On its maiden voyage on July 3, 1952, the 990′ long and sleek United States broke the transatlantic speed record long held by the Queen Mary, taking just 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes from NYC to Cornwall, UK. That’s an average speed of 35.59 knots (65.91 km/h; 40.96 mph). The return trip took just over an hour longer. That is seriously fast, and it’s a record that has never been broken since for a conventionally-hulled transport ship.
The SS United States was largely financed by the US Navy, so that it could be converted to a rapid war-time troop transport. Its steam turbines generated 240,000 hp, driving four 18′ bronze-manganese propellers. Its superstructure was largely built out of aluminum to save weight, the result being the best power-to-weight ratio of any commercial passenger liner ever. Today, its future is cloudy.
The United States went out of revenue service in 1969. It went through a number of owners, and now sits tied up at this pier in Philadelphia, gutted of her interior. In 2003, she was bought by Norwegian Cruise Lines, with the intention of refitting her and putting her into operation as a cruise ship. The plans eventually fell apart, and the United States is currently owned by a preservation organization, which hopes to find a use for her as a static development project in New York.
The steel she was built from is of such high quality, that it still retains 90% of its strength. And the whole aluminum superstructure would be highly valuable as scrap. According to this NYT article, the efforts to secure investors for the project continues, but in the meantime it costs $60,000 per month to berth the sleek ship.
As a kid, I was well aware of the United States‘ records and reputation. When we were to move to the US in 1960, initially it was presumed that we would take a liner, and I held great hope it would be this one. But flying turned out to be more practical, and fares were dropping, thanks to the new jets (we took a DC-8). Hopes were lifted a few years back when it looked like the United States would return to the seas, but even a static use beats the scrapyard. Yes, giant ships were once sleek, fast and sexy. Now…not so much so.
A beautiful ship, I hope it can be preserved.
The Big U was a floating muscle car. They crammed what was for all intents and purposes the prototype for the Forrestal class aircraft carrier powerplant into a ship that displaced about 40,000 tons less than a carrier.
No mention of the Big U would be complete without her brilliant yet eccentric naval architect, William Francis Gibbs. Gibbs had an extreme fear of fire at sea and vowed that there would be absolutely no wood aboard the ship. The only exceptions were the butcher blocks used in the galleys and the ship’s Steinway pianos. Even then, Gibbs tried to get Steinway to build an aluminum piano, but they were able to convince him that the result wouldn’t be worthy of the Jaymar name, let alone Steinway.
Good anecdote. Indeed, SS Normandie, an Art Deco marvel, was lost to fire while in port @ NYC during the War. Otherwise she would’ve served alongside the Cunards as a troopship.
RMS Queen Mary came within an ace of being capsized, “Poseidon Adventure” style, by a rogue wave, with 16K G.I.s aboard, in 1942.
RMS Queen Mary also rammed and sank the cruiser HMS Curaoca in October 1942. Her bows were so strong she was barely damaged.
I bet you wouldn’t see this ship go dead in the water like some of the new cruise ships have.
Sure, it doesn’t have all the tricks a modern ship does but it got you there quickly and in style.
Everything was built to USN standards. Big U had two sets of machinery spaces (four boilers and two steam turbines forward which drove the outboard propellers, and the same arrangement aft driving the inboards) which could be sealed off and operate independently. There were backup diesel generators for electrical power in case the turbine-driven generators failed. Fresh water was never a problem as the onboard desalinization plant was capable of supplying enough for 15,000 people.
Thanks for this posting Paul-
I recall, seeing a color picture of this ship in one of the educational book collections my folks bought for us when I was a kid (Back when you could order a multiple book set, and they came once a month in the mail!)
I thought the ship looked really cool in the picture, and I believe the book made mention that the USS United States was a record breaking ship, but I had no idea it was that fast and high tech.
I recall reading about this ship some years ago. As I recall, its top speed was supposedly classified as a military secret by the government. I don’t believe that her record-breaking run was all she had in her.
There was a look to these old liners that has not been duplicated in newer cruise ships. The new ones may be chock full of luxury amenities, but these old ones had a grace and elegance about them that has gone away.
I can only imagine what this ship used to look like in its public areas. I hope someone can find a use for this great old ship.
That’s amazing and a little bit frightening, that she could probably go even faster than she did.
Over 42 knots on her sea trials, and 20 in reverse!
Early on, Big U’s performance numbers were indeed classified. No visitors were allowed in the engine rooms and no photos were published of anything below the waterline.
