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The SS United States: Time is Running Out
Size, Speed and Style
The Big Ship's Glory Days
She Sits In Philadelphia at Pier 82 Awaiting Her Fate
The scrapper's torch is again ready to chop up the SS United States, but it's going to have to wait a while...again. The faded giant has not carried a passenger since 1969, but against all logic, still she floats. Why is the "Big U" so special?
Why The Fuss?
Any other ship would've been scrapped and recycled immediately after being taken out of service. Why not the "Big U"? After all, it was only in service for 17 years but it has been out of service for 41 years...yet, still she floats.
A Secret Mission
Maybe the talisman for the SS United States is it's ties to the glory days of trans-ocean travel by ship and maybe also to her little-known standby service during the scary days of the cold war. This heritage and her amazing technology has attracted many different buyers over the years ... mostly with schemes that didn't pan out.
Etched Glass, Steel and Vinyl ... No Wood
A Restaurant is Home to the Original Bell
Why Was She Built in the First Place?
The SS United States was built to bring prestige to the US maritime industry which was going after a larger share of the lucrative transoceanic passenger market. Secretly, the big ship was also to serve as a troop carrier in time of war. It's construction cost was mostly funded by the US Dept. of Defense, and the US Navy was heavily involved in every phase of construction, to protect that vested interest.
For Peace or War
The new ship's commercial service capacity was 1900 passengers and 900 crew. A lesser known fact was that in 48 hours it could be converted into a troop carrier holding 15,000 troops.
What the Public Didn't See...
- The superstructure is mostly made of aluminum for lightness, and this allowed for a smaller, sleeker hull.
- Since the Navy contributed it's technical expertise, a top secret hull and propeller configuration was included and these both contributed much to it's amazing speed.
- There are two redundant engine rooms so if one was knocked out, the other could take over.
- All areas were highly compartmentalized, like a warship, and, for fire resistance no wood was used anywhere on the ship.
- The breech resistant steel hull is two inches thick.
...Can't Sink What You Can't Catch
The Big U's main wartime advantage would be its speed -- it could probably outrun any sizable warship of the time. The ship's cold war inspired features weren't apparent to the passengers as they strolled about the roomy decks and marveled at the modern décor. No creature comforts were sacrificed for it's secret, secondary function of wartime troop carrier.
Fast and Fabulous
The big ship entered service in 1952 and on her maiden voyage she set two speed records for crossing the Atlantic; one in each direction. The westbound record still stands today. Celebrities loved the huge liner, and Walt Disney filmed "Bon Voyage" with Jane Wyman and Fred MacMurray aboard her. A young Bill Clinton sailed on her in 1968.
Master Staircase Eagle
The Voyage Since 1969...
Where the Faded Lady...
By the late 1960s it became clear that passenger jets were now the preferred means for trans Atlantic travel. After retirement in 1969, the big ship was towed to Norfolk Virginia so the Navy could refit her for a troop carrier. The funds for this were never authorized and finally, in 1984, the ship's fixtures and fittings were sold.
Plan B: Wasn't much Better...
Next, new owners towed the ship to Ukraine for asbestos removal, then, in 1994 it was towed back to Philadelphia where it sits today. It costs about $800,000 per year just to keep it there while it slowly rusts away.
The Lady in Waiting
41 Years of "Deferred Maintenance"
View A Pictoral History
This has over 150 rare photographs of the ship's construction and its christening, as well as views of modern lounges with paneled walls and fireplaces, staterooms and dining rooms, a gymnasium and pool, theaters, a ballroom and more. Captions provide data on tonnage, size, (etc.). Some information on other ships is provided as well.
Will the Conservancy Be Able to Save Her?
In 2003, she was rescued by Norwegian Cruise Lines who purchased her and planned to use her once more as a cruise ship. The idea fell through and it went up for sale -- yet again.
Norwegian Steps Up
In July of 2010, a miracle occurred ... A Philadelphia philanthropist named H. F. Lenfest donated enough money to the The SS United States Conservancy to purchase the ship (for reportedly $3 million) from Norwegian, plus enough money to keep it docked for another twenty months. Norwegian Cruise Lines turned down an offer from a scrapper for about twice that amount.
The Conservancy Takes Over
The Conservancy is proposing that the ship be used for a hotel in an entertainment complex with a casino. Harrah's is working on a casino deal with the city of Philadelphia but they have said they are not interested in the SS United States being a part of it. So, the ship's future is still undetermined.
A Forgotten Marvel
The SS United States has seemingly lived a charmed life with no collisions, no iceberg encounters and no giant wave damage. But now, as she tries to outrun the scrap buyers, 40-plus knots may not be fast enough.
The Big U's Last and Best Hope
- SS United States Conservancy
This Group owns the ship and has 20 months to find a buyer. After 20 months, the big ship will probably be scrapped.