The SS United States was launched at the twilight of transatlantic travel by ship. Although with her impressive speed and first rate accommodations, the United States was eventually replaced with commercial jet travel.
A joint venture between the United States Government and the United States Lines, the vessel was developed as the fastest and most powerful ocean liner ever that could quickly transform into a troopship or a hospital ship to help during a wartime effort. After a successful civilian career, the ship was retired and has since passed through several owners and ports until landing in the hands of the SS United States Conservancy and is docked in the US.
Located in Philadelphia, PA, the ship currently sits awaiting restoration. Through philanthropic donations and grassroots fundraising, the ship currently sits docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River, visible from the Walt Whitman Bridge.
SS United States and Navy Origins
Designed by famed naval architect Francis Gibbs, the design of the ship utilized technology developed by the US Navy. Developed as a potential troop transport to help with war efforts had they arisen, the ship was developed with speed in mind. The ship also was designed to resist fire. Unlike the traditional ocean liner luxurious wooden interiors, the United States sported a futuristic design palette. The only wood on board was the butcher blocks in the kitchens. Francis Gibbs also requested Steinway to supply an aluminum grand piano for the ship.
Although built after WWII, the United States Department of Defense deemed it prudent to develop a world class troop transport. Shrouded in secrecy, the SS United States had the ability to transform from ocean liner to warship in short notice. Fortunately the conflicts of the later 20th century never escalated, the SS United States never saw wartime service.
Speed and Power of the SS United States
Although the design of the United States was shrouded in tactical secrecy, the most obvious aspect of the design was her immense power and speed. Crushing the competition in terms of time to cross the Atlantic, the United States could whisk the elite and powerful across the ocean in under four days, a time savings of over 12 hours. A ship this large traveling at interstate highway speeds must have been quite a sight.
Powered by four 18' diameter propellors, the United States was the most powerful merchant marine vessel to be built. Not only powerful, but capable of long range missions, the ship could sail 10,000 nautical miles at 35 knots (40 mph) before refueling.
Clever naval architecture helped the SS United States become the greyhound of its era. Extensive use of aircraft-inspired aluminum construction on the superstructure helps with the decreased weight, in turn reducing draft. Fortunately, the aluminum has held up to the elements better than steel would have. Although the ship may visibly be deteriorating, the SS United States remains in relatively good condition with recent structural reports placing the ship within modern shipbuilding requirements and minimums.
Future of the SS United States
Currently berthed in Philadelphia, PA, the United States can be seen when visiting an IKEA along Columbus Boulevard, or when crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge.
Plans have been in the works to save the ship, potentially transforming the vessel into a hotel similar to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. Currently, the ship can only wait to be saved from being scrapped and losing a piece of history and the prized flagship of the United States. The United States Conservancy currently has been promoting activism and preservation efforts. Check out their site and learn more about this beautiful ocean liner:
SS United States Ship Facts
101' - 6"
31' - 3"
Number of Decks:
32 Knots (37 mph or 59 km/hr)
38.38 Knots (44.1mph or 70.97km/h)
Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock in Newport News
Port of Registry:
New York City
July 3, 1952
Years in Service:
Docked in Philadelphia, PA
SS United States Frequently Asked Questions
What was the SS United States and when was it built? Answer: The SS United States was a passenger liner built in the early 1950s as part of a competition between the United States and most European countries to build the fastest and most luxurious ocean liners in the world. The success of the Queens - Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, among other troopships in WWII - showcased to the United States government the value of being able to transport 15,000 troops across the globe within days. In the context of the height of the cold war, the SS United States was a futuristic and fast mid-century modern luxury liner that could be converted to more spartan fittings to accommodate thousands of male soldiers. Fortunately that purpose was never implemented.
What was the SS United States' top speed? Answer: The SS United States was capable of traveling at speeds of up to 38+ knots, or 44 miles per hour, making it one of the fastest ocean liners ever built.
What were some notable features of the SS United States? Answer: The SS United States was known for its sleek, modern design, with a distinctive red, white, and blue funnel and a large, sweeping promenade deck. It also featured state-of-the-art engineering and safety features, including a double hull and extensive fireproofing.
What was the SS United States' most famous voyage? Answer: The SS United States' most famous voyage was in 1952, when it set a new transatlantic speed record on its maiden voyage, traveling from New York to England in just three days, ten hours, and 40 minutes.
What is the current status of the SS United States? Answer: The SS United States has been retired from service since the late 1960s and has undergone various remediation and stripping at various locations over the years. As of 2023, it is docked in Philadelphia inaccessible to the public but with work being done to hopefully use as a hotel, museum, and events space.
What was the SS United States used for? Answer: The SS United States was primarily used as a passenger liner for transatlantic voyages between the United States and Europe.
When was the SS United States in service? Answer: The SS United States was in service from 1952 to 1969.
Who designed the SS United States? Answer: The SS United States was designed by American naval architect William Francis Gibbs.
Is the SS United States still in existence? Answer: Yes, the SS United States is still in existence, although it has not been in service since 1969. It is currently docked in Philadelphia preserved as a museum and cultural center.