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SS United States
SS-United States.JPG
United States docked in Philadelphia, September 2009
Name: United States
Operator: United States Lines
Port of registry: New York City
Route: Transatlantic
Ordered: 1949[1]
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company[1]
Cost: $79.4 million($722 million in today's dollars)[1]
Yard number: Hull 488[2]
Laid down: 8 February 1950
Launched: 23 June 1951[3]
Christened: 23 June 1951[3]
Maiden voyage: 3 July 1952
Out of service: 14 November 1969[4]
Identification: IMO number: 5373476
Callsign KJEH
Status: Sold 1978
Owner: Various
Acquired: 1978
Fate: Laid up in Philadelphia in 1996.[5]
Notes: The United States changed hands multiple times from 1978-1996 for a return to active sea service but no plans came through.[6]
Owner: SS United States Conservancy
Acquired: 1 February 2011
Status: Laid up in Philadelphia, bought to be preserved as of February 2011.[7]
General characteristics
Tonnage: 53,330 gt
Displacement: 45,400 tons (at design draft); 47,264 tons (at maximum draft)
Length: 990 ft (300 m) (overall); 940 ft (290 m) (waterline)
Beam: 101.5 ft (30.9 m) maximum
Draft: 31.25 ft (9.53 m) (design); 32.33 ft (9.85 m) (maximum)
Depth: 75 ft (23 m)
Decks: 12
Installed power: 240,000 shp (180,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4 × Westinghouse double-reduction geared steam turbines
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers operating at 1000 psi and 975°F
4 × shafts
Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) (service)
38.32 knots (70.97 km/h; 44.10 mph) (maximum)
Capacity: 1,928 passengers
Crew: 900
Nickname: "The Big U"[8]

SS United States is a luxury passenger liner built in 1952 for United States Lines designed to capture the trans-Atlantic speed record.

Built at a cost of $78 million,[9] the ship is the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the US, the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic in either direction, and even in her retirement retains the Blue Riband given to the passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean in regular service with the record highest speed.

Her construction was partially subsidized by the US government, since she was designed to allow conversion to a troop carrier should the need arise.[9] United States operated uninterrupted in transatlantic passenger service until 1969. Since 1996 she has been docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Design and construction

Inspired by the exemplary service of the British liners RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, which transported hundreds of thousands of US troops to Europe during the Second World War, the US Government sponsored the construction of a large and fast merchant vessel that would be 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 US 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, the ship was designed to be easily converted in times of war to a troopship with a capacity of 15,000 troops, or to a hospital ship.[10]

The vessel was constructed from 1950–1952 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Newport News, Virginia. Her keel was laid and the hull constructed in a graving dock. United States was built to exacting Navy specifications, which required that the ship be heavily compartmentalized and have separate engine rooms to optimize war-time survival.[11] A large part of the construction of United States was with pre-fabricated sections. The ship's hull comprised 183,000 separately fabricated sections.[12]

To minimize the risk of fire, the designers of United States used no wood in the ship's framing, accessories, decorations, or interior surfaces. Fittings, including all furniture and fabrics, were custom made in glass, metal, and spun glass fiber to ensure compliance with fireproofing guidelines set by the US Navy. Specially commissioned artwork included pieces by fourteen artists, including Gwen Lux. Although the galley did feature a butcher block, the clothes hangers in the luxury cabins were aluminum. The ballroom's grand piano was of a rare, fire-resistant wood species—although originally specified in aluminum—and accepted only after a demonstration in which gasoline was poured upon the wood and ignited, without the wood itself igniting.[13]

The construction of the ship's superstructure involved the greatest use of aluminum in any construction project to that time, and posed a Galvanic corrosion challenge to the builders in joining the aluminum structure to the steel decks below. The significant use of aluminum provided extreme weight savings. At 101 ft (31 m) beam, United States was built to Panamax capacity, ensuring that the ship could clear the Panama Canal locks with 2 feet (0.61 m) of clearance on either side.[14]

United States had the most powerful steam turbines of any merchant marine vessel, with a total power of 240,000 SHP (shaft horsepower) delivered to four 18-foot (5.5 m) diameter manganese-bronze propellers. This gave her the greatest power-to-weight ratio ever achieved in a commercial passenger liner, before or since. The ship was capable of steaming astern at over 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), and could carry enough fuel and stores to steam non-stop for over 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) at a cruising speed of 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph).[15]

Captains of the SS United States included Harry Manning, Roy Edward Fiddler, John Anderson, and Leroy J. Alexanderson.[citation needed]

Speed records

File:United States and America.jpg

SS America (Foreground) and United States (Background) in New York.

