SS United States

SS United States

Infobox_nrhp | name =SS "United States" (Steamship)
nrhp_type =

caption =
location= Pier 82, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
lat_degrees = 39
lat_minutes = 55
lat_seconds = 4.63
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 75
long_minutes = 8
long_seconds = 12.84
long_direction = W
locmapin = Pennsylvania
area =
architect= William Francis Gibbs
added = June 03, 1999
governing_body = Private
refnum=99000609cite web|url=|title=National Register Information System|date=2007-01-23|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]
The SS "United States" (also known as "The Big U") is an ocean liner built in 1952 for the United States Lines. At 53,329 gross tons, she is the largest ocean liner to date built entirely in the United States and still holds the record for the fastest westbound transatlantic crossing. In 1952, on her maiden voyage as the new flagship of the United States Lines, the "United States" captured the Blue Riband with the fastest eastbound and westbound transatlantic crossings on record. The entry of the "United States" marked the first time a U.S.-flagged ship held the Blue Riband, surpassing European speed records which had stood for decades. The "United States" lost the eastbound record in 1990, but still holds the westbound record. The "United States" plied the transatlantic with passenger service until 1969, and she outlasted the demise of her original owners. The ship is currently docked in Philadelphia until a decision is made about her fate.


Inspired by the exemplary service of the British liners RMS|Queen Mary and RMS|Queen Elizabeth which transported hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to Europe during World War II, the United States government decided to sponsor construction of a large and very fast merchant vessel capable of transporting large numbers of soldiers. Designed by renowned American naval architect and marine engineer William Francis Gibbs, the liner's construction was a joint effort between the United States Navy and United States Lines. The U.S. government underwrote $50 million of the $78 million construction cost, with the ship's operators, United States Lines, contributing the remaining $28 million. In exchange, she was designed to be easily converted into a troopship with a capacity of 15,000 troops, or a hospital ship in the case of war.

She was built from 1950-1952 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Newport News, Virginia. Her keel was laid and her hull was constructed in a graving dock. The "United States" was built to exacting Navy specifications, which required that she be heavily compartmentalized and have separate engine rooms to enable her to survive should she be damaged in war.

To minimize the risk of fire, the designers of the "United States" did not use a single piece of wood in her framing, accessories or decorations. There were no wood interior surfaces. Fittings, including all furniture and fabrics, were custom made in glass, metal and spun glass fiber to ensure they were in full compliance with strict fireproof guidelines set by the U.S. Navy. Even the clothes hangers in the luxury cabins were made of aluminum. The only wooden equipment used in the construction of the vessel was in the bilge keels and butcher blocks in the galleys. The grand piano in the ballroom was even made of a rare, fire-resistant species of wood, and was originally specified to be made of aluminum. The grand piano was accepted after a demonstration in which gasoline was poured upon the wood and lit without causing the wood itself to catch fire.

The construction of the ship's superstructure involved the largest use of aluminum in any construction project to that time, and presented a special challenge to the builders in joining the aluminum structure to the steel decks below. The significant use of aluminum provided extreme weight savings. At convert|105|ft|m|0|lk=on beam, the "United States" was built to Panamax capacity, ensuring that she could clear the Panama Canal locks with just convert|2|ft|m|1 to spare on either side.

The "United States" featured a derated version of the classified powerplant from the Sclass|Iowa|battleship|1s, and was the most powerful engine installation in a merchant marine vessel. She was capable of steaming astern at over convert|20|kn|km/h|0|lk=on, and could carry enough fuel and stores to steam non-stop for over convert|10000|nmi|km|-1|lk=on.

ervice history

Embarking on her maiden voyage on 4 July 1952, the "United States" smashed the transatlantic speed record held by the "Queen Mary" for the previous 14 years by over 10 hours, making her maiden crossing from the Ambrose lightship at New York Harbor to Bishop Rock off Cornwall, UK in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes at an average speed of convert|35.59|kn|mi/h|2. The liner also broke the westbound crossing record by returning to America in 3 days 12 hours and 12 minutes at an average speed of convert|34.51|kn|mi/h|2, thereby obtaining both the eastbound and westbound Blue Ribands. The "United States" maintained a convert|30|kn|mi/h|0|sing=on crossing speed on the North Atlantic in a service career that lasted 17 years. During her career her Captains were Harry Manning, John Anderson and Leroy J. Alexanderson. She was very popular and proved to be a worthy competitor to the Cunard Line's "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth".

