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S.O.S. Saving an American Icon



SS United States

‘Celebrating Our American Heritage’ was this year’s Maywood’s July 4th Parade theme and participating with a float was the SS United States Conservancy. Spearheading the group’s participating was local Maywood resident Chuck Parodi who is focusing on informing northern New Jersey residents of the group’s preservation efforts of the SS United States. The past two years have seen the SS United States Conservancy evolve from an all volunteer advocacy group into the owners of America’s most important merchant vessel. Its purpose is dedicated to protecting, revitalizing, and promoting America’s iconic flagship.

The SS United States is the largest passenger ship ever built in America. She carried a crew of 1,000 and almost 2,000 passengers. She still holds the Blue Ribbon for crossing the Atlantic in 1952 with the fastest time on her maiden trans  Atlantic crossing and return trip back to her home port of New York City. Going over 41 mph, the ocean waters sandblasted the paint off her bow as she retook the speed record from Great Britain’s Queen Mary. Her crew was feted with a New York City ticker tape parade to crown this great maritime achievement of the 20th century. The SS United States, affectionately known as the “Big U” was the sea going symbol of post war America with her raked red, white and blue smoke stacks. Totally American-made, she was the symbol of American ingenuity and confidence during the 50s and 60s.

Being built after World War II, her primary naval ship designer was William Francis Gibbs, and her monetary supporter was the United States navy which spent 50 million on her of the total 79 million dollars of which she cost to build. The navy partnered with United States Lines to build this ocean liner. She was built during the Cold War with the idea of being able to convert within several days notice to being a troop carrier with the potential of being able to carry an entire army division of 14,000 soldiers over 10,000 miles without stopping for fuel, water or provisions. She was America’s “ship of state”, an icon on both sides of the Atlantic. Dictator Joseph Stalin and others sought for years to learn of the top secret design features of this great ship. More aluminum was used in its construction than any other construction project of its day. Two engineer rooms were part of its design to help overcome any torpedo damage it might suffer during a possible military encounter. Its hull was a totally new design which was carried over to future naval ships. It boasted 5 water proof compartments designed to prevent sinking whereas most ships built today have far less. It could go over 22 knots in reverse which is faster than most ships can go forward. In sea trials, the “Big U” went 45 knots with still some power held back in reserve. William Francis Gibbs went on to design almost two0-thirds of the naval ships after World War II with many of the features incorporated in the SS United States to later be a part of the the United States’ naval fleet’s construction.

Like the bi-planes which took down King Kong, jet planes cut the time dramatically in crossing the Atlantic and thus did in trans-Atlantic ocean liners. The SS United States was retired in 1969. She was bought by several companies to continue serving as an ocean liner with Norwegian Cruise Lines being its last maritime company with plans to have her cruise the Hawaiian Islands. With a change in company hierarchy, the decision was made to sell several of its ships including the SS United States. Rather than sell her for scrap, NCL took a loss and sold the ship to the SS United States Conservancy in 2011. This was in part due to a generous 5.8 million dollar grant from H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest, from Philadelphia. This has resulted in the SS United States Redevelopment Project which is advancing plans to select and obtain a permanent location for the SS United States as a mixed-use waterfront destination. The Conservancy’s national micro-investing campaign at SavetheUnitedStates.org enables the users to purchase and personalize portions of a digital model of the SS United States starting at $1 per square inch. The costs of taking care of this 990 ft. long ship and developing a museum are formidable. The plight of the ship has been featured recently on all the major television networks with accompanying newspaper and magazine articles tracing the ship’s conception to its present day situation.

More information for those readers who want to learn more of the plight of the SS United States can check out the following sources:  www.ssusc.org, www.facebook.com/ssuc, www.twitter.com/ssusc and www.savetheunitedstates.org. Monthly meetings are held by the NYC/NNJ Chapter in New York City at various locations. The Conservancy actively seeks “Big U” former passengers or crew members to contact the group to come aboard and help save this American icon. Please contact Chuck Parodi for more information at 201-843-6966.

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