Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 132,597 pages of information and 209,980 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
Based in Belfast at Queen’s Island, Harland and Wolff were a huge and very important shipbuilding company. The shipbuilding complex is only one of two yards left in the U.K. capable of building large merchant ships. The site occupies around 300 acres and is owned by a Norwegian company. The yard was most well known for building high-class transatlantic passenger liners and was considered to be the best in the world. The company has built over 1700 ships at four yards and has been in operation for over 135 years. 
1858 Harland bought the small shipyard on Queen's Island, Robert Hickson and Co, in which he was employed as general manager.
Since then the shipyard has built many types of ships since then, the most famous being the RMS Titanic.
After buying Hickson's shipyard, Harland made Wolff, his assistant, a partner in the company. Wolff was the nephew of Gustavus Schwabe, a financier from Hamburg. Schwabe had heavily invested in the Bibby shipping line; the first three ships that the newly incorporated shipyard built were for that line. Harland made a success of the business through several innovations, notably replacing the wooden upper decks with iron ones which increased the strength of the ships, and giving the hulls a flatter bottom and squarer section, which increased their capacity.
1858 Edward Harland and Gustav Wolff began shipbuilding at Queen’s Island. The company was initially called Edward Harland and Company. Throughout the 1850s the yard made steamers.
1861 Wolff became a full partner; the company became Harland and Wolff.
Into the 1860s and 70s the yard made liners.
1870 Walter Henry Wilson became general manager of the works.
1874 Wilson became a partner. Two other partners were appointed in the 1870s.
1880s Four new berths were built in addition to the six already existing ones. The new berths were known as the North Yard and the pre-existing six as the South Yard. An engine works was also opened. The yards began making their first steel ships.
1885 Became a public company. The Queen’s Island Shipbuilding and Engineering Co was formed in response to proposed Government restrictions on trading. The company was registered on 19 December. 
1888 This reverted back to Harland and Wolff again when the policy was abandoned. Harland and Wolff concerned themselves with general matters to do with the company, whereas day to day management was in the hands of William J. Pirrie and Walter Henry Wilson.
1889 Became a limited liability company; Harland was the principal with Messrs Wolff, Wilson and Pirrie his colleagues as proprietors
1889 This year saw the opening of the Alexandra dock which was used by Harland and Wolff for repair work. Much of the work undertaken by the company was repeat work, and from 1895 to 1905, 35 passenger liners were built in the yards.
1895 Sir Edward Harland died at his home. William James Pirrie became the chairman of the company until his death in 1924.
1896 There was a massive fire at the North Yard and this led to some alterations being made at the yard so that large liners could be made there.
1899 Second largest output of engines for ships from a British manufacturer at 66,150ihp
1899 The yards now occupied 80 acres and employed 10,000 men, having expanded from 1.5 acres and 100 men in 1854.
See 1899 Shipbuilding Statistics for detail of the tonnage produced.
William Pirrie exerted a major influence on formation of International Mercantile Marine Co (IMM) in return for guaranteed repair work at the yard. The IMM was a business consortium that took over many Atlantic passenger lines.
1906 Pirrie was made a peer, and remained in complete control of Harland and Wolff until his death in 1924.
1907 John Brown and Co became the majority shareholders in Harland and Wolff, however this did not have any great impact on the running of the company. The North Yard was altered to make room to build two very large Transatlantic liners.
1908 Became a private company.
1911 The Olympic's sister-ship, the ill-fated Titanic, was launched from the yard on 31st May 1911
1911 Started to acquire yards on the Clyde - the London and Glasgow Shipbuilding Co shipyard (including Robert Napier and Sons old yard, which had been vacated by William Beardmore and Co), together with the adjoining yard of Mackie and Thomson. These three Govan establishments were laid out as one large modern shipyard. The engineering works of the London and Glasgow Co. were also acquired and greatly extended.
Obtained the UK licence for the production of Burmeister and Wain diesel engines. This was organised through a new company, Burmeister & Wain (Diesel System) Oil Engine Co Ltd. This company bought the recently acquired Lancefield Works in Finnieston from Harland and Wolff.
1914 Another sister-ship of the Olympic was launched - RMS Britannic. These were three of over 70 ships constructed for the White Star Line
1914 Listed as shipbuilders and engineers. Builders of the White Star steamships "Oceanic" (the first vessel to surpass the dimensions of the "Great Eastern"), "Cedric", "SS Celtic", "Baltic", "Adriatic" and "Olympic", each of which was , at the time of launching, the largest vessel afloat (the "Olympic" being over 46,000 tons). 
