SS United States
For over one hundred years passenger liners had been racing across the Atlantic in cutthroat competition for the Blue Riband, the prize for the best crossing time. The winners were objects of national pride for they represented the best in a country’s technology, culture, and way of life. For over 100 years this transatlantic derby had been the domain of fast and luxurious European ocean liners. That was about to change when the new superliner SS United States sailed into New York Harbor.
A Brief History of the SS United States
On June 23, 1952, the new superliner SS United States made her inaugural entrance into her home port of New York. Sailing triumphantly up the Hudson River, fog horn blowing the ship was a sight to behold. A slim trim hull stretched 990 feet, just short of five city blocks. At 53,300 gross weight tons, she was wider and weighed more than the Titanic. Two massive red, white, and blue stacks towered over the ship hinting at the engine power below. From the keel to the top of her smokestacks, the liner stood 175 feet, the height of a twelve-story building. A clipper bow and sleek, uncluttered white superstructure provided the appearance of a serious racing machine.
The United States was the lifelong dream of William Francis Gibbs, a Harvard dropout one time lawyer, and self-taught naval architect who, despite his lack of formal training, made the cover of Time magazine as America’s premier maritime architect.
The United States is currently docked in Philadelphia. For an update on her status visit the SS United States Conservancy
For the United States, he used a time-tested formula for maximum speed, combining all-out driving power with light displacement. For lightness, he used aluminum in the superstructure. For speed, Gibbs installed high-pressure steam machinery developing 240,000 shaft horsepower propelling a ship of 53,300 gross weight tons The result; was an ocean liner that sailed at a destroyer-like speed of 38.32 knots or 44 mph.
Gibb’s formula fast ocean liner produced a winner. On July 7 1952 the United States cut 10 hours off the Atlantic speed record set 14 years earlier by the Queen Mary. The crossing time from New York to the finish line at Bishop’s Rock UK a little over 3 days and then hours at an average speed of 35.59 knots (1). The ship and her crew were celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. 150,000 New Yorkers turned out to give the captain and chief engineer REST OF THE STORYa Broadway ticker-tape parade.
SMOOTH SAILING 1950-1958
With her good looks, celebrity status, and luxury, the ship had the right mix of 1950’s glamour to attract the rich and famous. The ship’s passenger list included Hollywood stars such as Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. Royalty included the King and Queen of Greece, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
TROUBLED WATERS. 1958-1969.
By 1969 the losses became unsustainable. On the morning of September 7, 1969, the United States docked at her New YorkCity pier discharged her passengers for the last time. Later that evening, she departed for Newport, Virginia, and permanent layup.
The United States Maritime Administration took over ownership and put it up for sale.
THE UNITED STATES TODAY
With a bit of Luck and Divine providence, the United States has survived fifty-three years of various owners and close calls with the scrappers. Today she is docked in Philadelphia under the ownership of the SS United States Conservancy. The dedicated group of volunteers led by William Francis Gibbs granddaughter, Susan Gibbs.
For more information on the current status of the United States, Visit the SS United States Conservancy.
S.S. United States at a Glance
|Length overall||990 feet|
|Beam||101 feet 6 inches|
|Propulsion||Steam turbine, quadruple screw|
|Total shaft horsepower||240,000|
|Top speed||38.32 knots or 44.098 land miles per hour|
|Keel to top of forward funnel||175 feet|
|Builders||Newport NewsShipping & Dry Dock Company|
|Crew||Deck 89 -Engine 16 6- Purser 33 – Medical 9 – Steward 738 = 1068|
|Cabins||First Class 344 – Cabin Class – 178 – Tourist 173 – Klennel 20 dogs|
|Passengers||First Class 904 – Cabin Class – 524 – Tourist 554 = 1,982 Klennel 20 dogs|
|Fares 1952, off season||First Class $360- Cabin Class – $227 – Tourist $170|
|Troup ship capacity||14,000|
|Designers||Gibbs & Cox, Naval Architect|
|Eggers & Higgins, Interior Architects|
|Smyth, Urquhart, & Marckwald, Interior Designers|
|Owner||United States Lines|
|Current Location (June 2012)||Philadelphia PA|
Celebrity Travelers On the SS United States
With her regal presence, championship speed, good looks, and the secrecy surrounding her engine room, the SS United States had a magical presence that provided the glamour that attracted the rich and famous. She represented an imaginative picture of a better world where travel itself was a privilege, service and dress were more upscale, and style and beauty prevailed. People who traveled on the SS United States included the best and brightest from the worlds of stage, high society, politics, business, and royalty. The passenger list included actors such as Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, and John Wayne, Joan Crawford. Royalty included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the King, and Queen of Greece, Prince Rainier, and Princess Grace of Monaco. Former Presidents Eisenhower and Truman sailed on her. Also on the passenger list, future President John Kennedy, his wife Jackie, and in 1968, a young student headed for Oxford, Bill Clinton. Traveling in tourist with his saxophone, he aided seasick fellow Rhodes scholars with helpings of soup and crackers.
