Hamburg America Line’s Vaterland was commissioned on May 1, 1914, amid grand fanfare. More quiet was the sea change it ushered in. Its predecessor, the Imperator, had room for several thousand passengers including those in “steerage” class—the poor class of passenger who took up any leftover space (sometimes near the ship’s steering gear) after cabins were occupied by richer passengers. The Vaterland was a ship designed for pleasure cruises and luxury transportation only—no steerage passengers need apply.

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 put a four-year stop to the ocean liner business. Ships like the Vaterland that were in the wrong place at the wrong time languished in port for several years. Some ships, such as the Aquitania, were quickly repurposed by governments for military use.

Smaller vessels such as luxury yachts, powerboats and small boats were growing in popularity as people had extended leisure time and the money to spend on their hobbies. (I am suggesting that the backstabbing cutthroat competition of the America’s Cup can be described as a “hobby.”) As Kenneth Grahame put it in 1908 in The Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

The thread connecting all of the boats in this slide show from 1914 is that they were largely built for use by people engaged in nonwork activities.

You can take a leisurely cruise through the nautical news in Scientific American’s Archives as far back as 1845 at