In her later years of service the Navy had declassified everything, but the secrecy policies were continued at the insistence of crazy ol’ Willie Gibbs. It wasn’t until 1968, a year after Gibbs’ death, that United States Lines finally released photos of the ship in drydock (she returned to her birthplace in Newport News every winter for maintenance) and of the engine rooms.
The sailing trimaran, Banque Populaire, sailing from New York to Cornwall, UK, did the crossing in 3d 15h 25min 48 sec in 2009 averaging 32.94 knots! Pretty sure there were no white table cloths.
I have always loved ocean liners (as opposed to cruise ships) and have been following the fate of the SS United States for many years. This ship is an true anomaly: it has far too much machinery compared to passenger space. It never made money, although it was put into service at a declining time in the industry, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were still making healthy profits until 1965 or so. From what I have heard, the ship lacked the ambiance of the Queens due to the need for non-flammable, light-weight materials.
Do anything with this ship would mean stripping out the steam turbines and replacing them with diesels (as with the SS Norway, ex SS France), which is apparently the hold-up. The interior was not fancy enough to make it into a hotel like the Queen Mary unless a huge upgrade is made, which would destroy the history of the ship.
I hope the ship is restored to its former glory but it’s a heck of a big project.
As an interesting aside, the Queen Mary 2 is the only ocean liner still in service today. It is strong enough for the North Atlantic in winter, and runs a regular schedule.
The Norway remained steam-powered to the end. In fact, her retirement had been precipitated by a boiler explosion while docked in Miami in 2003 which killed several crewmembers.
You may be thinking of the Queen Elizabeth 2, which was converted from steam to diesel power in the mid-80s.
I live in Philly and so I have watched the Big U deteriorate since she was first docked on the Delaware in 1996. Back then I owned a ’63 Cadillac and I did a bit of a photo essay of the two big boats together, an example of which is below.
Canucknucklehead, it isn’t anymore a question of how luxurious the interior is, because the interior is GONE. All of the furnishings and the like were sold off at a huge auction in the early 1980’s. Shortly thereafter the ship was towed to Turkey or someplace like that ostensibly for asbestos removal, and in the process was completely gutted inside down to the metal. Even most of the interior partitions are gone. It’s just all open space inside. On the one hand that means you can make of it whatever you want (with the application of sufficient dollars), on the other hand the result will have nothing to do with the original liner except for the hull.
Regrettable, I know, but it was her hull that made her great. I do hope that somehow she can be saved but I do not think that she will ever surrender the “real” Blue Riband.
The CC effect strikes in strange ways. Spent the day at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in DC today. Lots of great displays on old passenger steamers. Would be wonderful to see something like the United States brought back, even with a modern interior.
What a complete waste of steel – she has spent more time pierside than she did in service. I did a tour of her a not too ago with some Coast Guard acquaintances. The ship is overbuilt like most ships built to military specs. But because of this, it limits what can be done with her – she lacks grand sweeping spaces like the Queens or the Normandie had. Even her older running mate the America had a more comfortable interior, and was considered by many to be the most beautiful US liner ever built. Her bones capsized and sank off the Canaries a few years back. Now that was a gorgeous ship – similar in appearance to the Big U, but smaller, slower and much more luxurious. All of Gibbs’s ships had a similar appearance – from his pint-sized Santa-class for Grace Line up to the Big U. Two evenly spaced funnels with sampan tops, a low superstructure and a long hull. Gibbs had planned a sister ship, but the gov’t didn’t want to expend the funds. He had been trying to build a large US liner for many years. He did do the reconstruction of the SS Vaterland after WW1. She became the SS Leviathan and was the largest ship in the world for a while. But she sailed during Prohibition, which hurt her rep. And food and service on American liners was lacking compared to the European ships, and all of that coupled with the lack of a similar sized running mate spelled doom for the Leviathan and she too spent a lot of time in lay up until she was scrapped in the late 30s… the Big U was and is an impressive ship, but maybe she was built too late, at least a dozen years too late. Poor baby.
The wreck of the SS America(American Star) provided some of the most surreal images ever, she was being towed and she broke free in a storm, drifted to shore and left there to be consumed by the waves, for years and years, there were some people that actually got on board and took some pictures of the remains from the inside, that’s pretty ballsy.
This was an entire ship at one point, but the waves broke it in half.
My familiy visited the place (Fuerteventura) in 2011 … nothing to see anymore.
She spent many years with Chandris Lines on the UK – Australia route, as the SS Australis.
I came back from the UK on her in late ’71. Quite a fun trip for a 12 year old.