On her maiden voyage on July 3, 1952,[Clarification needed] United States broke the transatlantic speed record held by Queen Mary for the previous 14 years by over 10 hours, making the 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 35.59 knots (65.91 km/h; 40.96 mph) 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 34.51 knots (63.91 km/h; 39.71 mph), thereby obtaining both the eastbound and westbound speed records and the Blue Riband, the first time a US-flagged ship had held the speed record since SS Baltic claimed the prize 100 years earlier.

United States maintained a 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) crossing speed on the North Atlantic in a service career that lasted 17 years.

United States lost the eastbound speed record in 1990 to Hoverspeed Great Britain; however, she continues to hold the Blue Riband as all subsequent record breakers were neither in passenger service nor were their voyages westbound.[16]

United States' maximum speed was deliberately exaggerated, and kept obscure for many years. An impossible value of 43 knots (80 km/h; 49 mph) was leaked to reporters by engineers after the first speed trial. [17] Her actual top speed—38.3 knots (70.9 km/h; 44.1 mph)

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—was not revealed until 1977. A $3 article reported the top speed achieved as 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph),[18] while another source reports that the highest possible sustained top speed was 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph).[19]


SS United States at sea, 1950s.

By the late 1960s, the market for Transatlantic travel by ship had dwindled. America had been sold in 1964, Queen Mary had been retired in 1967, and Queen Elizabeth in 1968. United States was no longer profitable. While United States was at Newport News for annual overhaul in 1969, the shipping line decided to withdraw her from service, docking the ship there. After a few years, the ship was relocated to Norfolk, Virginia. Subsequently, ownership 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 failed and the ship was put up for auction by MARAD. In 1979, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) was reportedly interested in purchasing the ship and converting her into a cruise ship for the Caribbean, but decided on purchasing the former SS France instead. During the 1980s, United States was considered by the US 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 was installed in Windmill Point, a restaurant in Nags Head, North Carolina. Following the closure of the restaurant in 2007, the items were donated to the Mariners' Museum and to Christopher Newport University, both in Newport News, Virginia.[20] One of the ship's propellers is mounted at the entrance to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City. Another propeller is mounted on a platform near the waterfront at SUNY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, New York. Across the Long Island Sound from SUNY Maritime College, a third propeller is mounted at the United States Merchant Marine Academy and is used as a teaching aid for merchant mariners. In 2008 a fourth propeller was put on display at the entrance of the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia. In 1992, a new consortium of owners purchased the vessel and had her towed to Turkey and then Ukraine, where she underwent asbestos removal in 1994. The interior of the ship was almost completely stripped during this time. No viable agreements were reached in the US for a reworking of the vessel, and in 1996 United States was towed to her current location at Pier 84 in South Philadelphia. The ship is easily visible from shore and Interstate 95.

In 1999, the SS United States Foundation and the 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.

Models of United States have made appearances in two major films, 2012 and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. United States herself appears in the 1962 Disney film Bon Voyage! and in Munster, Go Home! (1966), Baby Mama (2008), and in the 1955 film Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. A bird's eye view of United States is shown during the opening scene of the movie, West Side Story. In April 2012 it was announced that the upcoming Niels Arden Oplev film Dead Man Down starring Colin Farrell will feature scenes shot on board United States.[21]

In 2003, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) purchased the ship from the estate of Edward Cantor when the ship 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.[22] United States is one of only a handful of ships eligible to enter such service because of the Passenger Service Act, which requires that any vessel engaged in domestic commerce be built and flagged in the US 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."[23] 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 believed it would provide useful information for the planned refit.[24] However, when NCL America began operation, it used Pride of America, Pride of Aloha, and Pride of Hawaii, rather than United States, and later withdrew Pride of Aloha and Pride of Hawaii from Hawaiian service.

In February 2009, it was reported that Star Cruises, to whom United States's ownership was transferred, and NCL were looking for buyers for the liner.[25][26]

A group of the ship's fans 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 and there have been various projects through the years to celebrate the ship, such as lighting it on special occasions.[27] A television documentary about the ship, titled SS United States: Lady in Waiting, 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 US.[28] The Big U: The Story of the SS United States, another documentary about the ship, is currently[when?] in development by Rock Creek Productions.[29]

In March 2010 it was reported that scrapping bids for the ship were being collected. Norwegian Cruise Lines, in a press release, noted that there are large costs associated with keeping United States afloat in her current state—around $800,000 a year—and that, as the SS United States Conservancy has not been able to tender an offer for the ship, the company was actively seeking a "suitable buyer."[30]

Preservation efforts

Since 2009, when Norwegian Cruise Line offered the ship for sale, there have been numerous plans to rescue the liner from the scrap yard. The SS United States Conservancy, a group trying to save United States, has been trying to come up with funding to purchase the ship.[31] On 30 July 2009, H. F. Lenfest, a Philadelphia media entrepreneur and philanthropist, pledged a matching grant of $300,000 to help the United States Conservancy purchase the vessel from Star Cruises.[32] A notable supporter, former US president Bill Clinton, has also endorsed rescue efforts to save the ship, having sailed on her himself in 1968.[11][33]


An artist's rendering of the planned "multi-purpose waterfront complex".

