SS United States Home

SS United States Home


A splendid artist’s depiction of the SS United States at speed in rough seas. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

Ship Statistics:
Built By: Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company
Yard Number: 488
Length Overall: 990 feet
Width: 101 feet
Draught: 31 feet
Gross Tonnage: 53,330
Displacement: 47,300 at maximum draft
Career: July 3, 1952 – November 1969
– Laid up.

The S.S. United States – The Fastest of Them All


This photo shows an ecstatic William Francis Gibbs (left) and his brother Frederic. It was taken during the trials of the Leviathan, immediately after her complete restoration to become the flagship of the United States Lines. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Author’s Collection)

The S.S. United States is one of the greatest Atlantic liners of all time. Built by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, she was the brainchild of William Francis Gibbs.

Gibbs had distinguished himself in the post-World War One renovation and restoration of the ex-German liner Vaterland for service with the United States Lines as the American liner Leviathan. That great liner, one of the largest in the world at the time, had gone on to enjoy a largely successful career despite poor management. In fact, Gibbs’ decision to replace all of her original German wiring had protected the ship from the spate of electrical later fires that her former sisters, then running as the Berengaria and Majestic suffered later in their careers.

Gibbs’ reputation was further bolstered when he designed the S.S. America. That liner was, launched on August 31, 1939, was a bold, fresh take on steamship design. At 722 feet in length, and only 26,454 gross tons, the America had not been the largest or fastest ship in the world. Yet when she entered passenger service in 1940, she was not only the clear successor of the Leviathan as flagship of the United States Lines, but she was also a remarkable vessel in her own right.


This photograph shows the SS United States (background) passing her running mate and predecessor, SS America (foreground) in New York. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

But Gibbs’ next great liner was to be his masterpiece. She was called the S.S. United States. Designed not only to be the flagship of the United States Lines, she was also purpose-built to be the fastest ship in the world. Entering service in July of 1952, she easily took the Blue Riband from the Queen Mary with an average speed of 35.59 knots. Her maximum speed was reportedly 38.3 knots, although there have been rumors over the years that she was able to attain even better speeds than that.


A fine portrait of the United States as she loafs along at a low speed. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

The United States was still a young ship as the jetliner took precedence in carrying passengers across the Atlantic. While she remained in service after that momentous shift in transportation history, eventually the cold hard numbers caught up with her. During a refit in late 1969, she was laid up, finally being sold in 1978. After that she changed hands numerous times, eventually being purchased by Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2003. The company had dreams of returning her to service, but the plan began to experience trouble all too quickly. All of the ship’s fittings, considered so luxurious in the 1950’s, were removed, as was the asbestos which had been built into her.

The ship has idled in Philadelphia for years, slowly deteriorating, an all but forgotten relic with a dismal future. However, a stalwart band of United States enthusiasts, named the “SS United States Conservancy”, have made strenuous efforts to preserve the liner. They have envisioned returning her to service or converting her into a floating hotel and tourist attraction; either of these visions, if properly executed, could both preserve a national treasure and turn a tidy profit for investors. However, as of early 2015, no certain salvation lies in store for her, and funds are running short. Unless something is done to preserve the ship, she will fall to the cutters’ torches just as the Norway did a few years ago. Follow these links to help save the S.S. United States:


This photograph shows the S.S. United States at her dock in Philadelphia in April of 2010. Although her paint is badly rusted and fading, her hull is apparently still quite sound, and her engines are frequently “turned over” to keep them in good operating condition. Hopes still run high that the liner can be saved. (Photograph by J. Kent Layton)