WWI Harland and Wolff along with D. and W. Henderson and Co, were the main shipbuilders for standard war designs during the war. The yard launched a number of “A” type ships along with seven “B” tramps and 15 prefabricated “N” types. In addition, three “G” class meat carriers, two small “D” type and four “N” types were also manufactured. Naval output consisted of a battle cruiser, seven monitors, three small coastal monitors as well as a cruiser: the 15-inch gun armed "large light cruiser" HMS Glorious.
1916 Harland and Wolff acquired the yard of Caird and Co, Greenock. It also acquired a controlling financial interest in the shipyard of Davis and William Henderson and Co of Partick, there establishing Diesel engine works for ocean-going motor-boats, and of A. and J. Inglis, of Pointhouse, and of Archibald McMillan and Son, of Dumbarton.
1919 A third shipyard the East Yard was opened, and at 85 acres was one of the largest shipyards started in Britain during the war. Harland and Wolff now owned 220 acres and had a workforce of 22,000 people. The first ship to be built at the new yard was an “N” type standard ship, Maine, launched on 27th November. Further contracts for cargo-liners kept they yard busy until orders began running out in 1922/23.
1922 Harland and Wolff, who held the sole licence for Britain and the Colonies for the construction of Diesel engines on the Burmeister and Wain system, granted John G. Kincaid and Co a sub-licence for the construction of this type of internal combustion engine. Soon after, John G. Kincaid and Co entered into a further arrangement for an extension of the licence to enable them also to construct this type of machinery for export to Spain, France and the French colonies.
1924 Became a public company (again).
1924 Lord William Pirrie died on 7th June. His friend and colleague Owen Cosby Philipps (Lord Kylsant) took on the role of chairman, only to discover the financial problems of the company that had not been visible to outsiders.
1925 Visited by eighty-two members of the Belfast Association of Engineers. Great interest was taken in the new double-acting Diesel engine which had been recently built, and also in the parts of other engines of the same size which were under construction. These engines had eight double-scting cylinders, 2ft., 9in. bore with a piston stroke of 4ft. 11 in. They develop 10,000 indicated hP at 115 revolutions per minute and were the largest Diesel engines which have yet been completed.
1926 Order placed for five single-screw 2500-ton motor ships, to be built at their Govan and Glasgow works.
1927 See Aberconway for information on the company and its history.
1930s In the late 20s and 30s the yards made thirty large and medium sized passenger liners along with smaller ships. In addition, tramps, ferries, fruiters, “Round-the-World” cargo liners, coastal mini-liners, and tankers were also made. The yards then closed for two years due to lack of work. Another event that affected the yards was the imprisonment on fraud charges of the chairman Lord Kylsant. Frederick Rebbeck took over and his first task was to get to grips with the substantial debt that the company had due to the cooked books left behind by Lord Kylsant. This he managed to do by obtaining a three year moratorium on the Group debts until 31st December 1934.
1934-36 The company sold off its unwanted Harland and Wolff yards on the Clyde to National Shipbuilders Security along with parts of the Queen’s Island site for other uses. This, in addition to mass unemployment and sectarian violence, meant that times were hard for the Belfast workforce during this period.
1935 Harland and Wolff purchased the South yard of Workman, Clark and Co, this became the Victoria Yard; with the South Yard becoming the Abercorn Yard; the North yard becoming the Queen’s Yard and the East Yard became the Musgrave yard. The Victoria Yard remained derelict until the outbreak of war in 1939. Meanwhile the Belfast yards were commissioned to manufacture passenger and cargo-liners.
1936 The company started an aircraft manufacturing subsidiary with Short Brothers, called Short and Harland. Its first order was for 189 Handley Page Hereford bombers built under license from Handley Page for the Royal Air Force. During the Second World War, this factory built Short Stirling bombers as the Hereford was removed from service.
WW2 The shipyard was busy during World War II, building 6 aircraft carriers, 2 cruisers (including HMS Belfast) and 131 other naval ships; and repairing over 22,000 vessels. It also manufactured tanks and artillery components. It was during this period that the company's workforce peaked at around 35,000 people. However, many of the vessels built during this era were commissioned right at the end of World War II, as Harland and Wolff were focused on ship repair during the first three years of the war. The yard on Queen's Island was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe in April and May 1941 causing considerable damage to the shipbuilding facilities and destroying the aircraft factory.
