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SS United States

By Brandy Riegel, Dana Manzi, Elliot Williams, Connor Ferrara


(Philadelphia, PA) A 1000 foot ship sits, rusting, on the Delaware River costing approximately $60,000 every month to keep in some semblance of repair. Amid growing controversy over the fate of this once proud cruise liner lies a deeper story of differing opinions on how to properly respect a piece of American history. The S.S. United States or "The Big U," once noted for its record-breaking speed, is now the topic of a passionate debate.


The United States was once an icon of American ingenuity and prosperity. Its construction, heavily subsidized by the Department of Defense in 1950, was unique among other commercial liners of the time. Its capability to cross the Atlantic at 35 knots, a record speed for a ship of its size, would have made it an essential weapon in the event of war with the Soviet Union because of its ability to transport men and equipment quickly from North America.


However, the Cold War never went "hot" allowing it to maintain its operations as a civilian passenger ship. Its incredible speed made it popular among citizens, celebrities and other dignitaries during the years of its service between 1952-1968. Some of the most celebrated and influential passengers included several American presidents, foreign royalty, government officials and Hollywood celebrities. These names included John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando.


"The Big U" qualifies for service in American territorial waters under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act) making it appealing to foreign businesses who wish to operate in U.S waters. Though originally operated by a U.S company, United States Lines, the ship has traded hands several times over the years since its decommissioning. Consequently, very few repairs have been made despite early intentions by previous owners to restore the ship to her former glory. Recently, she has fallen into disrepair. Norwegian Cruise Lines, the ship's current owner, lacking the massive funding required to repair her, plans to sell the ship. This recent turn of events has created an opportunity for both salvage companies, who want the United States stripped for her reusable materials, and conservation groups, who would like to see the ship repaired.


Whether the fate of this ship lies in a scrapping yard or as a monument to American technical prowess remains uncertain. However, what is certain is that regardless of what you may believe about the future of this ship, the S.S. United States remains an icon of a bygone era and her existence serves as a reminder of perhaps greatest period in American history. Steve Ciccalone, Director of operations regarding the maintenance of the ship stated that "It's probably the most significant commercial vessel that's ever been built in this country.".