Philadelphia is the most historic city in all of America. American democracy was founded here, it was our Nation’s first capitol, and there has been no shortage of great American citizens or their innovations for hundreds of years.
But not all of our city’s legacy was born here. Some moved here at a young age, others relocated here at the end of their lives, and some, even after a quarter-century, still have their stories being told.
The latter is the current fate of the SS United States, which has been docked in Philadelphia for the last 25 years. The ship, which currently sits docked on Penn’s Landing by the Ikea on Delaware Avenue, was the brainchild of William Francis Gibbs, a Philly native.
Gibbs’ dream was to create the world’s fastest passenger ship, a record that the SS United States broke on its maiden voyage to England. It completed the journey from New York to England in just three and a half days at a speed of 38 knots (which is about 44 MPH on land). According to Gibbs’ granddaughter Susan, who is also the President of the SS United States Conservancy, the ship did so at only 2/3 of its potential full speed. Regardless of the reduced speed, the record that was set on that inaugural journey still stands to this day!
Like any state of the art technology, the SS United States was eventually rendered obsolete due to the expanding popularity of airline travel. In 1969 it was removed from service and found its way to the dock in South Philadelphia in 1996 where the ship still stoically sits.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on Penn’s Landing, you’ve no doubt seen the SS United States, its massive frame towering over the dock and water (plus surrounding buildings) below. It is so gigantic, in fact, that it measures 990 feet (3+ football fields) in length and 175 feet high. That equates to over 500,000 square feet of functional space.
However, the ship has begun to fall into some disrepair. While the structure of the well-built vessel remains in decent shape, other parts are in need of serious repair or maintenance. In addition to the repair/beautification costs, the ship incurs a monthly docking fee of $60,000 to reside at the port in South Philadephia. A price tag that hasn’t been easy on the current ship owners: The SS United States Conservancy, a nonprofit organization founded just four years before the ship appeared at its current location.
For now, she sits, waiting for a hero to save her from the scrap heap. But there is so much life left in this old girl. You can feel it as you gaze at her from shore, and if you’re lucky enough to have the chance to venture aboard, it’s almost like having the chance to salvage the Titanic and getting to view her amazing history all of these years later.
If you are a lover of history, whether it be that of our amazing city and its residents, maritime history, or you want to become part of the legend for the next generation, contact The SS United States Conservancy and get involved. While her past has already been written, her future could very well turn with the tide.
You can still feel the majesty and grandeur of the ship when you step aboard the SS United States and we would love to see her preserved for future generations. The SS United States Conservancy depends on the generosity of donors to keep the ship docked and maintained. Please consider making a donation in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ship’s arrival in Philadelphia. You can learn more about the Conservancy and how you can help by visiting https://www.ssusc.org or connecting with them on Instagram @ssusc.
[Article by David Miller]
[Photos by AJ Kinney]
[Photo gallery by AJ Kinney & D. Jacob Miller]
You can view the full photo gallery from the SS United States below: