Gross Tonnage


Length Overall

990 feet


101.6 feet


31 feet


Steam turbines geared to quadruple screw


35 knots (maximum 38.23)


913 First, 558 Cabin, 537 Tourist


Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Virginia, 1952.


Career Details

The United States was received by the American public with due appreciation. The ship was regarded a supremely American possession and for the first time in decades, America could participate and regale in all the fanfare accompanying a grand transatlantic liner.

Commanding the new liner was U.S. Lines' most celebrated skipper-hero frequently decorated Commodore Harry Manning, who won America's first argument with a German submarine in WWII. After loading 1,000 passengers of the S.S. Washington into lifeboats when challenged by a U-boat in 1940, Manning stayed at his post and argued the enemy commander out of torpedoing his vessel. Manning held the United States Gold Medal for lifesaving, the Navy and Marine Corps medal, the Italian Government medal for lifesaving, and was a Chevalier of the Order of Maritime Merit of France. The United States Lines was sending it's new flagship out with only the best at her helm.

The United States embarked on her maiden voyage on 3 July 1952, leaving New York bound for Le Havre and Southampton. Following an extensive build up in the press and news media, the ship's inaugural voyage was sold-out well in advance. Indeed, the ship would live up to the expectations of it's owners and the nation for the United States steamed the 2,942 nautical miles from Ambrose Lightship to Bishop Rock in 3 days 10 hours 40 minutes at an average speed of 35.59 knots. Homewards, she made the crossing in 3 days, 12 hours 12 minutes at an average speed of 34.51 knots and so captured the revered 'Blue Riband' from the Queen Mary. America had proven its superiority once again and reigned supreme as speed champion of the North Atlantic.

The United States Lines immediately set about trying to make a reputation for the new ship in the Atlantic 'who's who' social set. With an advertising blitz touting travel-wise passengers who preferred the United States, the roll call sounded more like the roster of a large companies' Board of Directors than a cross-section of New York and Hollywood's social scene. The United States, through it's entire career would never manage to steal the high profile travellers from their loyalties to the Cunard and French Lines. Perhaps this was in part due to the stark, antiseptic feel to the interiors of the ship. The aluminum interiors created an institutional look, barren painted metal walls and harsh lighting negated any notion of luxury and put the United States in a new category of ships outside the peer of travellers whose concept of luxury included commissioned artworks and plush interiors.

The United Stated did manage to attract a loyal clientele, among which included Cary Grant, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who switched their allegiance from the Cunard Queens to the new United States.

In the 1950's, the United States would join with the America and begin it's career or Atlantic ferry service, offering healthy competition to Cunard's Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth who until this time had reigned undisputed in the Atlantic trade, ferrying passengers, tourists, and cargo from Europe to the Americas. Both the United States and the America would sail from New York's Pier 86. Five days later, the United States would call at Le Havre and Southampton and on the sixth day reaching Bremerhaven. The America would depart at 4pm from New York and reached Cobh on the sixth day, Le Havre and Southampton on the seventh and Bremerhaven on the eighth.

As the 1960's approached, airline competition became real. The economic viability of the larger liners would be in question within just a few short years. The story is the same for all the large liners of this decade and the United States was not immune to this. As airlines began to steal the transatlantic traffic, the steamship companies profits decreased.

Not only were airlines causing major headaches for shipping companies but the steamship lines began to face incessant strife from within. Unions became increasingly vocal and the beginning of the end was marked on 15 September 1963 when 680 unlicensed crew members of the National Maritime Union went on strike, demanding the removal of senior engineer officer Louis B. Neurohr on charges that he took discriminatory actions against Puerto Rican crew members.

In 1964, the America was sold to Chandris Lines for $4.25 million. By 1966, the United States was losing $8 million per year. By 1969, the United Stated had consumed over $100 million in government subsidies. Rising operating costs and lost revenues due to workers strikes were slowly taking their toll.

In 1965 the United States was laid up during the peak travel months of July and August because of striking union crew members asking for more money, shorter working hours, additional holidays and improved pension plans. Between January 1, 1961 and October 25, 1969, union worker strikes forced cancellation of voyages on eleven different occasions. The death knell would fall on October 25, 1969 when on her 726th crossing, Captain John S. Tucker received a wireless message informing him that the November 9 'Autumn Adventure' cruise would be canceled and that upon the ship's return to New York, the United States would depart for Newport News for an early annual overhaul. The rescheduling was intended to head off another threatened union strike but upon her arrival in Newport News, the United States would never sail under her own power again. After seventeen years of sailing the United States, a wonder of American cooperative effort and engineering, would fall victim to American labor unrest.

In 1973, the ship was placed under the authority of the US Federal Maritime Administration and was subsequently sold five years later to a firm which had plans to convert the ship into a full-time cruise vessel. Since that time the ship has changed hands repeatedly and endured the continuing ravages of time and neglect. The future is still uncertain for the United States though in an era when liners of old have fallen by the wayside, she has remained.

More Pictures

Click HERE to enter the SS United States section of the Picture Gallery

More Information - Kevin Tam's SS United States Page



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Monsters of the Sea: The Great Ocean Liners of Time