S.S. AMERICA, S.S. UNITED STATES sailing on the 'All American' team to Europe

The SS United States, The Last Queen of the U.S. Merchant Marine


The SS United States, The Last Queen of the U.S. Merchant Marine: Part one:

From a three part series by Larry  Driscoll

 PowerShips: Summer 2011


Launched in the early 1950’s the S.S. United States quickly challenged the famed Cunard Liner Queen Mary for the “Blue Riband”, the mythical prize for speed across the North Atlantic. Elegant, sleek, modern, and fast she set a new speed on her maiden voyage in 1952 – the first American-flagged ship to do so in over 100 years. As America’s passenger flagship, she served as a global symbol of US engineering and design excellence. Loved by passengers and crew she also achieved public admiration on both sides of the Atlantic as an icon of of modern transportation.. Today she is still with us, moored on the Delaware in Philadelphia and coming perilously close to a sailing for the scrapyard. This is the story of a great American ship, the people who built and sailed her continuing struggle survive..  HISTORY

THE NEED FOR SPEED. 1946-1952 Since 1838 steam driven ships had been racing across the Atlantic in cut throat competition for passengers and national honor. The American flagged Collins liner Baltic won the race for the “Blue Riband” in 1854; since then the country had produced also ran’s in a race dominated by British and Europeans ships. That is until 1946, when United States Lines President John Franklin, his sense of patriotism offended by his country’s inability to produce a winning ship and loosing business to his long time rival, the Cunard Line, decided to shake things up. He would challenge the current record holder, the Cunard Liner Queen Mary for the “Blue Riband”. His new ship would be nothing less than the “greatest ship in the world,” a ship the American traveling public could “get behind – like a cup defender – the mythical flagship of our fleet.” All he needed was a partner with deep pockets and a brilliant naval architect who could deliver one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.
THE RUN FOR THE BLUE RIBAND:  JULY,  1952 United State Lines president John Franklin and naval architect William Francis Gibbs knew they had very fast ship. On its maiden voyage the United States had the horsepower to not only outrun the Queen Mary for the ‘Blue Riband’ but win by a considerable margin.  In their racing instructions to Captain Manning both urged caution. “Under no circumstances should you beat the record by very much,” Gibbs told Manning. “Hold back until they (Cunard) have a faster ship, then beat her.” Gibbs also worried about breakdowns from pushing a green crew and new machinery to hard. Franklin remembered the Titanic’s disastrous maiden voyage. As the general manager of the White Star line in New York his father bore the brunt of the disaster’s aftermath.  “I want to make one thing perfectly clear,” Franklin instructed Manning. “The complete safety of the passengers and the ship is our number one priority. You will shut her down if you encounter heavy weather or fog.” Captain Manning regarded the instructions as merely advice. He had his own plans and they did not involve restraint. READ MORE. 

Click on picture for full size vue

Click on picture for full size

In the 1970’s the cruise market took off along with hope that the United States would sail again as a cruise ship. At least that was the plan of real estate developer Richard Hadley. A weekend sailor with no experience in shipping, Hadley purchased the liner in 1978 on easy terms, $500 thousand down on a purchase price of $5 million.