SS United States

From Academic Kids

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SS United States postcard
Keel Laid:February 8 1950
Launched:June 23 1951
Sea Trials:May/June 1952
Maiden Voyage:July 3 1952
Fate:Laid up
General Characteristics
Tonnage:53,329 gross tons
Length:990 ft (301.8 m)
Beam:101 ft (31 m)
Height:175 ft (53 m)
Service Speed:35 knots (65 km/h)
Max Speed:44.7 knots (82.8 km/h)
Cost:$78 million
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SS United States (background) with running mate SS America (foreground)
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The "Big U" in her glory days
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SS United States rusts at a Philadelphia dock
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SS United States under steam

The SS United States (also known as "The Big U") is an ocean liner built in 1952. She is the largest ocean liner built to date in the United States and is still the fastest liner in the world.



The United States government was interested in constructing a large, fast merchant vessel capable of transporting large numbers of soldiers in time of war, similar to the exemplary war service provided by the British liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth during World War II. Designed by renowned American naval architect and marine engineer William Francis Gibbs, the liner's construction was a joint effort between the United States Navy and United States Lines. Her construction was heavily subsidized by the U.S. government, underwriting $50 million of the $78 million construction cost, with the ship's operators, United States Lines, contributing the remaining $28 million. In exchange, she was designed to be easily converted into a troopship in the case of war.

Built from 1950-1952 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Newport News,VA the United States was built to exacting Navy specifications. Similar to other Navy ships, major requirements included a vessel that was inherently fireproof and also heavily compartmentalized should the vessel sustain damage while under attack in time of war.

Mindful that during World War II U.S. aircraft carriers, with wooden flight decks, tended to fire more readily than steel-decked British carriers, the designers of the United States didn't use a single piece of wood in her framing, accessories or decorations. No wood interior surfaces and fittings, including all furniture and fabrics, were custom made in glass, metal and spun glass fiber to ensure they were in full compliance with strict fireproof guidelines set by the U.S. Navy. Even the clothes hangers in the luxury cabins were made of aluminium. The only wooden equipment used in the construction of the vessel was in the bilge keels and butcher blocks in the galleys. The grand piano in the ballroom was even made of a rare, fire-resistant species of wood.

The construction of the ship's superstructure involved the largest use of aluminum in any construction project to that time, and presented a special challenge to the builders insofar as issues it created in joining the aluminum structure to the steel decks below. The significant use of aluminum provided an extreme weight savings. At 106 ft (32 m) beam, the United States was built to Panamax capacity, ensuring that she could clear the Panama Canal locks with just 2 feet (0.6 m) to spare on either side. In addition to the use of fireproof materials and the immense reduction in weight through the use of an all-aluminum superstructure, the United States featured the most powerful engine installation in a merchant marine vessel. While hull and propulsion information remained a government secret from 1952 until the ship was pulled from service in November 1969, it was later revealed that this 4 propeller, steam-driven vessel was capable of traveling in excess of 44.7 knots (82.8 km/h), which she performed for over two hours on her sea trials off the Virginia coast in 1952. She was also capable of steaming in reverse at over 20 knots (37 km/h) and could carry enough fuel and stores to steam non-stop for over 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km).

Service history

Embarking on her maiden voyage on July 4, 1952, the United States smashed the transatlantic speed record held by the Queen Mary for the previous 14 years by over 10 hours, making her maiden crossing to Bishop Rock England in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes at an average speed of 35.59 knots (65.91 km/h). The liner would also break the westbound crossing record by returning to America in 3 days 12 hours and 12 minutes at an average speed of 34.51 knots (63.91 km/h). The SS United States was never called into military service and maintained a 32 knot (59 km/h) crossing speed on the North Atlantic in a service career that lasted 17 years.

Recent history

After going out of service in 1969, the United States has been passed between several companies. In 1978 the vessel was sold to private interests who had hoped to revitalize the liner in a time share cruise ship format. Financing ultimately fell through and the ship was placed up for auction by MARAD. In 1984, all the remaining ship's fittings and furniture were sold at auction in Norfolk, Virginia. Soon a new consortium of owners became interested in revitalizing the ship and the vessel was towed to eastern Europe to undergo asbestos removal. No viable agreements were reached in the U.S. for a reworking of the vessel and eventually the United States was towed to her current dock in Philadelphia, where she has been moored since 1996. She can be easily viewed from shore as the United States is located directly across Columbus Boulevard from Philadelphia's IKEA store.

In 1999, the S.S. United States Foundation successfully placed the United States on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2003, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) purchased the ship with the intent of fully restoring it to a service role in their newly announced American-flagged Hawaiian passenger service. As of August 2004, NCL is conducting feasibility studies regarding a new build-out of the vessel.

While the United States was the last superliner to hold the Blue Riband, she eventually lost the eastbound transatlantic record to an Australian-built Norwegian-owned wave-piercing catamaran ferry in 1990. However the vessel still retains the westbound speed record. Ocean liner enthusiasts are highly encouraged that the ship will continue to remain extant for generations to come.

External links


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