THE A LIST
• Katharine Hepburn
• Lawrence Oliver
• Red Skelton
• Shirley MacLaine
• Cary Grant
• Former President Harry Truman and Mrs Truman
• Tony Martin
• David Jensen
• Senator and Mrs Kennedy
• Jane Wyman
• Marlon Brando
• Bob Hope
• Rita Hayworth
• Sean Connery
• Former President Dwight and Mrs Eisenhower
• Marilyn Monroe
• Walter Cronkite
• Fred MacMurray
• Joan Crawford
• Salvador Dali (painter)
• Leopolod Stokowski (conductor)
• Leonard Bernstein (conductor)
• Irving Berlin (conductor)
• Mahalia Jackkson (gospel singer)
• Elizabeth Taylor
• Duke and Duchess of Windsor
• Prince Rainier
• Grace Kelly
• Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia
• Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt
• Gary Cooper
Comparing the SS United States and the Queen Mary 2
SS United States vs Queen Mary 2
It’s interesting to compare the express Liner SS United States and the liner/cruise ship R.M.S Queen Mary 2. They are both ocean liners, built to maintain the schedule and handle the rigors of sailing year round on the North Atlantic Ocean. That’s where the similarities end and their profiles show the difference..
Built to survive financially Queen Mary 2 is no speed queen. Speed cost money and balcony cabins produce revenue, thus she is a combination cruise ship and ocean liner.
Built to serve as a troop ship and ship of state, the United States is a sleek racing machine. Balconies and speed don’t mix when a ship is heading into a cold wind at 32 knots (36.8 mph) At that speed it wasn’t even safe to open a porthole.
Having sailed on both I offer the following comparison in the style of ‘Comparo’ from Car and Driver magazine
R.M.S. QUEEN MARY 2
+ The British persona, stabilized ride, getting there is still half the fun. A floating maritime museum. The last alternative to the indignities of air travel.
– Its no ocean greyhound but who cares. Strong family resemblance to a Carnival cruise ship. Miss those ‘Bon Voyage parties.’
= Transportation for those who still believe that staggering round a transatlantic liner in a dinner jacket with a martini is the normal, rational, reasonable way to cross the Atlantic. A grand ocean liner that preserves In style and spirit the classic the rituals of the traditional transatlantic crossing.
• Gross tonnage: 151,400
• Horsepower: 157,168
• Top speed 29.6 knots
• Service speed: 26 knots
• Passengers: 2,620
SS UNITED STATES
+ Speed and good looks, the ‘Concorde’ of the North Atlantic liners. Friendly personal service. Living in an unplugged world, no cells, TV, internet. A thrilling ride.
– The roller coaster ride in heavy weather (it was still a thrill), Titanic style class division isolated passengers and cut the ship up. Required a generous taxpayer subsidy to operate. Antiseptic luxury. Two Star accommodations in Tourist
= An American original. To sail on her was to experience a superb sailing machine with dashing good looks and comfort of an ocean going yacht. A technological marvel loaded with ‘Wow’ factor.
• Gross tonnage: 53,300
• Horsepower: 240,000
• Top speed: 42 knots
• Service speed: 32 knots
• Passengers: 2,008
Views From the Past, Hope for the Future
The SS United States interiors then and now
The SS United States interiors were stripped to remove asbestos. The art, furniture, silverware, navigation equipment went under the auction hammer to pay for docking fees. Yet despite her peeling paint and bare interiors, she maintains her dignity ready for a comeback as a hotel/museum, and event center. The United States is looking forward to the sounds of footsteps on her deck, dancing in the ballroom, and a chance to tell her story to future generations.
Views from the past and hope for the future show what once was and her current state in Philadelphia.
Her future lies with a dedicated group of fans fighting to save the ship. Follow their progress go to the SS United States Conservancy.