The SS United States’ withdrawl from service in 1969 stunned her officers and crew: some left their equipment and personal items on-board in anticipation of returning to work the next day, only to find the gangway doors sealed shut. Although the ship’s fate remained uncertain, her immediate future was secure. As a reserve ship for the US Navy, she was hermetically sealed at her berth in order to preserve her interiors and machinery. Until 1978, remained in stasis: always ready to be deployed should the situation arise.
A SUCCESSION OF OWNERS
In 1978, the US Navy decided the ship was no longer relevant to their needs, and the ship was listed for sale. She then passed from owner to owner, each with big plans for her future:
- RICHARD HADLEY, of Seattle, planned to convert the vessel into seagoing time-share condominiums. After his financing collapsed, he had the ship’s interior fittings auctioned off in 1984.
- FRED MAYER, who bought the ship in 1992, sought to create a running mate for Cunard’s QE2. He had the ship towed to Turkey and then the Ukraine for hazardous material removal, and then towed back to Philadelphia in 1996, where she has remained since.
- EDWARD CANTOR bought the ship with dreams of returning it to seagoing service. The ship was put up for sale after his death in 2002.
- NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE purchased the vessel in 2003 and announced plans to rehabilitate the ship as part of its American-flagged cruise service. The global economic crisis caused these plans to founder, and the vessel was again listed for sale in 2009.
After NCL’s efforts to sell the ship were unsuccessful, NCL began accepting bids from scrappers. This announcement spurred the SS United States Conservancy to launch its “Save Our Ship” Campaign to build public support for the vessel, prevent her sale for scrap and raise funds for her purchase and restoration. In July of 2010, the Conservancy announced that it had received a leadership grant from Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest enabling the ship’s purchase as well as upkeep for 20 months. This marked the first time in the vessel’s history that a group concerned primarily with the vessel’s historical significance and preservation has owned her. While the Conservancy’s purchase of the SS United States granted it a crucial reprieve, she has not yet been “saved.” Funds must yet be raised for her restoration and redevelopment. The Conservancy envisions a future where the SS United States is a sustainable waterfront attraction, providing jobs and important public amenities, while educating and inspiring future generations.