Tag Archives: William Francis Gibbs

SS United States Update

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Today, the SS United States Conservancy announced that a preliminary deal has been made to save the SS United States and restore it as a mixed use facility including a museum. Conservancy director Susan Gibbs released the following information:

Dear SS United States Conservancy Supporters:

We are very pleased to confirm that we have now entered into a preliminary agreement in support of the redevelopment of the SS United States.  Negotiations have been underway for some time, and planning will continue with a variety of stakeholders. While further due diligence is conducted, the Conservancy will receive financial support to cover the vessel’s core carrying costs for at least an additional three months.

The project remains at an early and delicate phase, but we wanted to update our supporters about this encouraging development. As you can appreciate, the ship’s potential redevelopment represents a multifaceted engineering, real estate, and curatorial undertaking that will take considerable time to advance. Many challenges must still be overcome.However, we are fortunate that our new partners are very well equipped to handle this unique project’s scope and scale, and the Conservancy looks forward to working closely with them in the months to come.
  
Because negotiations are advancing on a confidential basis, we are unable to offer further specifics at this time. We will share additional information as soon as we possibly can. Again, the Conservancy views this as a very positive development which, while still in its initial stages, gives us renewed hope that we can, at long last, Save the United States.
  
We have reached this moment because so many of you have helped us. You are the real heroes of this effort.  We are particularly grateful to Gerry Lenfest, whose transformative contributions enabled the Conservancy to take title to the SS United States in 2011, and who has been a steadfast supporter of our efforts.  We also extend our heartfelt gratitude to Jim Pollin. Without his leadership gift and challenge grant to the Conservancy last summer – and without such a generous response from far and wide to Jim’s call – we would never have achieved this milestone.
  
While the ship is safe for the moment, this achievement doesn’t mean our work is done. The Conservancy continues to plan our ship-board museum and educational center, build our archival and curatorial collections, document and disseminate the ship’s historic importance, plan for contingencies, and work together with our new redevelopment partners to prepare the SS United States for her voyage to her next port of call.
  
Again, we can’t thank you enough for joining us on this journey and for helping us reach this point. We will honor your commitment by continuing to work tirelessly to ensure that America’s Flagship endures and inspires for generations to come.

With our warmest wishes for the holidays,

Susan Gibbs signature 
Susan Gibbs
Executive Director
SS United States Conservancy 

Image Source: SSUSC.org

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Where Titanic Failed, American Vessel Stood Tall

By: Susan Gibbs

Originally published in the USA Today, April 13, 2012

As we approach the Titanic’s 100th anniversary on Sunday, the doomed luxury liner seems to be sailing across every television and computer screen. Amidst the rapt attention paid to a British ship’s tragic end, the most famous ocean liner that never sank still bears the proud name United States. Though sadly overlooked by most Americans, our nation’s flagship still serves as an enduring symbol of American postwar power, pride and innovation.

There are many measures of a vibrant society — the freedom it guarantees its citizens, its technological advancement and the opportunities it affords its people, to name just a few. An advanced society is also one that appreciates its own history. As the red, white and blue funnels of the SS United States fade in Philadelphia, this storied ship, once a metaphor for American strength and ingenuity, risks becoming a tragic symbol of our nation’s decline. We cannot allow that to happen.

While the Titanic carried more than 1,500 passengers to a watery grave on her first Atlantic crossing, the SS United States barreled across the ocean on her record-breaking maiden voyage averaging 35.59 knots— or more than 40 miles per hour. On that historic trip in 1952, America’s answer to Europe’s dominance of the seas sped through the water with such force that bow waves blasted the paint off her hull. She became the fastest ocean liner ever built using only two-thirds of her power and still holds the trans-Atlantic speed record for a passenger ship, nearly 60 years after her launch. The SS United States could go faster in reverse than the Titanic could travel forward.

Storied history

After a ticker tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes in New York honoring her crew, the “Big U” went on to serve for 17 mishap-free years, carrying more than a million passengers across the sea, including four U.S. presidents, business moguls, movie stars, military personnel and immigrants beginning new lives on our shores.

