About SS United States
In early 1950, construction began on what would become SS United States. The U.S. government provided an enormous subsidy for the ship's construction with the understanding that the liner could be requisitioned for military service if necessary.
Construction and Features
For two years, thousands of workers labored under the direction of naval architect and marine engineer William Francis Gibbs, the the ship's designer. Because SS United States might see service as both ocean liner and troopship or hospital ship, the vessel was designed and built to meet strict U.S. Navy standards. SS United States could be converted to a troopship in just two days and could carry 14,000 troops over 10,000 nautical miles without refueling. All furnishings were crafted from lightweight, nonflammable materials to ensure fire safety. It was said that the only wood aboard could be found in the pianos and butcher blocks. To maintain flotation and propulsion in the event of a collision or attack, SS United States was highly compartmentalized and equipped with two engine rooms. And because the ship's superstructure was built using aluminum, weight was kept dramatically lower than similarly-sized vessels. The dual power plants and excellent power-to-weight ratio gave SS United States a top speed so fast, the exact figure remained classified for decades.
Record-Breaking Maiden Voyage
Despite a fog-delayed start and heavy seas later during her maiden voyage from New York City, SS United States easily smashed the eastbound transatlantic speed record held for 14 years by the Cunard's RMS Queen Mary. SS United States had arrived at Bishop Rock (off Cornwall, UK) in just 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes – ten hours faster than RMS Queen Mary. On the return trip to New York, SS United States again broke the previous record, completing the westbound transatlantic journey in 3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes. This westbound record still stands today.
17 Years of North Atlantic Service
Along with SS America, her older and slower running mate, "The Big U" (as SS United States became known) maintained a two-ship, 5-day transatlantic crossing schedule. Bookings were strong in the early years, but by the late 1950s, the dawn of the jet age was heralding the end of ocean travel's golden age. A decline in transatlantic passenger sea travel, higher costs and lower subsidies led United States Lines to sell SS America in 1964. As the 1960s continued, passenger bookings continued to decrease and after a distinguished 17-year career, SS United States was withdrawn from service.
Today, SS United States is laid up on the Delaware River at Pier 82 in Philadelphia. Though her interior furnishings and fittings have been sold off, SS United States remains in good condition as a result of preservation efforts undertaken at initial lay up and the removal of asbestos in the 1990s. The SS United States Conservancy is the vessel's current owner and plans to redevelop SS United States as a multi-use waterfront development (perhaps in New York City, Philadelphia or Miami), featuring a world-class museum and educational program aboard the vessel.
Text adapted, with gratitude, from ssunitedstatesconservancy.org.