The term “Superliner” is now foreign, but was at one time a well-known term for vast ocean liners that plied the oceans of the world. America’s “Superliner” was and still is the venerable SS United States which in July of 1952 won the Blue Ribbon from the Queen Mary by crossing the Atlantic faster than any liner before her at an average speed of 35 knots. The SS United States made the crossing in Three days Ten hours and forty minutes, cutting ten hours off the Queen Mary’s best speed.
Designed by famed maritime architect, William Francis Gibbs, it was his life-long dream to construct such a vessel. With a little help financially from the United States government, Gibbs was given a clean slate to design and build a masterpiece in American ingenuity and pride, a vessel that would rival any other in speed, and technical savvy. The new design was sleek, safe, powerful, and although a little more on the sterile side in design taste, Americans were proud of this masterpiece in naval engineering, and the new ship immediately attracted movie stars and politicians, and the imagination of people all around the world. The SS United States quickly became an icon of masterful naval engineering perfection.
Of course to operate such a vessel, the costs were very high and unfortunately after WWII, and in the late 60’s there was less of a need for trans-Atlantic ocean liners because of the jet-age where passengers could cross the Atlantic in hours rather than days. Little-by-little great liners were laid-up and retired or repurposed. The giant SS United States lost her subsidies from the U.S. Government in 1969, so the decision was made to retire the ship in a lonely backwater of the Newport News shipyard, where she remained until the late 80’s early 90’s mothballed and left to sit until someone, somewhere would invest the millions to re-activate her and operate her as a cruise ship or hospital ship.
The SS United States was towed across the Atlantic and her interior fitting were completely gutted. She was returned to an American port in Philadelphia where she remains today. Unfortunately without having been painted again, the ship was left to deteriorate until someone decided to put millions into refurbishing the ship either as a museum or multi-purpose center with shops, malls, restaurants, etc. To this day, nothing has been done to her, and she continues to rust, paint continues to chip away, and the ship looks very worn, but rises proudly at a dock in Philadelphia not far from an IKEA. A Conservancy has been founded to eventually restore the ship to some of her former glory, but unless she was to be re-engined, she will probably never go anywhere under her own power. Her massively powerful engines remain in deterioration and would need to be replaced.
The SS United States is in great danger of being permanently neglected and sold as scrap somewhere to the highest bidder. This would be immensely sad because of her history. At 990 feet long and around 50,000 tons, she is larger than the Titanic, but still remains afloat because of her masterful design.