Pretty much had the run of the ship. One memory was in the Indian Ocean, fairly rough and she was rolling a fair way. My mates & I were amusing ourselves by chucking some cans in the pool, when a gnarled ancient
started railing at us. He was ancient to us anyway! Few seconds later,
a bigger roll and the water in the pool surged to one side and utterly drenched him.
Naturally our laughter only added to his rage.
But where’s the rock climbing wall?
I hope they are able to save her, I’ve always wanted to see the her in person.
The loss of the interior is a real shame, as now I think it would be quite popular, with its midcentury modern style coming back into vogue.
There was at one time a restaurant in Nags Head, NC that was furnished almost entirely with items from the first class dining room of the United States — all the tables and chairs, and even a staircase removed from the ship. It has been more than ten years since I have been there and I have a vague recollection it might be closed now.
It is gone. The doctor who owned it was killed
When I was around 10 years old back at the end of the 1970s, I devoured every bit of information that I could find about this ship. I had no idea that it is moored in Philadelphia, which has become the resting place for many historic vessels (USS New Jersey, USS Olympia, etc.). Sad to see that it has been deteriorating for almost two decades and gutted. Perhaps somewhere out there is a Russian oligarch who wants the biggest and fastest yacht in the world and has an infinite budget.
If NCL can’t/won’t pony up to restore it, I doubt it’ll ever be saved. Although, the billionaire-with-a-need-for-a-huge-yacht idea might work. Larry Ellison?
On the other hand, since Paul mentioned coming to the US on a DC-8, I’d love to see a Rampside Classic for that airplane, maybe the most graceful airliner ever…
Disagree. Constellation, FTW!
Maybe it’s a generational thing? I never saw a Connie fly in person, I have seen (cargo-converted) DC-8s fly.
Let’s swap “airliner” for “jetliner” and then I think we can avoid any controversy. 😉
Here’s the 880:
Well, even with “jetliner” I think both the original DeHavilland Comet and the Convair 880/990 have it over the DC-8 in terms of being graceful.
+1 on the Comet
Interesting concept, some big billionaire with a big ego restores this as a 50’s-60’s Mad Men style-themed mega mega mega mega yacht. Take that Ari!
For some reason, the DC-8 seems a bit awkward to me. Maybe it’s the pug nose or the widely spaced windows.
Although the differences are very subtle, the 707, with it’s more pointed nose and the spike antenna on the vertical stabilizer, looks much sleeker to my eyes.
Agreed, the 707 looks ‘right’ . It’s just prettier than the DC-8.
I can’t explain why.
Sleekest of all, however is the 727. In its day, it was known as a pilot’s plane and a bit of a hot rod.
727 has always been my favorite airliner, though I think the longer -200 versions look sleeker than the shorter 100 series.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sud Aviation Caravelle, triangular windows and all. Shared it’s nose with the Comet, a pre-Concorde Anglo-French collaboration.
I’ll second Paul on the Convair 880/990. Sleek and speedy – I believe it was the fastest subsonic airliner ever in service. But smallish, and thirsty. Still, Harley Earl did the interiors via his outside design firm, and Elvis had one with a round, black satin bed…
I like the 727, my friends dad was a long time 727 captain, and he said the same thing, it was a hot rod, he said it performed like no other passenger air liner.
Sadly, I don’t think there’s a great fate ahead for Big U. Have a buddy who’s dad was a naval architect. He noted the hull cross section was exceptionally narrow for a liner. It made her fast, but also a much rougher ship than the original Queens and sister postwar liners like the France or America.
Unlike nearly every other liner of the postwar era (even the Cunard Queens were retrofitted) and every cruise ship built since, Big U didn’t have stabilizers. In really rough seas she could roll almost as badly as a destroyer.
FWIW, a story about the big sell-off in 1984:
Apparently, up until that auction the ship had been kept fully intact and equipped, ready to be put back into service quickly, with the interior air-conditioned and dehumidified, and in near perfect condition.
Well this is another example of the CC effect, though a sad one for me. Richard Hadley (link to obit below), the owner of the SS United States from 1978 to 1984, was a college friend of my dad’s and a kind of honorary “uncle” when I was growing up. I remember the excitement when he purchased the ship, our hope that we’d sail on her some day, and the growing disappointment as he allowed it to languish.
The relationship between him and my dad cooled some over the years for this and other reasons, but (despite how sick the selling off of the ship’s interior makes me feel) he wasn’t a bad man. (I remember him meeting me when I was a senior in college to impart career advice — if I’d taken some of it instead of becoming a journalist, I wouldn’t have spent decades beating my head against the wall.)
