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

The United States Lives On


The S.S. United States Conservancy’s new “We are the United States” campaign launched May 12th urges all Americans to rally around the values embodied in our flagship and help raise critically-needed funds to prevent her from being lost to history. Visit https://www.wearetheunitedstates.org/ to learn how you can help join the effort to save America’s Flagship!

Your role is powerful and essential to the success of this effort. Please help us spread the word by sharing links to our GoFundMe page and our new website and blog –WeAreTheUnitedStates.org – on your favorite social media channels. So tell a friend about the campaigntogether, we can – and we must – save the United States

Photos by Carl Wesch

“The SS United States is… a symbol of our country’s industry and accomplishment… the destruction of the United States would be tantamount to destroying other national monuments like the Liberty Bell or the Statue of Liberty… we must maintain what is good and constant in our past if we are to imagine a better future.”

President William Jefferson Clinton, March 2010 letter provided by the SS United States Trust

Today the two former ocean rivals live on. In Long Beach, California, where the Queen Mary retired in 1967, she serves as a hotel, museum, and host for festivals. On the East Coast, the S.S. United States lies forlorn, a maritime bag lady covered in rust and bird droppings, her paint chipped and peeling.  Despite her sad decline, she maintains her dignity. From a distance she still looks majestic; up close she is still a thrilling site.

Over the past forty-three years she has had four owners. All dreamed of restoring her splendor with a second career as a cruise ship. Some say fate has not been kind to her; all four of those attempts failed and she came within a few dollars of being sold for scrap. However, as a cruise ship she would have been stripped of her grace and her ocean-going racer profile and turned into a slow Caribbean floating condominium, hardly a fate one would wish on the Queen of the American Merchant Marine. Then the ultimate end would come when the cruise line had worked her to the point of no financial return. The sale and final tow to the scrap yard in India would beach her, and then cut her open with a large hole in undersides to prevent refloating.

Instead, by some twist of fate, she is still with us, her exterior historic integrity unchanged. Her interiors are ready for development. With the removal of the asbestos, she is ready for a new life as a hotel/event space and museum.

There is hope for survival, at least according to Susan Gibbs and a dedicated group of preservationists. “We are trying to get a stay of execution,” explained Gibbs, granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs and Board President of the S.S. United States Conservancy,[1] a preservation group dedicated to saving the ship for future generations.

The United States will soon be sixty years old, and is currently fighting for her life. So far, the preservationists are holding the scrappers at bay. The S.S. United States project concept is currently for a mixed-use development that may include a variety of feasible uses for the ship’s more than 500,000 square feet of enclosed space including, but not limited to, hotel, restaurants, event space, retail, and educational facilities.

Here’s to the survival of the “Big Ship”, and to a tour of the engine room where Chief Kaiser and his men made the tough decisions and nursed the engines to deliver a decisive victory. Here’s to visiting the bridge where Commodore Manning guided the ship safely through fog and gale to win the “Blue Riband”, then down to the promenade deck where in the emotion of the moment, happy passengers let themselves go in joyous celebration.  As William Francis Gibbs once said, “You can’t catch her, you can’t set her on fire, and you can’t sink her.” Today, we need to add to the list “and you can’t scrap her.”

  • Photo by Carl Wesch
  • Photo by Carl Wesch
  • Photo by Carl Wesch
  • Photo by Carl Wesch
  • Photo by Carl Wesch

9 thoughts on “The United States Lives On

  1. john perry

    I have a champagne glass so i was told it was from the Median voyage. Had 2. if there are it can come home

  2. ralda gerrits-singer

    I was on that ship in 1960 as a 12 year old girl. My parents decided to emigrate to the US and we left the LaHavre seaport in France. It was a bit traumatic in many ways as I was happily established in a small village in north Holland after having lived in Djakarta Indonesia my entire life. So here we were on our way to what I perceived to be a faraway scary place with such an uncertain future. Yikes!!!! Well, here I am almost 60 years later and still remembering all those times. Seeing the New York skyline and the statue of Liberty in the distance on a foggy morning in October was a sight I will never forget. Ended up in Los Angeles and now a resident in Orange County.

  3. Larry Driscoll Post author


    I made the same voyage on the America in 1950 in the opposite direction, New York to Le Havre to move to France.Experienced the same emotions and fears, but oh what a voyage on that beautiful ship, loved every minute of it. I finally did return home in 1957 more French than American… which required another round of adjustments.

  4. Marguerita (Hes) Ryan

    In 1953 I was born in Bogor Indonesia, we moved to Holland when I was about six months old. Our family of seven took the ocean liner Johan Van Oldenarnevelt to the Netherlands, through the Suez Canal, what a wonderful site that must have been…to bad I was just a baby!

    In April of 1960 my parents decided to take that long journey to the United States! We drove in a van to LaHarve, France, for being so young it was an exciting journey for me, not realizing the journey had just begun. This whole experience was and still is one of my most treasured memories! The movie theatre, elevators, the deck, dining room, all that wonderful mid-century modern furniture, that was just the most exciting adventure any small child could ever have. I can still hear and see the men walking around ringing the dinner bells…ding…ding…ding..

    I’ve become obsessed with my love and affection I have for the Big U, I’ve been buying lots of wonderful items to remember her by.

    I saw her a few years ago with my husband daughter and grandchildren in Philadelphia, I cried, just the saddest thing ever to see, she was so beautiful and so sad now.

    I do hope she will be repaired and will be enjoyed for many more years to come, even if she stays docked…if so I will definitely make my way back to Philadelphia and visit her one more time. Plus I will return all the little treasures I’ve collected back to the Big U.

  5. Guenther Englisch

    I immigrated from Germany with my parents in December, 1958. I was 10 years old at the time and also, will never forget entering new York harbor. I only wish that it would be possible to visit the ship in Philadelphia..

  6. RB

    My mother past away a couple years ago and as I went through her old things, came upon an elegant photo of her with her husband at the time, in the first class dining room aboard the S.S. United States in 1957. On the back of the photo was a note in her hand, “New York to Le Havre Same ship with Walt Disney” This was one of her stories she loved to share that they dined every night at a table next to
    Walt Disney! Apparently, the seating was based alphabetically and my mother’s last name started with Di.

    My mother was Japanese and was married to an officer in the US army; therefore got to travel 1st class all over the world. It was a glamorous time. I have photos of her in beautiful cocktail dresses as well as formal kimonos (such as in this photo) I wish I had learned more detail about this experience while I had the chance.

    I stumbled upon this website in my research on the great ocean liner. So sad to see the state she is in today after all that glory.

  7. Darlene allen

    My uncle passed away 20 years ago. He had no children. Everything he had was passed to my mother who died at 97 three years ago. I just came across linen napkins, 3 beautiful luncheon menus and 3 red white and blue dinner menus (march 2, 3, and 4th) and 1 breakfast menu, Monday march 3 and 3 luncheon menus dated March 3, 4 and 5. I also have some of the linens napkins embossed USS. My uncle received a Purple Heart in WW II for significant injuries so I am wondering why the occasion for him to go back to return to the US via this ship. Can you shed any light? His name was Leo baggett.

  8. Brian V. trimbach

    I was 9 years old, in 1962, when my family sailed from England on The United States. I have vived memories of that rough, albeit ellegant and fun, winter crossing. May she sail again or, at the very least, be refitted in her 1950s original style and become an elegant tourist attraction as the Queen Mary did. I nstill have some tickets, a toy model of her and other momentos from that voyage.

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