The SS United States is an ocean liner that was once made yet does right by America, despite being wholly moored and unfaltering.

It was inspired by ships from the United Kingdom at first. During World War II, the United States needed the United Kingdom’s assistance in transporting its men to the European ports.

SS United States
The ship in 1989 Credit: René Beauchamp

The United Kingdom dispatched some of its most capable ships, including the legendary RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The United States was so impressed with what they saw that they decided to build a massive merchant vessel for themselves.

The job was given to William Francis Gibbs after he was contacted. Gibbs began his career as an attorney before discovering a secret flair for project management.

Nearly $80 million had been set aside, and work on the docks of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company was set to begin.

“The Big U” was ready to sail once it was completed. She was built with adaptability and safety in mind; for example, she could readily be changed into a troop or medical ship in times of war.

SS United States
The ship in 2012. Credit: Smallbones

Dorothy Marckwald handled the interior design of the ship. The SS United States, designed by Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, had some of the most colorful and extravagant interiors ever seen on an ocean liner.

The walls, painted oyster white to contrast with the black flooring, were covered with murals depicting constellations and ocean currents.
The SS United States was ready for its maiden journey, with every detail taken care of.SS United States

As a result, it set sail for the first time on July 3rd, 1952, with Vice Admiral Harry Manning at the helm. Manning was also the navigator for the famous Amelia Earhart.

And what a fast ship that was. The ship reached a top speed of 36 knots when turns the engines on full blast, which is incredible considering it was 100 feet longer than the Titanic.

Oral tradition claims that the pace was sufficient to keep all passengers inside and away from the decks, where the wind could easily have pushed you to the ground.

SS United States
Closer view of the haul. Credit: Chris Guest

With this speed, the SS United States broke the world speed record and was awarded the famous Blue Riband, only given to the best ships.

The SS United States served its purpose for many years, but by the end of the 1960s, interest in ocean liners had dropped dramatically. The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, the two ships that inspired it, were retired in 1967 and 1968.

The SS United States said that it was losing money during this time. It was moved to Newport News for an overhaul, and it was thought that leaving it docked would be more profitable.

After that, the ship changed ownership several times, and ideas about what to do with it started to abound.

SS United States
Aerial photo of historic SS United States in Philadelphia PA USA

It remained docked, and its furnishings were auctioned off in 1984. The rest of the ship faced the same fate. It was auctioned in 1992, sold for $2.6 million, and shipped to Turkey.

Afterward, It was transported to Ukraine. The interior was completely demolished during this time, and the once-opulent ship was changed to a skeleton.

It was hauled to Pier 82 in South Philadelphia a few years later, in 1996, where it remains to this day. The SS United States Conservancy Group now owns the ship and is working to salvage it and restore it to its former splendor.

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