QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
WHAT IS THE SS UNITED STATES?
The SS United States is an historic ocean liner, widely known “America’s flagship.” She is the fastest passenger ship ever built and the largest ever made in the USA. The United States still holds the trans-Atlantic speed record and is one of the last remaining of the world’s great 20th Century ocean liners. Since the vessel’s launch over 60 years ago, she has served as an enduring iconic symbol of American innovation and engineering might. She is the only ship that bears the name of this great nation.
WHY IS THE SS UNITED STATES SO IMPORTANT?
Like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Washington Monument — there’s only one SS United States. The ship was an ambassador of America’s post-war industrial power and a technological marvel. The soaring symbol of grace and grandeur touched the lives of over one million passengers, thousands of crew members, and countless others who were thrilled by her mere presence in New York or Europe flying the Stars and Stripes. Today, this ship remains one of the world’s last surviving examples from this bygone era of travel in grand style. The vessel still holds the transatlantic speed record, achieved on her maiden voyage using only two-thirds of her power. She served as a Naval auxiliary and was packed with top-secret features. It is imperative that we save her for future generations.
HOW DOES THE SS UNITED STATES COMPARE TO THE TITANIC?
The SS United States is the most famous ship that didn’t sink! At nearly 1,000 feet long, the SS United States is more than a hundred feet longer than the ill-fated Titanic, has five more decks, and — while in service — weighed in at nearly 10,000 tons heavier. The SS United States is so large that if you stood her on end, she’d be nearly as tall as New York City’s Chrysler Building or the Comcast Center in Philadelphia. As the fastest ocean liner ever constructed, the SS United States could move almost faster in reverse than the Titanic could travel forward.
WHO BUILT THE SS UNITED STATES AND WHY?
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, passenger travel across the Atlantic Ocean was dominated by a range of European merchant shipping lines that competed for the title of biggest, fastest and most luxurious ocean liner. The Queen Mary and Normandie are two examples of famous liners that transported travelers between New York and the ports of Europe in comfort and style. After World War II, it was America’s turn to demonstrate its ability to compete and win on the seas. This era brought with it new American prosperity and ingenuity as well as new security threats. The US Government worked in conjunction with the United States Lines to develop a “super ship” to be part Cold War weapon and part luxury ocean liner. The top secret Pentagon project produced the fastest, safest and most advanced vessel ever constructed — the SS United States. The ship could be quickly converted into a troop carrier able to transport 15,000 military service members for 10,000 miles without refueling, and do it faster than any other ship before or since.
HOW FAST WAS THE SS UNITED STATES?
The SS United States’ propellers, materials, hull and sleek overall design were part of a top secret Pentagon program to create the world’s fastest ship. The SS United States still holds the trans-Atlantic speed record or “Blue Riband.” Her true performance figures were kept secret for many years, but we know now that on her sea trials she achieved an amazing 38 knots — about 44 miles per hour. Some maritime historians and former crew members maintain that she sped even faster, so her true top speed may never be known. By comparison, today’s modern cruise ships travel at around 28 miles per hour. The SS United States smashed the transatlantic speed record on her maiden voyage in 1952 using only two-thirds of her power.
WHO DESIGNED THE SS UNITED STATES?
The SS United States was designed by self-taught naval architect and marine engineer William Francis Gibbs. Born in 1886, Gibbs realized a life-long dream of designing the fastest ship in the world with the SS United States’ maiden voyage in 1952. His firm designed over 60 percent of all of the nation’s heavy armored ships in World War II, some 5,000 vessels in total. Widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost naval architects, he was deeply attached to his prized creation. Gibbs called the SS United States every day when she was at sea and rarely missed being on hand for the vessel’s docking at her pier in New York. Gibbs’s granddaughter, Susan Gibbs, serves as the SS United States Conservancy’s executive director.
DID ANY FAMOUS PASSENGERS TRAVEL ON THE SS UNITED STATES?
The SS United States was the ship on which to sail in the 1950s and 60s, and she carried a very impressive complement of notable passengers on nearly every voyage. These included Marlon Brando, Coco Chanel, Sean Connery, Gary Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Salvador Dali, Walt Disney, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The ship also carried four US presidents — Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton. In fact, the SS United States carried more Presidents and heads of state in her career than any other ship in history.
WHERE IS THE SS UNITED STATES LOCATED NOW? CAN I VISIT THE SHIP?
The SS United States is docked at Pier 82 on Philadelphia’s Delaware River. Because the vessel is located at a working pier and is subject to Homeland Security regulations, access to the vessel’s pier is restricted. Members of the media are sometimes permitted on board with the permission of and escorted by the Conservancy. Financial supporters of the ship at certain levels can also schedule tours with the Conservancy. However, an excellent view of the vessel for the general public can be seen from Columbus Boulevard or from the IKEA cafeteria in Columbus Commons across the street. To pinpoint directions to the vessel using GPS, the following address may be used: 2100 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia PA 19148.
ARE THE SS UNITED STATES’ INTERIORS STILL INTACT?
No. Unfortunately, the vessel’s fittings were all dismantled in the 1980s and 1990s by previous owners for financial gain and to remove building materials popular in the 1950s that were later deemed hazardous. Many fittings and artwork remain in private collections. The Conservancy’s mission includes a restoration of several of the ship’s grand public rooms to their original configuration with both original and replica materials. The Conservancy is presently undertaking a special project to catalogue the location and ownership of the remaining fittings from the vessel including furniture, artwork, china and other items.
