About the SS “United States”

William Francis Gibbs greets his masterpiece in New York harbor, c.1955.

SS “United States” – built 1952, retired 1969. United States Lines. She captured the eastbound Blue Riband on her maiden voyage with an average speed of 35.59 knots, with a travel time of 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes, and the westbound with an average speed of 34.51 knots and a travel time of 3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes.   The largest passenger ship ever built in America, the “Big U” was the most ship on the Atlantic during the 1950s, and no passenger liner has ever come close to breaking her speed record. To prevent fire, almost no wood was used in her construction, and all of her “mid-century modern” interior fittings were either metal, plastic, or specially-treated leather and high-quality fabrics. She was never involved in any major accident, and docked late only twice in her career. Not only that, but she became the favorite of celebrities including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Zero Mostel, Salvador Dali, and dozens of other artists, members of European royal families, politicians, and movie stars.  She also carried countless American military personnel traveling to postings abroad, as well as thousands of immigrants fleeing war-ravaged Europe. Her crew of 1,000 provided stellar American service and kept her in absolute pristine condition. Her design incorporated top-secret military features, and she could be converted within a week to carry 15,000 troops, and could steam 10,000 miles at 33 knots without refueling. Laid up in 1969 due to labor disputes and aircraft competition, she now lies rusting and stripped at a pier in Philadelphia (the city of her creator’s birth) awaiting the next chapter of her career.

William Francis Gibbs (born Philadelphia, PA, 1886. Died New York, NY 1967)

Length: 990 feet

Beam: 101.5 feet
Draft: 31 feet
Gross tonnage: 53,000

Steam turbines generating 245,000 horsepower; quadruple screws

Cruising speed: 32 knots

Top speed: 38.32 knots

894 first class passengers
524 cabin class passengers
544 tourist class passengers
1,000 crew

Builders: Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company
Designers: Gibbs & Cox, Inc.

The SS United States arrives at Manhattan’s Pier 86 on the crisp fall morning of October 11, 1955, probably carrying a full load of 2,000 passengers.  Steamer trunks and suitcases are packed, friends and relatives are waiting in anticipation at the pier.  William Francis Gibbs met the ship each time she arrived from her five day crossing from Europe — this is what he would have seen.  Listen to those whistles, personally tuned by Gibbs during construction!

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