Iconic Ships 16: SS United States

July 2022

Our ‘Iconic Ships’ series continues with the magnificent SS United States, published on the 70th anniversary of her maiden voyage. Launched in June 1951 she was the last remaining American superliner from the golden age of transatlantic travel and was built specifically to break the transatlantic speed record. On her maiden voyage she made the transatlantic run in just three and a half days. To this day, she still holds the trans-Atlantic speed record: no other passenger ship has crossed the Atlantic faster in either direction. Not only built for speed, her design was also innovative for a number of different reasons, all of which are crucial in the history of ship design, and in particular in the history of safety in passenger ships, at a time when America was wrestling with Russia on the world stage. With lessons having been learned from the Second World War, in this period passenger ships were designed in a way that made them easily convertible into troopships. Her designer William Francis Gibbs famously summed up his achievement: ‘You can’t set her on fire, you can’t sink her, and you can’t catch her.’ The SS United States has remarkably survived the years and today sits at Pier 82 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia while money is raised and plans set in place to preserve her for future generations. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of William Frances Gibbs, the ship’s visionary designer and President of the SS United States Conservancy, the body dedicated to her preservation.

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