On the Water

SS United States Poster

The phrase Newest, Largest and Fastest on this 1952 poster captures the excitement surrounding the launching of the SS United States. Designed by naval architect and marine engineer William Francis Gibbs and built in Newport News, Virginia, the ship was delivered to its owners, the United States Lines, in 1952. It immediately took its place as the most modern (Newest) liner on the transatlantic route and the pride of the U.S. passenger fleet.

At launching, the SS United States was unquestionably the Largest U. S.-flagged passenger ship and the largest of the United States Lines’ fleet. Although at 990 feet in length it was slightly smaller than Britain’s 1,019-foot-long liner the Queen Mary, the SS United States could still carry about the same number of passengers while displacing significantly less water. The emphasis on size is suggested by the two smoke stacks (funnels) featured prominently on the poster. The funnels vented the combustion gases from the vessel’s four propulsion plants into the air. At the time, these structures were the largest ever built for this purpose. The company claimed that the funnels were so large that ten automobiles could be lined up side by side in each of them.

In terms of speed (Fastest), there was no contest. The poster artist conveys speed with the looped arrow and one can speculate that the loop represents the round-trip voyage on the ship’s regular service between the East Coast of the United States and Europe (New York / Havre / Southampton on the poster). The maiden voyage of the SS United States broke all records for a round trip with an average speed of 35.59 knots, or 39.50 miles per hour. The ship’s fastest speed was 38.32 knots, or 44 miles per hour. This speed was achieved by four separate steam turbine propulsion systems driving four separate propellers, each measuring 18 feet in diameter. Together these units produced 240,000 shaft horsepower.

The superlative nature of the SS United States was summed up by the British humor magazine Punch when it commented, on the arrival of the ship in port on her maiden voyage: “After the loud and fantastic claims made in advance for the liner United States, it comes as something of a disappointment to find them all true.”

ID Number:
30.375 x 22.062 in
Gift of Frank O. Braynard