Images of Steamship SS ‘United States’
The steamship SS ‘United States’ was launched in 1952 in an era of immense optimism after the end of the World War II, when strong rebuilding of the world was taking place. The age of the jet engine was several decades away and the fastest and most glamorous way to cross the Atlantic Ocean was via a steamship liner. Many steamship companies were involved in the trade of bringing immigrants to the US form Europe, but mainly British steamship companies – as one may had expected – were ruling the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and many more seas, with fast, glamorous vessels that would set records for size, speed, luxury and innovation.
The steamship SS ‘United States’ had been the answer of a fast growing country looking to establish its dominance in the world after the World War II; the US had decisively tipped the outcome of WWII, and as a result, its place at the top of the table and its leadership of the world came to be expected.
The story of the steamship SS ‘United States’ is the story of the United Sates coming to prominence on the world scene; from the ‘gestation’ of the design to the time, efforts, dedication and perseverance to be built the vessel one can find a reflection of the history of the United States itself.
The vessel had been the fascination – and some would say the obsession – of one single-minded man, William Francis Gibbs. He started designing the vessel almost two decades before her launch, taking into consideration the latest advances of naval architecture and marine engineering, incorporating advanced standards of safety and luxury, with an eye always to smash the speed record typically set by the British liner vessels. For many reasons, mostly financials and the war circumstances, the vessel could not be built until two decades later. All this time, Mr William Francis Gibbs, brightly kept the hope of the ship alive and kept constantly upgrading and updating the design to incorporate new advancement and ideas.
After the end of World War II, commercial considerations for passengers crossing the Atlantic became more favorable. At the same time, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) under President Franklin D Roosevelt – probably, the most merchant-marine-ambitious president in the USA history – was aware that should any military flare-ups after WWII should take place in Korea, etc, there would be need to transfer troops fast worldwide; thus, the need of a ‘part time’ / ‘stand by’ fast ship or fleet of ships to position troops. Navigating the bureaucracy in Washington DC was almost as challenging as delivering this miracle of a vessel for Mr Gibbs: 250,000 shaft horsepower, registered 36 knot speed and taking the Blue Riband from RMS ‘Queen Mary’ (actual top speed has been unknown for security reasons, rumored to be more than 45 knots), 4,000-berths, one of the first indoor swimming pools with real sand, onboard theater and stage, tennis court, twenty-two decks (as a comparison MV ‘Norwegian Breakaway’ – one of today’s biggest cruiseships has ‘only’ eighteen decks), and other amenities. In order for the vessel to be fire-proof, the only piece of wood onboard was the butcher’s block, as even Steinway had to design a special piano for the ship made of aluminum. The vessel cost $78 mil at the time (almost $700 mil in today’s purchasing power), of which 50% was contributed by the US government.
The vessel presently is docked at Pier 82 in Philadelphia waiting for the kindness of strangers from a different era in order to see another day. There have been efforts to save the vessel and convert her to a museum ship or other development that would keep her afloat and preserved for future generations. There have been many promising starts but also heart-breaks over the years… It costs $60,000 per month just to maintain the vessel at her present condition, just for docking and insurance. The vessel is under the management of the SS United States Conservancy, and the non-for-profit foundation faces a drop-dead deadline by the end of this month to find the budget or solution for the vessel; otherwise, the vessel SS ‘United States’ would have the inglorious end of many a ship, the blow torch.
For a vessel so closely associated with the aspiration and dreams of the United States to rule the waves of the world, a vessel so closely associated with the ascend of the United States to the world scene after WWII, it will be a shame for this vessel to be scrapped.
The passage of time is a brutal reminder that everything has an expiration date on our planet, especially for floating structures, but some of such floating structures are just too close to our history, to our tradition, to the baton we eventually will pass to the future generations…
Please consider donating for this worthy cause at the website of the SS United States Conservancy website.
Images of the SS ‘United States’ were taken in March 2014 when we had the fortunate opportunity to visit the vessel.
Additional information about the history of the vessel and images can be found at our previous post.
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