By 7 May 2010, over $50,000 had been raised by The SS United States Conservancy[34] and on 1 July 2010, the Conservancy struck a deal with Norwegian Cruise Line to buy SS United States from them for a reported $3 million, despite a scrapper's bid for $5.9 million. The Conservancy was given until February 2011 to buy the ship and satisfy Environmental Protection Agency concerns related to toxins on the ship. They now have 20 months of financial support to develop a plan to clean the ship of toxins and make the ship financially self-supporting, possibly as a hotel or development.[7][35] SS United States Conservancy executive director Dan McSweeney has stated that likely locations for the ship include Philadelphia, New York City and Miami.[7][36] In November 2010, the Conservancy announced a plan to develop a "multi-purpose waterfront complex" with hotels, restaurants and a casino along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia at the proposed location for the stalled Foxwoods Casino project. A detailed study for the site was revealed in late November 2010, in advance of Pennsylvania's 10 December 2010 deadline for a deal aimed at Harrah's Entertainment taking over the casino project.[37] On 16 December 2010, the Gaming Control Board voted to revoke the casino's license.[38]

The SS United States Conservancy assumed ownership of United States on 1 February 2011.[5][39] In March talks about possible locations in Philadelphia, New York City and Miami continued. In New York City, negotiations with a developer are underway for the ship to become part of the Vision 2020,[40] a waterfront redevelopment plan totaling US$3.3 billion. In Miami, Ocean Group in Coral Gables was interested in putting the ship in a slip on the north side of American Airlines Arena.[41] With an additional US$5.8 million donation from H. F. Lenfest, the conservancy had about 18 months from March 2011 to make the ship a public attraction.[41] On 5 August 2011 the SS United States Conservancy announced that after conducting two studies focused on placing the ship in Philadelphia it was "not likely to work there for a variety of reasons." However, discussions to place the ship in her original home port of New York as a stationary attraction are ongoing.[42] The Conservancy's grant specifies that the refit and restoration must be done in the Philadelphia Navy Yard for the benefit of the Philadelphia economy, regardless of her eventual mooring site, the Conservancy continues to negotiate with possible stakeholders in the New York area.

By 7 February 2012 preliminary work has begun on the restoration project to prepare the ship for her eventual rebuild, although a contract has not yet been signed.[43] In April 2012 a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) was released as the start of an aggressive search for a developer for the ship. A Request for Proposals (RFP) is expected to be issued in May.[44] In July 2012, the SS United States Conservancy launched a new online campaign called "Save the United States", a blend of social networking and micro-fundraising, that allows donors to sponsor square inches of a virtual ship for redevelopment, while allowing them to upload photos and story content about their experience with the ship. The Conservancy announced that donors to the virtual ship will be featured in an interactive "Wall of Honor" aboard the future SS United States museum.[45][46] As of September, 2012, US$6 Million had been raised to turn the ship into a permanent waterfront attraction.[47] A developer was to be chosen by the end of 2012 with the intent of putting the ship in a selected city by summer 2013.[48] As of September, 2013, the ship remains in Philadelphia.


