Harland & Wolff's, the company that built the Titanic, beginnings can be traced back to 1858, when Edward James Harland bought a shipyard from Robert Hickson. Harland served as an apprentice and eventually became the general manager of Hickson's yard.  Wilhelm Wolff, who had been serving as Harland's private assistant, was taken on board as a partner in 1861 and the name was officially changed to Harland & Wolff on January 1, 1862.

The first ship built by Harland & Wolff was the Venetian, although the engine had to be installed by MacNab and Company.  The Arabian was the next ship built, in 1862.  Many ships followed, but the next big ship was the Oceanic, which started a string of over 75 vessels built for the White Star Line, by Harland & Wolff.

William James Pirrie worked his way from being an apprentice to head designer, in a twelve year period.  He became a partner in the firm in 1874.  In 1906 he became the controlling chairman.  The workforce grew from 150 employees in 1862 to almost 15,000 employees in 1912.  The keel for the Olympic was laid on December 16, 1908 and for the Titanic on March 31, 1909.  The rest, as they say is history.