The Golden Era of Transatlantic Voyage: Ep. 1 SS United States – The Record-Breaking Ocean Liner

This was the last Transatlantic liner

This impressive ship was the last of the huge Transatlantic liners that used to roam the oceans. Before the plane made maritime travel obsolete, people used to fill the cabins of this kind of vessel and embarked on a few days trip from Europe to America.

SS United States entered service in 1952 and on its maiden voyage broke all the records for speed. She managed to cross the Atlantic in three days, 12 hours and 12 minutes. The 2,900 nautical miles trip was made with an average speed of 34.5 knots. That's fast, even by today's standards.

This luxury passenger liner was built in 1952 and was operated by United States Lines. Designed by American naval architect William Francis Gibbs and built at the cost of $79.4 million, that is equivalent of $733 million in today's money.

The ship still holds the record and the Blue Riband – Hales Trophy, an accolade that was awarded to passengers ships that crossed the Atlantic in regular service with the record highest speed.

SS United States holds also the record for the fastest eastbound crossing: three days, 10 hours and 40 minutes.

It's no surprise that she was fast. Built just after the end of World War II, United States was the largest passenger liner constructed entirely in the US. The build was subsidized by the US government since she was designed to be converted to a troop ship if needed. This is why the propulsion system was deemed top secret for many decades. The Big U, as she was known, used four propellers, two with five blades and two with four blades. They were 5.5m in diameter and made from manganese bronze.

SS United States had the most powerful steam turbines of any merchant ship delivering 240,000 hp (180 MW). It was the equivalent power of a Forrestal-class aircraft carrier. The United States was capable of steaming astern at over 20 knots and she will cruise at 35 knots. Also, the fuel tanks were big enough for a 10.000 nautical miles journey. The ship was built extensively from aluminum, and that saved a lot of weight. Besides the weight savings, this made the ship fireproof. No wood or textile rugs were used in any part of the ship. The designer of the ship even commissioned an aluminum piano, but it never got built. Instead, the ballroom used a grand piano made from fire-resistant wood species and was accepted on board only after a demonstration in which gasoline was poured over the wood and ignited.

The SS United States was active from 1952 to 1969 and it carried presidents like John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman plus celebrities like Marilyn Monroe.

Today, the fate of the once great United States is uncertain. Since 1996, she is docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

The interiors have been stripped, and she lies in ruin across the Ikea parking lot. There have been many plans to salvage the ship and return it to its former glory, but none prevailed. Crystal Cruises commissioned a feasibility study to return the ship to oceangoing service, but in the end, they decided that the obstacles are too great.

The only option is transforming the ship into a piece of real estate, following the examples of other great ships like the Queen Mary or SS Rotterdam. Both are permanently docked and house hotels, office space, restaurants and bars. Queen Mary can be found in Long Beach California, while SS Rotterdam found a permanent home in her's home port in The Netherlands.

Photo Credits: CBS, NY Times,, MuseumShips, NY Observer, NY Mag

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