A big problem is, people of his generation considered mid-century modern architecture to be just contemporary junk they couldn’t wait to tear down and replace. Sadly, this contempt survives today, where developers continue to ignore heritage and fight historic designations wherever and whenever they can.
A fascinating relic of a time gone by, and one that I hope will be somehow saved.
I’ve been following the saga of this ship since 1996 and saw her in person in ’98. Despite the deterioration, the lines are incredibly sleek and beautiful. She looks in motion sitting still.
The Conservancy has a fundraising site where you can purchase a virtual “piece” of the ship, and it is fun to pick out your little square of the hull for a few dollars. After years of possible plans, there has been recent, more promising news of a potential site on the Brooklyn waterfront that is privately owned. Hoping for the best.
Ironically, the ships interior being gutted is one of her current greatest assets, as there is as much space as the Chrysler building inside that could be developed into a museum hotel, education center, etc.
I worked for Norwegian Cruise Lines briefly back in 2008 and their ownership of the SS US seemed like a cynical ploy to win some political points; I don’t believe they ever seriously intended to restore the vessel.
I would love to see it running. I worked on an SL7 with a mere 120k HP on two shafts and that was a hell of a plant. We’re talking a half dozen levels of machinery space, boilers 50 feet high, fuel consumption measured in tons per hour, two engineers on watch with an oiler plus a fireman/watertender. The SS US would be twice that. As much as I would love to see it I can’t imagine it ever sailing again under steam, the economics are too heavily against it.
Those SL7 ships were/ are something special alright. I have a soft spot for steam Turbine ships..So rare now..Too Uneconomic The 1984 built FairSky built in France was the last passanger Steam Turbine ship built.
She still exists AFAIK..She is in Lay-up somewhere.
Nope, she’s been broken up for scrap. Just like pretty much EVERY other “classic” cruise ship that was still in existence.
The SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) regs that became effective in 2010 sealed the fate of any remaining classic cruise ships because of the economic unfeasibility of making them meet the new fire codes which prohibit most interior combustible materials. These (international) regs had the effect of causing the scrapping over the last four years of virtually EVERY passenger cruise ship built before the mid 80’s I believe.
To relate this to automobiles, it would be like a new regulation being passed, that all vehicles built before, say, 1985 would no longer be able to be used on roads because they did not meet some new safety regulation. If you could “adapt” the vehicle to meet the new code, you were welcome to do it, but it would obviously need to be economically feasible, which in the ships’ case, it was not.
She was/is truly a great ship in her own right. However, other truly great ships went to the scrappers despite their history. Think CV-6 USS ENTERPRISE which I will never forgive the Navy for. I think many do not comprehend the millions of dollars needed to bring this ship back into presentation shape and forget about the hundreds of millions to make her seaworthy. That berth at $60,000 grand a month does not help. She needs a berth at $1 a year as some naval museum warships have.
I fear she will eventually fall under the knife as I have learned that grandiose ideas, concerning ships, rarely pan out. Make no mistake that I am not a ship fan as I am now in my 17th year volunteering on the restoration of the USS HORNET. In fact I am the only person taking care of the interior and exterior of the Island while using my money. I have been on dozens of mothballed ships over the last 10 years dating back to WWII. Love to save some of them but have watched each one hauled to Texas to be cut down. Such is life and being realistic as most people could care less as long as it is the money of someone else.
The Clamagore at Patriots Point is another one that’s in a dubious spot. My Dad served on the Congor and Burrfish (radar picket sub during Korea) and spent two hours with my Cub Scout Pack going through the Clamagore compartment by compartment. He could still tell you what every pipe, switch and valve did, too.
Realistically, we can’t save them all, but I hope we do save enough for future generations to step foot in.
Surely this is worth saving in some way, even if there is nothing much left inside.
A giant space for maritime museum?
Will the SS United States be saved?
Not on your life! What would someone use it for? A stationary hotel? A cruise ship? It could never recoup the money invested in it. The market has moved on.
This was when ships LOOKED like ships, not the floating barges cruise ships have become. How I would have loved to take a trans-Atlantic crossing in her!
I drive past this ship almost every day on my way to work. I would really be sad to see it be scrapped…
How does one gauge the amount of strength retained by a structure?
Perhaps they did an ultrasonic hull survey. I participated in one of those on the museum ship I used to work on. We were checking remaining hull plate thicknesses at several hundred points to estimate overall hull condition for the insurance underwriters. Lots of crawling in ballast tanks.
Fascinating article and commentary.
