The SS United States: The Most Important Ocean Liner We May Soon Lose Forever

Although it’s often said that the era of ocean liners came to an end by the 1950s with the rise of commercial aviation, reality isn’t quite that clear-cut. Coming out of the troubled 1940s arose a new kind of ocean liner, one using cutting-edge materials and propulsion, with hybrid civil and military use as the default, leading to a range of fascinating design decisions. This was the context in which the SS United States was born, with the beating heart of the US’ fastest battle ships, with light-weight aluminium structures and survivability built into every single aspect of its design.

Outpacing the super-fast Iowa-class battleships with whom it shares a lot of DNA due to its lack of heavy armor and triple 16″ turrets, it easily became the fastest ocean liner, setting speed records that took decades to be beaten by other ocean-going vessels, though no ocean liner ever truly did beat it on speed or comfort. Tricked out in the most tasteful non-flammable 1950s art and decorations imaginable, it would still be the fastest and most comfortable way to cross the Atlantic today. Unfortunately ocean liners are no longer considered a way to travel in this era of commercial aviation, leading to the SS United States and kin finding themselves either scrapped, or stuck in limbo.

In the case of the SS United States, so far it has managed to escape the cutting torch, but while in limbo many of its fittings were sold off at auction, and the conservation group which is in possession of the ship is desperately looking for a way to fund the restoration. Most recently, the owner of the pier where the ship is moored in Philadelphia got the ship’s eviction approved by a judge, leading to very tough choices to be made by September.

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