Skip to main content

LIVES OF THE LINERS – July 6, 2022



                                From Bill Miller

                                  July 6th 2022

For several days, there was a great “open house” onboard the liner – including more reporters, travel agents, City officials and prospective passengers.   The maiden voyage, which was heavily booked, began at noon on Wednesday, July 3rd.  The Fourth of July, American Independence Day, had been considered, but the idea dropped.  As the sparkling ship sailed out of the port, it was expected to be a record run – but only if the weather and the sea cooperated.  Now, just days ago, it had been exactly 70 years since the brilliant United States cast off from  New York’s Pier 86.  

With Margaret Truman, daughter of the president, and designer William Francis Gibbs himself onboard, Commodore Harry Manning was in command.   Fares for the inaugural trip started at $360 in first class, $230 in cabin class and $170 in tourist class.  At this time, some facts and statistics, previously classified, were released.   She cost $72 million, total passengers and crew were placed at 3,101 and all while her emergency troop capacity was fixed at 12-14,000 (but this could be expanded to 15,000 and even as many as 18,000 if needed).  The basic details were 53,329 gross tons, 990 feet long, 101 feet wide (or just enough to pass through the Panama Canal), a service speed of 25-30 knots and a maximum of 2,008 passengers.

Going eastbound, the French liner Liberte passed the American flagship and reported she was exceeding 35 knots.   Yes, she had succeeded and grabbed the prized Blue Riband with an average speed of 35.59 knots, meaning 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes between New York’s Ambrose Light and Bishop’s Rock in Cornwall, England.   The United States shaved 10 hours off the previous record held by the Queen Mary.  

The United States made worldwide headlines, appeared in newsreels and television news casts and all while a record-breaking 20,000 people welcomed the ship to Southampton’s Ocean Terminal.  Even Winston Churchill sent a congratulatory telegram as did the master of the Queen Mary.  

The westbound maiden crossing was an equal success:   3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes, meaning an average of 34.51 knots.   President Truman himself traveled to New York to welcome the triumphant ship.  Immediately, the United States became the most popular single ocean liner in the world and began averaging 90-95% capacity on every sailing.  Quickly, she settled down to a 5-day schedule between New York, Le Havre and Southampton; sometimes she continued to Bremerhaven, which meant an added day.  At New York, she tended to arrive before 8 in the morning, spend three or four days at berth and then depart at Noon on her next crossing.

But yes, it has been 70 years ago since the United States became a great triumph – and as the New York Times called her, “the maritime wonder of the world”.