On its inaugural voyage in 1952, the sleek S.S. United States set the record for an Atlantic crossing (3 1/2 days) and more than sixty years later, the record still stands.
The United States was the Concorde of its day: high tech, expensive, and luxurious, the fastest way across the ocean. Made of lightweight aluminum with R&D funded by the Department of Defense (since the United States could be converted into the world’s fastest troop ship.)
In June 1958, my father, a career Army officer, was transferred to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) just outside Paris. We were to travel on the S.S. United States!
Right before departure, a general officer decided to fly instead of sail, and we were upgraded to First Class. Another military brat and I landed our own cabin. We went to see the movie Run Silent Run Deep four times. Burt Lancaster was aboard but we never got to talk with him.
By the way, our household furniture traveled with us, in two humongous crates stored in the hold.
I learned to eat in the First Class dining room of the S.S. United States. Caviar, squab under glass, beef Wellington, tornedos Rossini, sorbet. The waiters encouraged me to order everything I might want to try. I took them up on it.
One evening we had just sat down to dinner when the ship rolled 20 degrees starboard. Every plate on the tables crashed to the floor. Half the guests left immediately. The crew installed ropes along the halls and stairways so you could cling when the ship lurched back and forth violently. North Atlantic storms are vicious.
No one saw this coming. Today we’d get amber alerts on our smartphones before hitting the bad weather.
Photo from The New York Times, October 9, 2015
The S.S. United States sailed its last voyage in 1969. Various groups have tried to save it but they’ve run out of money. The S.S. United States will either be moored in concrete or, more likely, cut into pieces and sold for scrap.
Given a choice of speed or luxury, people opted for speed, and airplanes wiped out transoceanic cruises.
This is but one more example of technology knocking the stuffing out of an entire category, wiping out the best performers at the same time as the worst. Remember typewriters?