A Town and its Harbour

A poster from the 1920's, by Sandy-Hook
A liner sailing out of the harbour, ca. 1900

Saint-Nazaire, a transatlantic harbour

As early as 1862, Saint-Nazaire which used to be a simple village peopled by fishermen and pilots, became a transatlantic harbour with regular shipping lines to Central America. This is where the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, the famous French Line, ran its regular lines to Mexico and Panama with several ports of call in the West Indies and the Caribbean. The Saint-Nazaire – Vera-Cruz run would typically last some 21 days in the late 19th century.

At the same time shipyards began to set up business in the Penhoët district. Thanks to maritime commerce and shipbuilding, Saint-Nazaire expanded so strongly during the second half of the 19th century, mushrooming from 800 to 30,000 inhabitants in less than 50 years, that the town was nicknamed “Brittany’s little California”, in allusion to American boomtowns of the gold rush.

Up to World War 2, passengers and merchandise thus transited through Saint-Nazaire. But then the French Line’s facilities had to give way to the huge submarine pens built by the German army. After the war there were no longer any regular transatlantic crossings, and the harbour developed outside Saint-Nazaire. The modern terminals have been built along the Loire Estuary.

A crowd strolling in the harbour, late 19th century