Nice vessel..Do hope they save it..But I did/do prefer the Normandie.
It would be ironic if the USA preserved the British Queen Mary only to scrap the United States.
BTW weren’t the Lifeboats and davitts removed when they sent it to Turkey. I heard this was done in partial payement?? But am unsure about the facts.
Spent 13 (great) years as a volunteer aboard the Steamship William G Mather Museum in Cleveland, OH. (until the new owners “fired” all the volunteers in 2006.) I had a handle on the amount of money and effort restoring/maintaining our 618-foot great lakes bulk carrier took – the amount of same the the SS United States would require just boggles my mind.
In 2009 I was passing through Philadelphia and saw her from the highway. Much to my daughter’s annoyance I turned around at the next exit and went back to have a look at her. Impressive is the only word – pictures do not do her justice.
Sounds like a great job..Sorry to hear bout the new owners..I remember seeing a great laker video on YouTube..It was powered by the Doxford opposed piston engine..They are interesting and unique ships these lakers..I have seen the modern ones been built in China, So it is good that the classic ones have a preserved example. Of course some are still working ships too!!!
Also just to add the Japanese have the Hikawa Maru..One of only a handful of Japanese ships to survive WW2.
Dubai has the QE2, Long beach has the Queen Mary..Rotterdam has the Holland America Liner the Rotterdam. And I am missing one other preserved liner from the list.
India has acquired the former MSC Melody built 1982.
With plans to turn her into a hotel.
So Why not the SS United States?
as of 2018, the Melody had flooded during a monsoon, sank and was sold for scrap.
the SS ROTTERDAM
Named after its home port ‘t was the pride of Dutch engineering and owned by ‘the’ HAL
Holland America Lines (now US owned)
There she was, some 40 yearsl ater, in the same deplorable state as the SS UNITED STATES after being run down for years by greek ‘cruise’ companies.
The Dutch got emotional when she was shown on TV, business men, the Rotterdam City council, the Port of Rotterdam, ( all those certified morons who believe they are important and got their jobs mainly out of the old’boys network) , they all wanted to save this early sixties icon, she’d be converted into a luxury Hotel accomodation, with several restaurants and she’d make for a prestigious meeting and congress centre.
She was bought.
Then asbestos was found – of course asbestos was used everywhere onboard ships in those days –
Then the asbestos had to be removed
Then that costs a fortune nowadays.
Then her motor tenders and lifeboats were overhauled, at the cost of $ 150000 each.
Then the old boys network started to fight over the enormous costs they had to face.
Then they found out some of those ‘business’ men had rather discutable reputations.
Then they went bankrupt.
Then they forced the local housing councel -just privatized- to purchase the ship
Then the local housing council almost got belly up becaue of the enormous costs of this project.
Then she was berthed not at a real A location in port.
Then the Restaurants onboard got belly up
Need I continue?
Buy the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO for 200 million US $m and it is peanuts compared to the
SS ROTTEDAM debacle.
It is very, very dangerous to get sentimental over old ocean liners, but the breakers in Pakistan and India will turn them into steel which is excellent for razor blades.
And today in Rotterdam city there are many people who share my opinion.
Its a relief to know prices have stabilised on the GTO.
I agree with your sentiment regarding turning something like this into a theme food hall, but seeing something so grand disappear still has that element of sadness.
Well I suppose the India and Pakistan Bangladesh breakers are part of the problem.
Could you imagine the cost of breaking the ship up..If it was done to Euro and USA standards.
If you removed this advantage of scrapping;then the case for preservation looks more sound.
And don’t forget several of those workers get killed, so there is a moral argument about the Rich nations not exporting their problem ships to the Third World.
The Basel Convention is actually supposed to prevent rich nations “exporting their problems” by proscribing sending ships to third-world countries for breaking until things like asbestos/pcb/hazmat abatement have been done. Of course there are ways around it, hence so many ships still ending their lives there. Seems like in many cases all that is required is for an Indian/Pakistani/far Eastern company to buy the ship with “intent” of putting it back to sea and rough business plan, then to quietly change their mind.
There are several yards in Brownsville, Texas that would be more than happy to do the job while still subject to OSHA and EPA rules. (or at least as much as possible in the shipbreaking business) Ironically their latest arrival is aforementioned USS Forrestal. Eventually, most if not all of the aircraft carriers powered by the Big U’s powerplant design will meet their end there.
If she does go to scrap, the dirtiest and most expensive part of the job has already been done. The asbestos (even by 1950s standards there was a lot due to Gibbs’ fire safety obsession) was removed in Turkey in 1992.
