Built in 1950, the SS United States is over 1,000 feet long and holds the record for fastest transatlantic crossing. The maiden voyage for the SS United States was in 1952, and she took back the Blue Ribbon for the United States. Her transatlantic crossing beat the fourteen-year record of the Queen Mary by over ten hours (with a time of 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes). It was no surprise to the print media however. It was predicted the SS United States would easily beat the record with its speed of 36 knots. On its return voyage to New York, which took only 3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes, the record for the westbound crossing was also taken by the SS United States. To this day, the westbound crossing record is held by the SS United States.
The 1950s was a lavish time in America and the pleasure cruise was at its height. The SS United States was also at her peak. Throughout the 1950s, the ship was often 90% booked with each voyage. However, the jet age was entering maturity. Travel was no longer a leisure, but an inconvenience to many and the ocean-going cruise liners were hit hard. In 1964, the SS United States was sold to a foreign company and in November 1969, she was withdrawn from passenger service and laid up in Norfolk, Virginia.
SAVING THE SS UNITED STATES
The United States Navy had control of the ship until she was sold in 1978. In 1984, the interiors were auctioned off to pay off various debts. The SS United States was eventually moved to Philadelphia in 1996. There was hope in 2002, however, when the Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the ship with the intent to renew service. This proved to be too costly and the Norwegian Cruise Lines offered the ship for sale. Many scrap yards expressed interest.
It was about this time that a group of people took interest in the SS United States because they did not want to see it scrapped and the SS United States Conservancy was born. Fund raising efforts were strong, but not strong enough to purchase the ship for NCL. In 2010, however, that changed. A local philanthropist, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, donated up to $5.8 million to purchase the ship from NCL. The Conservancy is now working to find a future home for the SS United States. Plans have been suggested for making the ship into a casino in Philiadephia, while others have suggested she should be moved to New York City. Either way, the cost is going to be high. The ship was stripped of everything in the 1980s, but this also presents an opportunity. She is, in essence, a blank slate.
As a historian, I hate to see an important piece of maritime history teetering on the edge of destruction. The SS United States would be a great addition to a casino or as a hotel. The preservation of the ship is of upmost importance. Naturally there are critics of the efforts to preserve the ship, but I do not want to see the SS United States have the fate of her sister ship, the SS America. The SS America was being towed to a new location when she ran a ground. Little effort was made to save the ship and she ultimately rusted and collapsed into the sea.
The SS United States is an important part of America’s history and deserves every chance to be immortalized. The ship has many connections to families across the world, but it should also hold a special connection to every American. Ships such as the Lusitania and Titanic are immortalized, but they are not American ships. The SS United States was the pride of American cruising in the 1950s. Today, cruise liners are popular, but none are American. The SS United States and her sister ship, the SS America were two out of a small number of American flag ships. The SS America is gone and the SS United States faces a similar fate.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
-Donate to the SS United States Conservancy
-Purchase items from the SS United States Conservancy Store
-Become a SS United States Plank Owner
-Post links to this blog or to SS United States sites on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.
SS United States Conservancy