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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

S.S. United States


I was in Philadelphia over the weekend visiting my son. We made a trip to Ikea to pick up a bookshelf for his apartment. Directly across from the Ikea store in South Philly is the berth of the S.S. United States. This once-proud ship now looks like a forlorn relic of some bygone era. Her fading paint and rust-encrusted hull belie the fact that just 50 years ago, she was the fastest ship afloat, clocking speeds that were documented as exceeding 50 mph!

The S.S. United States was built as both an ocean liner and a troop transport. The U.S. government helped to underwrite a huge part of the cost to build the ship. The reason was to have a readily available troop carrier that was so fast it could outrun anything else on the seas. The ship still holds the Transatlantic surface crossing speed record of 3 days, 10 hours, and 42 minutes.

But the United States was a classic example of the perfecting of one technology while another (the jumbo jet) was making it that perfection obsolete. The United States sailed for only 17 years and made its final trip in 1969. Many ideas were put forth on how to bring her back to her old glory but none have succeeded. At one point, the U.S. Government nixed the sale of the ship to foreign cruise lines because it would mean the divulging of her capability that was considered a military secret.

Since 1996, the S.S. United States has sat in the old Navy Yard in Philadelphia under the care of the S.S. United States Foundation, a non-profit organization intent on finding a way to preserve the ship. In 2003, she was sold to Norwegian Cruise Lines which still has not announced what they intend to do with the ship.

It seemed ironic to me that I was visiting one Scandinavian company's property (Ikea) while I was looking at the legacy of our shipping glory now owned by another Scandinavian company (NCL). Maybe it would be best that the S.S. United States follow the fate of so many other famous ships and be sent to the scrap yard. The memories of her are easier to take than the current reality.

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