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The SS United States – America’s Big Ship

The SS United States – America’s Big Ship

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  • Address: SS United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A Quick Look at a Very Fast Ocean Liner That Has Been Docked for Many Years

When you’re traveling around our Great Big Country, or just around the Northeast, you’re bound to see some Big Things in the USA. New York, Washington, Boston — they all have their own natural beauty, special landmarks, tourist attractions, and the occasional weird object or item that’s worth a road trip in your cheap rental car.

But the Big Thing To See we’re going to talk about now isn’t exactly a typical, beautiful sight that everyone wants to stop and look at. In fact, it’s a bit of an eyesore for the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia!

The SS United States is a Giant Ocean Liner, now docked at a pier on the Delaware River, where she has decayed for over 17 years. The SS United States turned 60 years old in 2012, but in years gone by it was one of the fastest passenger ships in the world! It was also the Largest Ship of its kind to be built (entirely) in the USA.

Photo by Michele Schaffer

The United States Navy had utilized British ocean liners during World War II to carry troops to Europe, and as a result, the U.S. government paid nearly 2/3 of the cost of building the SS United States in 1952, with the agreement that the Very Big Boat would be made available at a moment’s notice, if ever needed by the Navy. Adjusted for inflation, the ship’s cost was well over $600 million!


It may have been 60 years ago, but the SS United States was capable of blasting through the choppy Atlantic Ocean waves, and on her first voyage broke the record for fastest time crossing the Atlantic (west-to-east), and then broke the record coming home, too! It took about 3-and-a-half days both ways.

In 1969, as trans-Atlantic ocean voyages had dipped in popularity tremendously when trans-Atlantic flight had become the norm, the SS United States was taken out of service. For the next 3 decades, its ownership changed hands often, and plans to return it to duty of one kind or another always fell through.

Photo by Bob Jagendorf

In 1996, its (possibly final) resting place became South Philadelphia, specifically Pier 84. To see the SS United States, you can drive down to the docks, but you don’t even have to — just hop into your rental car and drive along Interstate 95.

In 1999, the SS United States was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to tour the ship. So while it’s definitely a Big Thing To See in Philadelphia, it could certainly be an awesome tourist attraction if only preservationists such as the SS United States Foundation and SS United States Conservancy can raise all the funds necessary to turn it into one!

Photo by Mihai Bojin

“The Conservancy envisions a future where the SS United States is a sustainable waterfront attraction, providing jobs and important public amenities, while educating and inspiring future generations,” states the Conservancy’s website at

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