1950s During the late 40s and early 50s much of the work undertaken by the yard was for replacement vessels for passenger liners, Between 1947 and 1961 17 passenger liners were completed. In addition between 1946 and 1966, 47 cargo-liners were built. Finally, from 1946 to 1968, the yards were involved in a substantial tanker building programme: over 70 were made during this period. 28 cargo ships were also made for Andrew Weir and Co. during this time too. With the rise of the jet powered airliner in the late 1950s, the demand for passenger ships declined; and this coupled with competition from Japan led to difficulties for the British shipbuilding industry. The last one that the company built was the SS Canberra in 1960.
1960s The yards were in demand for the creation of bulk-carriers.
1961 Makers of marine diesel propelling engines and geared steam turbines up to the largest powers; builders of diesel engines and horizontal gas engined and centrifugal type compressors for industrial purposes; grey iron castings up to 100 tons and S.G. castings up to 20 tons. Electrical designers and manufacturers, A.C. and D.C.; structural steel engineers. 20,000 employees. 
March 1962 Sir Frederick Rebbeck resigned and was succeeded by J.S. Baillie as Chairman.
The yard was in debt for £6M by 1966 (this had been building up for some years) and the Government appointed Sir John S. Mallabar to assist with managing the debt. This led to the construction of a new building dock which would go on to become the largest building dock in Europe. It opened in 1969.
In the '60s, notable achievements for the yard included the tanker Myrina which was the largest in the world at the time and the largest vessel ever launched down a slipway. In the same period the the yard also built the semi-submersible drilling rig Sea Quest which, due to its three-legged design, was launched down three parallel slipways. This was a first and last time this was ever done.
1961 Of Belfast, Glasgow, Bootle, Southampton and London. Employs 20,000 persons. 
In the mid-1960s the British government started advancing loans and subsidies to British shipyards to preserve jobs. Some of this money was used to finance the modernisation of the yard, allowing it to build the much larger post-war merchant ships including one of 333,000 tonnes.
1970s Sectarian violence, rioting and the deployment of British troops and the subsequent IRA bombing campaign meant that there was heavy absenteeism from the yard, although the workforce remained committed to keeping politics out of the workplace. The Conservative Government of 1970 withdrew financial support from the steel, coal and shipbuilding industries, placed the future of the yard in doubt. The yards made seven bulkers, ferries and from 1970 to 1995 over 35 ships were built at the Building Dock.
1973 A steelworker's strike damaged the company’s relations with its customers. Labour returned to power in 1974 and funding was given by the Government to the yards in order to reduce the continuing violence.
1975 The British Government acquired all the company shares. The yard was not nationalised because it was a special Government funded yard. This soured relations between Harland and Wolff and mainland British shipbuilders.
1982 Harland and Wolff called in two teams of consultants: A. and P. Appledore suggested reorganisation of the shipbuilding methods so that the Queen's Island yard could be reduced in size from the present 300 acres. P. A. Management Consultants studied the administration and organisation methods.
1989 The company was bought from the British government in 1989 in a management/employee buy-out in partnership with the Norwegian shipping magnate Fred Olsen; leading to a new company called Harland and Wolff Holdings Plc. By this time, the number of people employed by the company had fallen to around 3000. Olsen then ordered six Suezmax tankers for his own fleets. Kawasaki planning and production techniques were then quickly introduced to the yards
The situation improved through the use of sub-contracting work out to other shipbuilders and in return British Shipbuilders farmed out work to Harland and Wolff for ships to large to be made elsewhere. John Parker became chairman of Harland and Wolff in 1982 and he managed to keep the yards operating during a time of turbulence for the British shipbuilding industry. The Building dock also began making ore-carriers and cargo-liners and there was an alleged terrorist bomb exploded at the yard in December 1984.
December 1989 the SWOP oil production vessel/tanker Seillean was launched. This ship is considered to be a revolutionary design. SWOPS stands for Single Well Oil Production System and is able to make submerged connections to oil wells, fill up and then move on to the next one. This ship was also able to extract oil from places which were previously too difficult or not cost effective enough to do so. The ship was a joint venture between BP and Harland and Wolff.
1990s Harland and Wolff continued receiving orders from the North Sea Oil sector for shuttle ships and still operates today. Belfast's skyline is still dominated today by Harland and Wolff's famous twin cranes Samson and Goliath, built in 1974 and 1969 respectively.