USS United States


United States At Sea

Moored And Silent

Can The Great Ship United States Be Saved?


By James Donahue


We devote much of our space asking this question about the ship of state. But in this case, we are referring to a real ship that once prowled the waters of the North Atlantic.


After years of duty as a fine luxury liner, used for many trips to Punta Cana resorts and Cancun hotels  and well-remembered as the fastest ship afloat, the U.S.S. United States rests today at Pier 82 in Philadelphia as members of the USS United States Foundation work to raise the money needed to restore and preserve it as a national historical monument.


Through vigorous efforts by its members, the foundation recently convinced the National Trust for Historic Preservation to include the 990-foot-long ship among its 2006 nominees for its prestigious “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” list. The vessel already is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


All of this appears to be a problem for the Norwegian Cruise Lines, which bought the vessel in 2003 with the intention of a complete overhaul and putting it back in service as an excursion vessel serving East Coast ports of the United States.


As foundation member Robert Hudson Westover explained, “putting the ship back to sea would destroy the few historic elements still left after nearly 30 years of auctioning off items, environmental deterioration and just plain neglect by its previous owners.”


Westover said the primary historic elements still remaining are the ships two impressive ten-deck-high engine rooms and its overall streamlined architecture that remains unique among ocean liners.


Getting the ship registered as a historic place stopped the cruise line from replacing the engines with more modern engines designed to compete in the modern cruise market. Her massive steam turbine engines were said to provide more power than battleships carried in that day, thus it could reach speeds of up to 40 knots, making it the fastest vessel on the high seas.


The liner was designed to serve America as a troopship in time of war, with a potential capacity of up to 14,000 troops, and had the fuel capacity to steam non-stop for up to 10,000 miles. It was launched in 1952, in the midst of the Korean conflict, but was never used as a troopship during either that war, or the Vietnam War.


The United States, owned by the U.S. Lines, offered the finest in luxury in its day, with 913 first class beds, 558 cabin spaces, and 537 tourist beds. She was in competition with the Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and the French liners for the North Atlantic passenger trade that was still strong. The airlines didn’t begin taking a real bite out of the business until the 1960s.


The death knell for the liner fell almost unexpectedly. Not only were the airlines drawing passengers from the liners, but the unions were putting pressure on the industry. After 680 members of the National Maritime Union struck the vessel in New York on a labor issue in 1963, the ship was sold to the Chandris Lines. But two years later it was revealed that the ship was losing $8 million a year and rising operating costs and lost revenues because of workers strikes were taking their toll.


The United States was laid up for good after her 726th Atlantic crossing on Oct. 25, 1969 when threatened with yet another labor strike. After 17 years of service, the great ship would never sail under its own power again.


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