Having worked at a naval shipyard at a time when several nuclear-powered submarines and surface ships were dismantled, I have no doubt whatsoever that it cost more to dismantle them than it had cost to build them.
Wait until the Enterprise shows up in Bremerton to go through the nuclear disposal program. She’s been in Newport News since her decom being defueled, stripped of usable parts and prepped for the tow to Bremerton. Once there it will be the most expensive scrapping in history due to her unique 8-reactor plant.
Most pictures of her a 3/4 front views from the fence. Wanted to share this image of her from several blocks away. As I said earlier, impressive. I was surprised how her funnels dominated that part of the waterfront.
The original Pacific Princess of TV’s Love Boat fame recently ended up at a breakers yard.
1971-2014….no more Charo and Isaac……no more party on the Lido deck…..
Cue the late Ernie Anderson……
Now if only every episode of Love Boat could somehow be scrapped….
Delightful article about a ship I never knew existed let alone was so good. The business case on these as a museum or tourist attraction is a tough one. The most famous one in the world is probably the Queen Mary in Long Beach, which came in the late 60s. Every 5-10 years it seems there is a financial crisis with the ship and articles are written that talk about how it loses money year after year and should be sold or scrapped.
Those articles fail to mention what something like the SS United States does for a city’s image. Forget about the Grand Prix (a total cash cow for the city) nothing says Long Beach like the Queen Mary.
Recently the Port of LA rescued (and wrestled) the USS Iowa away from the Bay Area as a tourist attraction in San Pedro. The waterfront there is being re-developed and the hopes are that the Iowa as an attraction will be the catalyst for investment. Not sure how many people are going on the paid tours but I can tell you that before the Iowa parking was tight down there now it’s just impossible. People like to come for the day just to drive by that glorious thing.
Here it is in 2012 coming into the LA Port.
The SS United States is too far ‘gone’ to salvage unfortunately, there could be no profit made that could offset the costs of her restoration. Making her little more than a floating money pit, a historical one, but nonetheless ‘all is lost’. Holding on to it longer will only increases the losses to her Conservancy and those benefactors waiting for her salvation. No one’s coming to save her.
Even the QE2’s own fate is far from certain… conflicting reports say she’s been sold for scraping in in China or to be brought back to the UK and used as a hotel near O2 Arena…
If even Dubai hasn’t the money to refurbish QE2 as still she languishes unused, what hope does SS United States have? It will be sad to see her broken up but she’s been neglected for decades.
These large liners are never cheap to maintain in any event and that is one thing they all have in common. Even Queen Mary in Long Beach teeters periodically on the edge of bankruptcy and has had many management upheavals.
As a lifelong ocean liner buff, I love these old ocean liners (and classic cruise ships). What modern cruise ships have evolved into I find completely depressing. So, saving a relic like the SS United States seems important to me, as there are shockingly few examples of old passenger ships left anywhere in the world.
What works against saving old ships are obviously the costs involved. Old ships are full of hazardous materials, and being in (salt) water means the ship is constantly in a hostile, corrosive environment. Everything costs gobs of money…maintaining it, docking it, moving it.
What is distressing is that there seems to be money to preserve many examples of warships, but no money to do the same for large passenger vessels. The Queen Mary is the oldest surviving example of an ocean liner in the world. There are no “Titanic Era” (pre-1920) passenger ships that survive and I think that is a tragedy. The examples of old ocean liners that survive (Queen Mary, Rotterdam, QE2 (for now)) all seem to face repeated financial crises, which is a real shame.
We should find a way to save this ship, even though with its interiors gutted, it really is only a shell of its former self.
The reason there are many warships is because the navy donates them. No one is donating the UNITED STATES. Two, the Navy wants to see a bank account of at least 3 million along with a viable business plan. Key word is viable because I’ve read a lot of great ideas about what a group will do with a ship. A classic one right now is the plan for CV-67 and their dreams. They are all pipe dreams as proven by other museums that once said the same thing.
Next, those warships run on admission fees, donations and for some events. The HORNET has around a 2.5 million dollar budget each year with a small amount towards restoration. That won’t cut it with this liner. The only true exception is the MIDWAY which rakes the money in due to her location. Last, whats is the long term plans given that ships need dry docking. Right now there are several warships, some pretty large, that are in moderate to serious structural trouble. Look at what it cost the INTREPID when their original budget was around 35 million and they blew that out of the water when repaired.
