Voss to construct the first purpose-built cruise ship, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise. It was the very first cruise ship, one exclusively tailored for the needs of well-to-do passengers.
In 1901 Ballin built the Emigration Halls (now the Museum "BallinStadt") on the Hamburg island of Veddel to accommodate the many thousands of people from all over Europe who arrived at the Port of Hamburg every week to emigrate to North and South America on his company's ships.
Ballin frequently traveled on the ships in his fleet and often spoke to passengers traveling with him to find out about the ships in his fleet and what improvements to make to future Hamburg Amerika ships. Ballin would take these improvements in hand and make sure that they would be placed on both his current and future liners.
World War I
Ballin acted as mediator between the United Kingdom and the German Empire in the tense years prior to the outbreak of World War I. Terrified that he would lose his ships in the event of naval hostilities, Ballin attempted to broker a deal whereby the United Kingdom and Germany would continue to race one another in passenger liners but desist their attempts to best one another's naval fleets. Consequently the outbreak of war deeply disillusioned him. Many of the Hamburg-America Line's ships were lost or suffered considerable damage during the hostilities.
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