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 [|Ujifusa, Steven] (July 2012). A Man and his Ship. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 222. ISBN 978-1-4516-4507-1. 
  2. Cudahy, Brian J. (February 1997). Around Manhattan Island and Other Tales of Maritime NY. Fordham University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-8232-1761-8. Retrieved 2012-04-23. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Horne, George (24 June 1951). "Biggest U.S. Liner 'Launched' in Dock; New Superliner After Being Christened Yesterday". Retrieved 2012-04-23. (subscription required)
  4. Weinraub, Bernard (15 November 1969). "Liner United States Laid Up; Competition From Jets a Factor; The United States Cancels Voyages and Is Laid Up". Retrieved 2012-04-23. (subscription required)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Griffin, John (1 February 2011). "Save Our Ship: Passionate Preservationists Buy a National Treasure". ABC News. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  6. "Retirement and Layup". SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Pesta, Jesse (1 July 2010). "Famed Liner Steers Clear of Scrapyard". Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  8. Koeppel, Dan (June 2008). "World's Fastest Superliner Awaits Rebirth—or the Scrap Yard". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Pesta, Jesse (29 September 2009). "Fans of World's Fastest Ocean Liner Put Out a Distress Call ... – – – ...". Retrieved 2009-09-30. 
  10. "The Great Oceanliners". Retrieved 2012-09-22. [not in citation given]
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Life and Times of the SS United States". The Big U: The Story of the SS United States. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  12. Dempewolff, Richard F. (June 1952). "America Bids for the Atlantic Blue Ribbon". pp. 81–87, 252, 254. ISSN 00324558. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  13. "Early Years". SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  14. "SS United States". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  15. "Designing and Constructing Superliner SS United States". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  16. Kludas, Arnold (April 2002). Record Breakers of the North Atlantic: The Blue Riband Liners, 1838–1952. Brassey, Inc. ISBN 978-1-57488-458-6. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  17. "How Fast Can It Go?" (pdf). [dead link] Paper on actual speed of SS United States
  18. "SOS plan for faded ocean liner". 24 August 2009. [dead link]
  19. McKesson, Chris B., ed (13 February 1998). "Hull Form and Propulsor Technology for High Speed Sealift" (pdf). John J. McMullen Associates, Inc. pp. 13–14. Retrieved 2009-12-13. [dead link]
  20. Morris, Rob (1 March 2011). "Windmill Point Set to Go Out in a Blaze of Glory". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  21. "Press Conference at Philadelphia's Pier 82, Monday April 23, 3:30 PM". SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  22. "Title unknown". [dead link]
  23. "Title unknown". Maritime Matters. [dead link]
  24. McDevitt, John (9 May 2007). "Cruising Future Seen For a Rusting South Phila. Hulk". KYW Newsradio. Philadelphia. [dead link]
  25. Niemelä, Teijo (11 February 2009). "SS United States may be offered for sale". Cruise Business Online. Cruise Media Oy Ltd. Retrieved 2012-09-22. [not in citation given]
  26. "United States impending sale?". Maritime Matters. 10 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-11. [dead link]
  27. Hampson, Rick (3 July 2007). "Hopes dim for revival of SS United States". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  28. "SS United States: Lady in Waiting". bigshipfilms. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  29. "The Big U: The Story of the SS United States". The Big U. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  30. Ujifusa, Steven B. (3 March 2010). "SS United States now in grave peril". PlanPhilly. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  31. "Our History". SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  32. Moran, Robert (30 July 2009). "Phila. philanthropist to aid purchase of iconic ship". Philadelphia Newspapers LLC. Retrieved 2009-07-30. [dead link]
  33. "SS United States: America's Ship of State". SS United States Trust. 4 July 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  34. "Fund Aims To Save S.S. United States". Retrieved 2010-07-02. [dead link]
  35. Cox, Martin (30 June 2010). "Preservationists Perched To Buy SS UNITED STATES". Maritime Matters. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  36. "SSHSA 8 Page Promo Booklet". Steamship Historical Society of America. Fall 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-06. [not in citation given]
  37. McDevitt, John (21 November 2010). "America's Flagship Wants Stalled Foxwoods Casino Site". KYW Newsradio. Retrieved 2010-11-22. [dead link]
  38. Wittkowski, Donald (16 December 2010). "Gambling panel revokes license for proposed Foxwoods casino project in Philadelphia". The Press of Atlantic City. The Press of Atlantic City Media Group. Archived from the original on 2010-12-16. Retrieved 2010-12-17. 
  39. "Video of February 1 Title Transfer Event". SS United States Conservancy. 9 February 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  40. "Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 Knego, Peter (16 March 2011). "SS United States Latest". Maritime Matters. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  42. "An Update From Conservancy Executive Director Dan McSweeney". SS United States Conservancy. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  43. "Work Begins to Prepare the SS United States for Future Redevelopment". SS United States Conservancy. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  44. "SS United States Redevelopment Project Releases Request for Qualifications". SS United States Conservancy. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  45. "New Online Campaign Launches to Save the United States". SS United States Conservancy. 11 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  46. "Save the United States". SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  47. Smith, Karen (23 September 2012). "Local company helping save 'SS United States'". Observer & Eccentric Newspapers. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  48. "SS United States To be "Repurposed"". Cruise Industry News. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 

Further reading

External links

External images
The Liner "United States" Passing 42nd Street, New York (c. 1952) by Andreas Feininger, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Preceded by
Queen Mary
Holder of the Blue Riband (westbound)
Atlantic Eastbound Record
Succeeded by
Hoverspeed Great Britain

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