SS United States is an ocean liner that still makes America proud, even though it is now fully docked and immovable.
Historically, It was initially inspired by ships from the United Kingdom. During the Second World War the United States required service from the United Kingdom to help them transport their soldiers to the shores of Europe. In order to do it, the United Kingdom put some of their best vessels up to the task: the famous RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Pleased with what they saw, the United States decided to construct a gigantic merchant vessel for themselves.
So American naval architect and marine engineer William Francis Gibbs was contacted, and the job was given to him. Gibbs’s career began as an attorney until he discovered a hidden talent as a project manager. Close to 80 million dollars were reserved, and construction was ready to begin at the docks of Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company.
She was constructed with compatibility and safety in mind and she could have be easily converted into a troop or a hospital ship in times of war. In addition, safety measures were well thought out, and Gibbs wanted to minimize the threat of fire on board. He didn’t allow any wood to be used apart from the butcher’s blocks and Steinway pianos, and he made sure that all of the materials on board were non-flammable.
Prominent interior designer Dorothy Marckwald was responsible for designing the interior of the ship. Hand in hand with Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald firm, SS United States had some of the most colorful and lavish interiors an Ocean Liner can have.
Murals of constellations and ocean currents adorned the walls, which were painted oyster white to stand in complete contrast with the black flooring.
With every detail taken care of, SS United States, nicknamed “The Big U”, was ready for its maiden voyage. And so, on July 3rd, 1952, it set sail for the first time with the famous Vice Admiral Harry Manning behind the helm, the same who also served as the navigator for the celebrated aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.
With the engines put to full power, the ship reached a speed of 36 knots – which is staggering given the fact that it was 30 meters longer than Titanic, and is in fact the largest liner ever built in an American shipyard!
According to local tales, such speed was enough to keep all of the passengers inside and far from the decks where wind could have easily pushed you to the ground. In any case, stories apart, with this speed, SS United States managed to break the speed record and to earn the famous Blue Riband gifted only to the best of vessels.
For years, SS United States performed his task well in so far as he could but, towards the end of the 1960s, the interest in ocean liners started to drop significantly. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, the two ships that served as its inspiration, were retired in 1967 and 1968 respectively.
During this same period, also SS United States stated to lose money and, when It was taken to Newport News for an overhaul, it was decided that it was more profitable to leave it docked.
From that point on, the ship changed several owners, and ideas about what to do with it started to abound. After the ship was retired in 1969, she sat docked at Norfolk for over two decades and its luxirurious furniture was sold at auction in 1984.
The same fate awaited the rest of the ship: in 1992, it was put up for auction, sold for $2.6 million by Marmara Marine, Inc., a company that hoped to reuse her as a cruise liner. It was taken to Turkey, but the project proved to be much more complicated than they had anticipated. The once proud ship was turned away again and again at ports that wanted nothing to do with removing the 15,000 square meters of asbestos,. Greenpeace referred to her as “a floating coffin” and boarded the liner to hang a banner on the side that read “Toxic Waste Return To Sender.” Eventually the Ukrainian shipyards in Sevastopol took the job in 1993. During this period, the interior was removed completely and the once sumptuos vessel was now nothing more than a skeleton.
Now it belongs to the SS United States Conservancy Group, which are making efforts to save the ship and to restore it to its former glory and, above all, hopes to preserve her. In 1996, it was towed to Pier 82 in South Philadelphia, where it remains to this very day.
More recently, in March 2020, RXR Realty, a real estate owner, manager, and developer located in New York City and surrounding areas, announced its plans to repurpose the ocean liner as a permanently-moored 55,740 m2 hospitality and cultural space, requesting expressions of interest from a number of major U.S. waterfront cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.