The steamship United States was the fastest ocean liner ever built. It crossed the Atlantic in a record-setting eastbound time of 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes in 1952. But during the 1960s, commercial flights overtook sea voyages as the most popular way to cross the oceans. No ship could hope to compete with the speed of jet aircraft. Ads for ocean travel focused on fun and relaxation for all aboard, first class through fourth. As Cunard Line put it in its 1950s ad campaign, “Getting There is Half the Fun.”
Anne Urquhart and Dorothy Marckwald designed all the passenger interiors on the United States. They hired Raymond Wendell to create the painted aluminum wall panels, called the Currents, in the first-class observation lounge. The panel’s unusual materials—paint and metal leaf on aluminum—met the naval architects’ aim that the ship be fireproof.
Brochures and deck plans for Tourist, Cabin, and First Class, 1960s
Print ads for the United States portrayed sailing as leisurely and fun when undertaken on “a ‘playground’ 5 city blocks long.”
The United States
The passenger liner United States was built at Newport News, Virginia, in 1952. Its capacity as built was 888 first class, 524 cabin, and 544 tourist class. The ship sailed with a crew of 1,036.
Subsidized by the U.S. Navy, the United States could be converted from a 2,000-person passenger liner into a 14,000-person troop ship in a few days. To cut the ship’s weight and reduce fire hazards, naval architect William Francis Gibbs insisted on aluminum throughout. He even tried unsuccessfully to commission aluminum pianos from Steinway & Sons. All 22,000 pieces of furniture aboard were framed in aluminum.
Max Isenbergh, a Washington lawyer, used this trunk from the 1930s to the 1960s for travel around the United States and to Europe. He and his family relocated to Paris in 1956 when he took an appointment at the American embassy. The Isenberghs used this trunk in their first-class stateroom aboard the S.S. United States.
Gift of Michael R. Harrison