America’s Flagship. A national icon. An American original…

The list of accolades to the SS United States is long and each one is well-deserved. She is the largest ocean liner to be built in the United States and the fastest ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Alas, she has been slowly rusting away since being laid up in Philadelphia in 1996. Various attempts to restore and/or repurpose her have met with failure. Still, the SS United States Conservancy, the ship’s present owner, is hopeful that the latest redevelopment plans of New York-based RXR Realty will give her a new lease of life.

Whatever the future holds for the SS United States, the reality is that her days of glory are over. Only her former passengers and crew who are still be alive today will remember her as she was at her prime. The rest of the world will have to settle for old photographs and films to imagine what it was like to sail on this great ocean liner..

Anatomy of a grand dame

The 53,330-gross tonne SS United States was the grand dame of ocean liners during her 17-year career from 1952 to 1969. She was stately, with 12 decks and an overall length of 990 feet (302 metres) or more than 100 feet longer than the RMS Titanic. From keel to funnel, she was just at tall at 175 feet (53 metres).

Although she had a lower passenger capacity (1,928 vs the Titanic’s 2,435), she was lighter and faster with more powerful propulsion. The design plans excluded the use of wooden interiors and furnishings to ensure fire safety, Says the US United States Conservancy: “More aluminum was used in the SS United States than for any previous construction project in history. Why? To reduce her weight and make her the fastest ocean liner of all time.” (Read more here)

NOTE: The figures cited above are from Wikipedia.

We were encouraged to design an outstanding liner of high speed with safety features ahead of those incorporated in any other merchant vessel. In addition to high speed, these standards include improved subdivision, stability and fireproof qualities approaching those of our largest combatant naval ships.

 

— William Francis Gibbs, SS United States designer
(from the christening brochure for the new liner)

Click on the images for a full view: 

Cutaway drawings of the SS United States by American illustrator Rolf Klep (1904–1981)
Courtesy of ausdew on Flickr

A voyage back in time

The following photos show some interior portions of the SS United States. Although they are rather old and speak of a style that has become passé, these pictures hold a certain charm. They serve as a reminder of William Faulkner‘s statement in his 1951 play ‘Requiem for a Nun’: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

A deck foyer, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Observation Lounge II, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Corridor, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Swimming Pool
Photo from 1950s SS United States brochure

First class dining room, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Fabrics and wall finishes run the whole spectrum, but both fabrics and paints are fire-retardant. Furniture is aluminum; upholstery and cushions are springy and soft but they are filled with a new material that will not flame.

— ‘The S.S. United States: America’s New Superliner’, Popular Science, May 1952 issued (re-published 5 December 2014 on the Popular Science website)

Ballroom I, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Cocktail Room, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Suite M69, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress?

Stateroom U141, 1953
Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Feel the pomp and excitement that attended the birth of the SS United States in this video:

~ Barista Uno

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