There are still (as you’ve alluded to) plenty of warships, even historic ones, for which there are no long-term homes. I had occasion to drive by what was once known as Bremerton Navy Yard (it has a long and convoluted more modren name now) last year and glimpsed the four (!) large carriers mothballed there, all likely to be scrapped in the near- to mid-term future. It’s sad to think of these ships going away, but they are excess capacity now–any one by itself would consititute more naval power than nearly every country has ever had, even as an outmoded ship, but we have long since moved on to newer and more capable carriers. Sic transit gloria.
INDEPENDENCE, RANGER, KITTY HAWK and CONSTELLATION are at Bremerton. The RANGER will be donating as many parts as we can grab for the HORNET. We have been given permission to board her and take as much as we desire in 5 days from certain decks. The RANGER was rumored to be going to Portland as a museum several years ago. That, as you can tell, fell through.
Yes MIDWAY is the successful example and benefits greatly from its San Diego location as you said.
Downtown Long Beach was a dump in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Porn shops and dive bars were everywhere. In HS we would drink at The Panama because it was the only place within a 25 mile radius that would serve us. We quit going when the guy sitting next to us pulled out his gun. Good times those.
The Queen Mary was a huge gamble in ’67 and for years was the city’s only draw. They used the iconic image of the ship’s three smoke stacks on EVERYTHING. They positioned it beautifully in the harbor so that it could be seen from any place in the downtown, and across the port in LA. It became one of SoCal’s most famous landmarks and was created out of literally nothing.
The QM put Long Beach on the map and without it we would not have seen the Grand Prix and all of the 80s/90s development come to town, at least not so quickly.
A big city with enough draw, potential and a master plan would need to get involved to save the SS United States. Is it worth it? After reading this article I sure think it is.
Maybe it is just me, but the Queen Mary sort of makes me sad up close. It has that rusty, aged feel like an old car that has been sitting in the sun for a long, long time. The way the dockside is built out, it is like that ship will never go anywhere again. The faded paint and rust on the hull, along with the hull plates that have sunken and deformed, and the fact that it always has few, if any people on or around it, and the people who are there seem more curious than excited, it just isn’t a happy thing, in my eyes. From across the harbor, great.
Wandering around a live cruise ship dock is much more fun. The ships coming in and leaving port, things are fresh and maintained nicely, the excitement all the passengers are feeling as they arrive or depart. The machines (the ships) are doing what they were designed to do, not just sit there.
At best, the fate of the United States is probably no better than the Queen Mary. Which is better than no ship at all, but still a very bittersweet thing.
Yes the last time I saw her up close she was a bit crusty.
The best way to think of the Queen Mary (and the SS United States in the right location) is as an expensive ornament or accessory. It is to dress up an area and be looked at and enjoyed. It does work as the QM has shown in Long Beach and the USS IOWA is showing now in San Pedro.
Their value is in speeding up a revival by having a landmark there overnight. Can never be quantified of course but take your most honest guess, cut it to a tenth and it’s still several hundred million. Downtown Long Beach took off 10 years before downtown LA, all because of the QM.
Not sure how many down and out waterfront locations remain with enough potential to host the SS US. Done right the income from the hotel, restaurants and events actually does offset a lot of the costs. The QM has been a popular location for wedding receptions, reunions etc. for a long time.
You would think a small loss in some years would be overlooked as the cost of having an icon in your harbor (and respect!) but no. Now that Long Beach is built-out there is really no financial reason to keep the Queen Mary even though no one would deny her original value as a catalyst.
She made all those trips across the Atlantic without incident and her reward was an early retirement to a permanent berth. She saves a city and they let her rust there on display. Thanks for a job well done.
Why does it cost 60K to store a ship dockside dormant? What’s involved?
Mostly rent, but there’s also 24 hour security and liability insurance they have to pay for.
it’s a shame more Americans don’t push to preserve the SSUS. This is mid-century American know how at its best. Even though the interior is gone it would make a great setting for a maritime museum somewhere.
“A boat is a hole in the water into which money is thrown.” A ship is many times worse. They are almost impossible to maintain without huge budgets.
I am familiar with efforts to save the Battleship Texas. It has been sunk in the mud for some time. The preservationists have decided that the only thing to do is get it out of the water and that is enormously expensive. Also, there just is not that much interest. Everyone says they love it and want it preserved but there are rarely more than a few visitors aboard.
There is much talk of the tin worm at CC. Think of what it is like on the SSUS! Never ending battle.
I do hope that someone figures something out to save it but it sure seems like a long shot.
And just up the Delaware from SSUS, Commodore Perry’s flagship, the USS Olympia, is also settling into the mud – ironically, just across the river from the USS New Jersey.
