The White Star Line, as we know it, started in 1867 when Thomas Henry Ismay purchased it for 1,000.  Prior to the purchase, White Star was involve in the Australian trade.  Ismay received financial backing from Gustav Schwabe with the stipulation that all new White Star Line ships would be built at the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

The first ship built by Harland & Wolff, for the White Star Line, was the Oceanic, which was launched on August 27, 1870.  The Atlantic, Baltic, Republic, Celtic and Adriatic would soon follow.  William Imrie joined the firm, in 1870, and Ismay, Imrie and Company was the firm that managed White Star Line.  In 1891, Thomas's eldest son, Bruce, joined the firm, as a partner, and Thomas retired one year later.

In 1902, the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMM) purchased White Star Line, for 10,000,000, which was owned by J. Pierpont Morgan.  The Ismay family was initially opposed to the purchase, but a majority of the stockholders approved the transaction.  The sale prompted three of White Star Line's partners to retire - William Imrie, James Ismay, and W.S. Graves.  Bruce Ismay and Harold Sanderson stayed with the company and were later joined by William J. Pirrie, managing director and controlling chairman of Harland & Wolff.  Pirrie was instrumental in the sale of White Star Line to Morgan.

In February, 1904, Bruce Ismay accepted the position of President of the IMM, with unlimited control.  In 1907, a dinner was held in Downshire, at Pirrie's mansion in London, Ismay discussed the building of two huge ships that would the largest, most luxurious, among the fastest ships at sea.  A third ship was later added, and these ships would compete directly with the ships from Hamburg-American Line, the North German Lloyd, and the Cunard Line.  The ships names would be Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic (later renamed to Britannic after the Titanic disaster).