The maximum speed of the "United States" was deliberately exaggerated, and kept obscure for many years. An impossible value of convert|43|kn|mi/h|0 was leaked to reporters by engineers after the first speed trial. [ [ "How Fast Can It Go?] Paper on actual speed of SS United States; link now broken)] The actual top speed — convert|38.3|kn|mi/h|1 — was not revealed until 1977.


While the "United States" was at Newport News for her annual overhaul in 1969, her owners decided to take her out of service and she was laid up at Newport News. A few years later, she was moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Since then, ownership has been passed between several companies. In 1978 the vessel was sold to private interests who hoped to revitalize the liner in a time share cruise ship format. Financing fell through and the ship was placed up for auction by MARAD. During the 1980s the "United States" was considered by the United States Navy as a troop ship or a hospital ship to be called the USS "United States", but this plan never materialized.In 1984, the ship's remaining fittings and furniture were sold at auction in Norfolk. Some of the furniture now represents a substantial portion of the interior of [ Windmill Point] , a restaurant in Nags Head, NC (These items include dining room tables and chairs in the main restaurant and the bar and lounge tables and chairs in the upstairs lounge as well as other items.) In 1992, a new consortium of owners bought the vessel and had her towed to Turkey and then Ukraine, where she underwent asbestos removal. No viable agreements were reached in the U.S. for a reworking of the vessel and eventually the "United States" was towed to her current dock in South Philadelphia, where she has been moored since 1996. She can be easily viewed from shore and Interstate 95, as the "United States" is located directly across Columbus Boulevard from Philadelphia's IKEA store.

While the "United States" was the last superliner to hold the Blue Riband, she eventually lost the eastbound transatlantic record in 1990 to "Hoverspeed Great Britain", an Incat-built Norwegian-owned wave-piercing catamaran ferry. The "United States" still retains the westbound speed record.

In 1999, the SS United States Foundation [ SS United States Foundation] ] and the SS United States Conservancy [ SS United States Conservancy] ] (then known as the SS United States Preservation Society, Inc.) succeeded in having the ship placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Plans for the Future

In 2003, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) purchased the ship from the estate of Edward Cantor when she was put up for auction after his death with the stated intent of fully restoring her to a service role in their newly-announced American-flagged Hawaiian passenger service called NCL America. The SS "United States" is one of only a handful of ships eligible to enter such service because of the Jones Act, which requires that any vessel engaged in domestic commerce be built and flagged in the USA and operated by a predominantly American crew. In August 2004 NCL commenced feasibility studies regarding a new build-out of the vessel, and in May 2006 Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, chairman of Malaysia-based Star Cruises (which owns NCL), stated that the company's next project is "the restoration of the..."United States"." [ [] ] By May 2007, an extensive technical review had been completed, with NCL stating that the ship was in sound condition. The cruise line has over 100 boxes of the ship's blueprints cataloged. While this documentation is not complete, NCL believes it will provide useful information for the planned refit. [cite web|url=|title=Cruising Future Seen For a Rusting South Phila. Hulk|date=2007-05-09|author=John McDevitt|publisher=KYW Newsradio, Philadelphia]

Nonetheless, the ship is an ongoing source of fascination and object of affection for a devoted group of fans which keeps in touch via the Internet and meets annually in Philadelphia. The ship receives occasional press coverage such as a 2007 feature article in USA Today [ USA Today] ] and there have been various projects through the years to celebrate the ship such as lighting it on special occasions. A television documentary about the ship [ television documentary about the ship] ] was completed in early February, 2008 and was distributed through Chicago's WTTW TV and American Public Television with the first airings in May, 2008 on PBS stations throughout the USA.

ee also

*, "United states"’s post-war running mate.
* SS Constitution
* SS Independence



* cite book
last = Braynard
first = Frank O.
authorlink = Frank Braynard
coauthors =
title = By Their Works Ye Shall Know Them, The Life and Ships of William Francis Gibbs 1886-1967
publisher = Gibbs & Cox, Inc
year= 1968
location =
pages =
url =
doi =
id =


External links

* [ "World’s Fastest Superliner Awaits Rebirth—or the Scrap Yard"] by Dan Koeppel, "Popular Mechanics", June 2008.
* [ Big Ship Films, LLC's Homepage about the Lady In Waiting Documentary]
* [ The SS United States Conservancy Official Website]
* [ "The United States" by C.K. Williams]
* [ The SS United States Group - All Things SS United States]
* [ Archival film footage of a cruise aboard the SS United States]
* [ SS United States Conservancy, a non-profit 501(c)3 preservation group]
* [ SS United States Foundation a Federal 501c3 nonprofit historic preservation site]
* [ SS United States Google Group]
* [ SS "United States" site]
* [ SS United States 2007 photographs]

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