I recall building a Revell model of the United States as a kid, and it struck me as odd that it was basically a waterline model, whereas all others from Revell or Airfix had the complete hull/screws, etc. Obviously, the secrecy extended to kids models as well.
The SS ROTTERDAM has cost the Dutch community (over whose backs this has been paid for in the end – of course) € 262 Million Euro.
In US $ it would be over $ 330 Million.
If anybody believes this amount is worth ‘ínvesting’ in a prestige project for any city in the world well, I would not even lend that person a nickle.
I was a 4 year Shipfitter (shipbuilder) Apprentice in Norfolk (65-69). The ship when “decommissioned” from passenger service in 69 it was brought to the Norfolk Naval Station for a lengthy period. It was berthed with full time security, lights, water etc to keep it accessable for watchmen to ensure pumps, etc were keeping it dry inside. Our shipyard had a task to install some temporary sheetmetal covers on many exterior vents and doors to ensure water did not leak in. I was awestruck by its size, quality of design and beauty. The security guard gave our small group a walk thru tour of its main deck spaces, what memories of a great ship.
Just saw this on my neighborhood blog – looks like SSUS may be heading up to Brooklyn, although as the post notes, they’re aren’t too many places left where she could lay up.
Been on vacation for a week, so just catching up with CC. There is an excellent and fascinating DVD documentary film titled “Lady in Waiting,” which was made in 2008 but first aired on PBS in 2010, I think. It’s still available on Amazon. It features interviews of many past crew members and passengers about the background, construction, service and life on board the SS United States. It really tugs at the heartstrings, if you didn’t believe in this grand old ship before, you will after seeing this. It would be marvelous to see her gain a new lease on life, hope a way can be found before she rots away at her mooring.
I lived in Brooklyn, NY about a mile from the V errazano Narrows bridge, at the entranced to Lower News York Bay. In the late `60 before I even had a drivers license, a friend and I would ride our bikes along the bikepath by the shore and get off on Shore Road, a street that faces the Narrows. On Saturday afternoon, the cruse ships and ocean liners would leave NY , sail under the Verrazano and out to sea.We enjoyed watching them with the “France” and the” United States “being our favorites.A few times, we saw a brown `49 Hudson with blanked in rear vent windows and an African American driver sitting in the car by the curb. Before the “United States” arrived, the driver would open the back door on the Hudson and an elderly man with a pair of binoculars would get out. He would look at the “United States” as she passed under the Verrazano , blasted its mighty horn and headed out to sea. One day the elderly man asked us if we liked the ship. We said it was a beauty,and we loved to watch it. Before he got back in the Hudson, he said “I built it”. We thought he was just putting us on,but he was right. He was none other that William Francis Gibbs, the designer of the ship.He was so proud of his creation that he would come to this spot in Brooklyn just to watch it leave New York harbor. I also have a model of this ship, an old plastic kit by Ideal Toy co. on a display base that lights up on house current. It resembles a travel agency model and is considered a collectors item today.
How frustrated Gibbs must have been for most of his life. I’m reading Damned By Destiny, a book about ocean liners that were conceived, but for what ever reason, were either never built or destroyed by war or accidents before they could sail. Gibbs had ideas for a 1,000 foot liner long before anyone else did – going back as far as before the first World War. But no one was willing to put up the money, and the US passenger ship industry was mainly small coastal vessels or second-rate ocean liners. His first two ships were tentatively called Boston and Baltimore, and they had four funnels placed in pairs like the German superliners at the time. They would have been quite impressive had they been built.
When we moved to Turkey in 67, we crossed the Atlantic on the SS United States. A great experience I’ll never forget. And yes the ship was so fast , it was hard to enjoy stroll out on deck at times on the North Atlantic. I remember my hat being blown away. But there were plenty of indoor activities to pass the time away. I’ve been a fan of ocean liners , and cruise ships ever since. I went on an Alaskan cruise in 2010. I’m a member of the SS United States Conservancy, and they take donations of any amount. I’d love to see this ship preserved for a purpose similar to the Queen Mary in Long Beach . I’ll try and provide a link to the SS United States conservancy, but if it doesn’t work , you can easily Google it. http://www.ssunitedstatesconservancy.org
Was in Philadelphia recently to go look at a colllectible car I want to buy-a `78 Chrysler New Yorker coupe. After looking at the NYER, I took a side trip to the waterfront area to look at the “United States”. A sad sight, the grand old lady and Blue Riband winner looked like a ghost ship.
In happier days, United States chases Queen Mary round the Solent, circa 1956-57.