HOW DO I RESEARCH WHETHER ONE OF MY ANCESTORS TRAVELED ON THE SS UNITED STATES?
Over one million passengers traveled on the SS United States, and passenger lists from each voyage were maintained by United States Lines. These documents were scattered after the ship was withdrawn from service, but the Conservancy is currently compiling and digitizing these records for future use, including genealogical research.
ABOUT THE SS UNITED STATES CONSERVANCY
WHAT IS THE SS UNITED STATES CONSERVANCY?
As the owners of the SS United States, America’s National Flagship, the Conservancy leads the global effort to save this one-of-a-kind piece of American history from being lost forever. The Conservancy, a national nonprofit organization, raises awareness and financial resources for the maintenance, restoration, and ultimate reuse of this iconic vessel. The Conservancy’s staff, Board of Directors, and advisors work in tandem with volunteers from across the nation and around the world to ensure that the fastest ocean liner ever to cross the Atlantic endures and inspires for generations to come.
HOW DOES THE CONSERVANCY SPEND THE FUNDS IT HAS RAISED?
The Conservancy has been spending approximately 82 cents out of every dollar raised on direct costs related to the SS United States’ upkeep, including dockage, insurance, security, and vessel maintenance costs. The Conservancy is now prioritizing its exciting curatorial and educational programs highlighting the historical significance of America’s Flagship. The Conservancy deploys a very small team of part-time staff members and consultants, as well as a large network of volunteers and pro bono advisors. The Conservancy’s management and board of directors receive no compensation for their work on behalf of the SS United States.
WHAT IS THE SAVETHEUNITEDSTATES.ORG CAMPAIGN?
SavetheUnitedStates.org is a groundbreaking crowd-funding campaign to save and restore America’s Flagship. It is an innovative, online experience that combines the latest in digital technology, social networking and historic preservation in an innovative new web platform for everyone to enjoy. SavetheUnitedStates.org offers visitors a virtual ship experience online where they can navigate throughout the great vessel to learn about her history, her personalities, and her accomplishments. Everyone can help save the ship by personalizing their own sections for as little as $1. Contributors can select sections of the ship they wish to help save, and then build a profile with photos and stories around those portions — making every supporter a part of the large, online community dedicated to saving the ship. This groundbreaking interactive experience will become a permanent part of the future SS United States Center for Design and Discovery. As of 2018, more than 80,000 pieces of the ship have been saved.
DOES THE CONSERVANCY OFFER EDUCATIONAL AND CURATORIAL PROGRAMS?
The SS United States Conservancy remains deeply committed to honoring the legacy of the SS United States through curatorial and educational programs, and we will continue to prioritize this important work. Since its founding, the Conservancy has developed and mounted major temporary exhibitions at the Forbes Galleries in New York City and the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. The Conservancy will be partnering with the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge Massachusetts to develop an exhibition featuring the SS United States artwork of renowned author-illustrator David Macaulay. The Conservancy maintains a growing collection of SS United States documents, images, artifacts, and other historical materials. We have also conducted an exhaustive preservation inventory of fixtures and shipboard components remaining aboard the vessel. Plans are underway for a dynamic “digital exhibition” that will explore the SS United States’ unique design and history.
WHAT IS THE SS UNITED STATES CENTER FOR DESIGN & DISCOVERY?
The Conservancy is well underway with the development of the new SS United States Center for Design and Discovery. The museum and learning center will explore the SS United States’ emergence as an iconic American achievement and examine broader themes of 20th century post-war society, maritime history, science and technology, and mid-century modern art and design. The Conservancy continues to expand its permanent collection of SS United States artifacts, historical documents, artwork, and ship fixtures. For more information, click here.
IS MY CONTRIBUTION TAX DEDUCTIBLE?
Yes! As a national 501(c)(3), all contributions to save America’s Flagship are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.
HOW CAN I HELP SAVE THE UNITED STATES?
If you would like to become a member of the SS United States Conservancy or support our efforts, please visit www.ssusc.org/donate.
HOW CAN MY COMPANY OR ORGANIZATION HELP SAVE THE UNITED STATES?
Becoming a Corporate Sponsor of the SS United States Conservancy provides your company or organization with a unique opportunity to help champion the global effort to Save the SS United States. Sponsor benefits include national media exposure, naming rights opportunities, permanent online recognition on SavetheUnitedStates.org, special tours, and appreciation events. The cause of America’s Flagship reaches a wide range of audiences in a growing global community of supporters. Show them you care about saving our history and become a sponsor today. If you have any questions about our Corporate Sponsorship Program or would like to receive copies of our Corporate Sponsorship materials, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (888) 488-7787. You can also download our Corporate Sponsorship brochure here.
HOW DO MY CONTRIBUTIONS HELP?
Without continued financial support from its members and donors, the SS United States will be lost forever. By becoming a member or making a donation through SavetheUnitedStates.org or on our Conservancy website, your support helps the Conservancy continue its efforts to ensure that the SS United States inspires and endures for generations to come. Your donations will enable us to expand its educational and outreach programs to inform the public, policymakers, and the media about the history and potential of America’s flagship and will help us launch exhibitions and displays honoring the SS United States.
DOES THE CONSERVANCY RECEIVE ANY GOVERNMENT FUNDING?
No. The SS United States is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but she does not receive State or Federal financing. The Conservancy relies on the generosity of private citizens from across the nation and around the world who want to protect and preserve this unrivaled design and engineering achievement.