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SS United States at a Glance:

  • Designed by William Francis Gibbs of Gibbs & Cox

  • Built at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.

  • 990 Feet (301.7M) in length

  • 101.5 Feet (30.5M) in beam

  • 180 Feet (54.8M) keel to funnel

  • 31 Feet (9.4M) draft

  • 53,290 gross tons

  • Largest passenger liner constructed in the US

  • 12 decks

  • Over 240,000 total shaft horsepower

  • 8 oil fired boilers, 4 steam turbines, geared to quadruple screw

  • Over 40 knot top speed

  • 11,000 mile range

  • 31 knot cruise speed at approximately 2/3 power

  • In 1952 made the fastest Atlantic crossing in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes, still holds westbound record today

  • Service career 1952 - 1969

  • Cost $79 million

  • 1,972 passengers, 1,011 crewmembers

  • 695 staterooms


Dimensions: The SS United States is 990 feet long (5 city blocks), 101 feet wide, and 175 feet high (a 17 story building). The SS United States has the tallest funnels in the world, at 65 feet (a 6 story building). The ship is the largest liner ever to be designed and constructed in the United States. The SS United States is also the largest ship designed to pass through the Panama Canal, with only inches to spare. 

Speed: The Big U was capable of attaining 44.7 knots, which equates to over 50 mph. Cruising speed was between 30 and 33 knots. The SS United States was the fastest ship afloat in her day, and is the fastest object of her size ever built. It is interesting to note that the SS United States was capable of traveling at 25 knots in reverse, roughly Titanic's forward top speed. 

Propulsion: The ship was able to attain such a high rate of speed due to an unrivaled power-to-weight ratio. The SS United States was a quadruple screw vessel, powered by 4 Westinghouse steam turbines, rotating at 5240 rpm, which produced up to a combined 247,785 shaft horsepower (SHP). Today's nuclear powered aircraft carriers only produce slightly more power than this. Her oil-burning boilers could reach 1,200 degrees F, causing the turbines to spin faster than than any ship of her day. The Big U could steam for 10,000 miles without stopping to refuel. The SS United States was a mere 28 feet shorter than the Queen Mary, but due to the extensive usage of aluminum in her superstructure (2,000 tons) weighed only 53,290 tons, roughly 30,000 tons less than the Queen Mary. The SS United States was such a success that its hull and engine designs were placed in nearly all large naval battle ships, and the ship itself was the prototype for the first super aircraft carriers, the Forrestal class. On the Big U, the powerplant was slightly derated because boiler superheat temp was lowered from 1,000 degrees to about 925 in the interests of reliability/maintenance.  The Carriers actually generated 5,000 to 10,000 SHP per shaft more than the Big U.  The propulsion system was a closely guarded secret until the 1970s. 

Accommodation: The Big U had the capacity to carry 1,972 passengers in 695 state rooms and 1,044 crew members. 

Designer: William Francis Gibbs, the renowned naval architect, was the designer of the Big U. The SS United States is credited to be the safest ship ever built. Fireproof materials were used extensively onboard the ship. It has often been said that the only wood to be found onboard was in the galley cutting blocks and the ship's pianos, making the ship completely fireproof. The Big U featured dual engine rooms to ensure that the ship could continue under her own power if struck by a single torpedo. Her hull is constructed of 2-inch steel plating. 

Builder: The SS United States was built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Newport News, VA. 

Features: Three dining salons, 26 public rooms, 3 passenger bars, 2 theaters, a heated pool, 19 elevators, more than seven miles of walkways, and over 5 acres of open deck space. The SS United States was the first ship to feature air conditioning in all passenger spaces. In addition, the Big U was the first ocean liner equipped with ship-to-shore telephones in all staterooms. 

Blue Ribbon: The SS United States was the last passenger liner to win the coveted Blue Ribbon. On her maiden voyage in July of 1952, the SS United States crossed the North Atlantic from Ambrose Lightship in New York to Bishop Rock in England in 3 days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes. On this historic run, the Big U ran 5 knots and 10 hours faster than the Queen Mary's fastest run. The SS United States still holds the fastest westbound crossing of the North Atlantic today. 

Troopship: It can be argued that the SS United States was built first to be a troopship and second to be a superliner. The United States government funded much of her $79 million price tag. The Big U was designed to be capable of converting to a troop ship capable of carrying 15,000 servicemen within 48 hours. The SS United States was never called into service, but was put on standby during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even though the SS United States was never called into service, she was a symbol of American power and ingenuity during the Cold War era. 

Service Career: 1952 - 1969. The SS United States would make 400 voyages that covered 2,772,840 miles. During this time period, the SS United States never had a single significant mechanical failure. More presidents and heads of state traveled on her than on any other ship. The Big U carried many notable celebrities, including John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, President and Mrs. Kennedy, President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Truman, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and many other notable persons. Service was discontinued mainly due to the passenger airliner, union difficulties, and rising operating costs. 

Movies: Walt Disney was so impressed with the SS United States that he filmed a movie on board with Jane Wyman and Fred MacMurray called Bon Voyage. 

Current State of the Ship: The SS United States was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line and will be converted into a state-of-the-art cruise ship.


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