SS United States Returns from its Record Breaking Maiden Voyage

Built as part of a top-secret Pentagon project to create the safest and fastest ocean liner ever constructed, the 1,000-foot-liner is 100 feet longer than the Titanic. The size of the Chrysler Building, the SS United States served as both a luxury liner and Cold War weapon, capable of transporting 15,000 troops, 10,000 miles without refueling.

Like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Washington Monument, there is only one SS United States.
Thanks in part to lessons learned from the Titanic’s tragic demise, the SS United States was designed for safety. The ship’s dual engine rooms ensured that she could still make port even if one of them flooded. The ship’s aluminum superstructure eliminated the need for “expansion joints” — small seams in the steel superstructure that contributed to the Titanic’s breakup.

Major safety precautions

The “Big U” was completely fireproof. Her designer, my grandfather William Francis Gibbs, took this mandate to an extreme. He demanded that Theodore Steinway customize the ship’s baby grand pianos in aluminum. Mahogany pianos were permitted only after Steinway offered to douse one in gasoline and ignite it to illustrate its fire-retardant qualities. The wooden shuffleboard discs were replaced with plastic alternatives, and the conductor’s baton was rendered in aluminum. However, as one magazine noted wryly after the vessel’s debut, they had “devised no way of rendering the musicians incombustible.”

Rather than resting some two-and-a-half miles below the ocean’s surface off the coast of Newfoundland, the SS United States still floats at a Philadelphia pier. Decommissioned in 1969, she has passed through the hands of a number of owners over the decades. The non-profit SS United States Conservancy saved the ocean liner from certain scrapping last year by purchasing the vessel, thanks to a grant from a patriotic philanthropist named H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest.

This irreplaceable piece of American engineering is now poised to serve our nation and the world yet again. Partners and supporters from across the country are needed to help redevelop the vessel as a mixed use destination featuring a museum, educational programs and other uses in an urban waterfront setting. The ship’s more than 650,000 square feet of interior space offers unique opportunities to explore and celebrate everything from American technological innovation, engineering, and postwar history to sea-going travel and the Mad Men era.

In response to the Titanic’s sinking, the bishop of Winchester stated: “The Titanic, name and thing, will stand for a monument and warning to human presumption.” The SS United States also stands as a monument and also issues a warning. Today, the Big U quietly warns us that time, tide and complacency can threaten even our most awe-inspiring patriotic symbols.

The Titanic and the SS United States both embodied their nation’s loftiest aspirations. But only one of these legendary vessels can still be saved for future generations. Once the Titanic memorials, movies and television shows become a memory, we have a chance to save our own history.

Susan Gibbs is the executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and the granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the designer of the SS United States.

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REPOST: SS United States: A Ship in Distress

I wrote this last October and the situation has not changed with the SS United States.  She is still in danger of going to the scrapyard.  The Conservancy took over as title owners of the ship in early 2011, but only have the funds to keep her until August 2012.  If no plans for the ships future are secured by then, the Conservancy will have to sell her for scrap.  The Conservancy is working to get cooperate donations and partnerships established to save the ship from meeting an unnecessary end.  Please consider donating to the Conservancy or sharing this post with others to help spread the word about the SS United States.

“This is a crime against shipbuilding – a crime against history…[to] let such a ship die such a miserable death.”

-Walter Cronkite, 2007

HISTORY

SS United States

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 not 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.

SS United States’s Lavish Interior

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 revive the ship.  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 reborn.  Fund raising efforts were strong, but not strong enough to purchase the ship for NCL.  In June 2010, however, that changed.  A local philanthropist, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, donated up to $5.8 million to purchase the ship from NCL.  The title transfer was completed February 1, 2011, and the Conservancy is now working to build a future 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 great, and investors will be required.  The ship was stripped of everything in the 1980s, but this also presents an opportunity.  She is, in essence, a blank slate.

SS United States today in Philadelphia

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 tragic end of the SS America

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 Americawere two out of a small number of American flag ships.  The SS America is gone and the SS United States faces a similar fate.

Video of Title Transfer

Be sure to follow the SS United State Conservancy on Facebook andTwitter!

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.

Sources:

SS United States Conservancy

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