René Silvin


Born in New York, René Silvin grew up in Swiss boarding schools. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in 1970 and an MBA from Cornell in 1972, he spent 25 years in the investor-owned hospital industry. He rose to the head of the international division of American Medical International, Inc., which owned and operated hospitals in 10 countries.

Since retiring after surviving a late stage cancer, René has published five books, including a memoir about his friendship with the late Duchess of Windsor and a history of Palm Beach, Florida seen through the eyes of the famous society architect, Addison Mizner. His latest book, “SS Normandie: The Tragic Story of the Most Majestic Ocean Liner,” is a historical novel that brings to life the magnificent 1930s French line, Normandie, which met its tragic end during WWII.

He continues to add lecture topics which offer well-researched, glamorous stories with historical significance, infused with personal experiences. These include a history of transatlantic ocean liner travel, the history of Mar-a-Lago, and his newest one about the perils of being too rich.

René lives in Palm Beach, FL and is listed in Who’s Who in the World (1988). He is the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A much sought-after lecturer on the Duchess of Windsor, Addison Mizner, the SS Normandie and Mar-a-Lago, René has become one of America’s leading authorities on all four topics.

From Necessity to Glamour: The Evolution of Transatlantic Travel

Silvin will begin this comprehensive account of North Atlantic travel in 1837 with the 178-foot, side-wheel, wooden SS Sirius. He will illustrate the evolution of transatlantic liners during each subsequent decade as British, German, French and later, Italian and American, ships competed in size, speed and luxury. By the turn of the 19th century, the German flagship SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and its British rival, Mauretania, were five times longer, 30 times heavier and twice as fast as the Sirius was 60 years earlier.

As the number and quality of vessels crossing the Atlantic grew, shipping became one of the world’s most important industries. The leading shipping companies focused on both the lucrative market of carrying large numbers of immigrants to the United States and the more glamorous luxury passenger market, which focused on lavish interiors, high quality service and food, as well as speed.

While not a term used in the early part of the 20th century, globalization began to take hold in large part thanks to the transatlantic connection ocean liners created, linking the Old and the New World for culture, fashion and business.

With the emergence of rapidly improving technology, ships became bigger, better and more luxurious in the 20th century. Although the well-known story of the Titanic disaster in 1912 was a sobering reminder of the inherent dangers of ground-breaking innovations, transatlantic liners continued to make significant strides in technological improvements. Because the leading West European countries used ships as mail carriers and considered them symbolic ambassadors, governmental financial subsidies became part of the negotiations to build better and faster vessels. European countries also competed to capture the coveted Blue Riband, the award given to the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic and first attributed to the Sirius in 1837. Eventually, the title became a symbol of international pride and was exchanged between several European countries that continued to outdo themselves and their competitors for speed across the Atlantic. As the 20th century progressed, the two World Wars played a major role in transatlantic travel, when liners were converted into troop carriers. After the wars, Germany’s impressive fleets were either destroyed or seized by the allies and rechristened, flying American and British flags after being reintroduced into transatlantic service.

The presentation also discusses the advent of the “thousand footers,” the first being France’s “floating museum” as the Normandie was called. The British Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth quickly followed, both playing important roles in the Second World War and then going on to resume passenger service, which lasted into the 1960s.

The emergence of jet airliners as a much faster way to cross the Atlantic, and the skyrocketing cost of fuel in the 1970s, drove luxury transatlantic travel into obsolescence.

Silvin concludes the presentation recounting how most of the great pre-Second World War liners were sadly, yet inevitably, scrapped and replaced by what he calls “Hyatts on a barge,” as the profitable cruise industry took hold.
Register Early! There is a $5 charge for registering on the day of a one-time lecture or event.

Course # W1RA — One Time Event
Place:Room 151 (Annex), Lifelong Learning Complex, Jupiter Campus
Dates:Thursday, February 9 2017
Time:11:15 - 12:45 PM
Fee:$25 / member; $35 / non-member

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 Last Modified 2/12/15