clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Vintage photos capture SS United States as a midcentury modern marvel

These photos taken in 1953 are proof

Last week, officials announced that the SS United States ship will not set sail, citing "insurmountable technical challenges." While it certainly would have been a treat to see what was once the fastest cruise liner in the world hit the high seas again, the conservancy still has hopes for development opportunities.

Construction began on the SS United States in 1950, finally fulfilling naval architect and engineer William Francis Gibbs' dreams of designing the world’s fastest ship. Thanks to the more than 3,000 people who worked on the ship and Gibbs’ modular construction tactics, the SS United States delivered in just two years and three months.

On July 3, 1952 the SS United States set sail across the Atlantic Ocean, ultimately hitting 36 knots and racing past the previous crossing record by ten hours.

The engineering feats of the massive ship were astounding, but Gibbs made sure that the interiors were just as impressive. Under his strict orders, everything in the boat save for the grand pianos and butcher blocks had to be 100 percent fireproof.

Interior designer Dorothy Marckwald of the firm Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald led the design efforts. The 23 public rooms, 395 state rooms, and 14 first-class suites were midcentury modern gems, doused in red, blues, greens, and golds. And keeping in line with Gibbs’ request, wood was absent from any material, instead opting for linoleum floors, and flame-proof furniture.

The SS United States enjoyed some good years during the 50s and early 60s, hosting dignitaries like President John F. Kennedy and Princess Grace Kelly, but as the U.S. economy began to fall apart in the late 1960s, so too, did the ship. In 1969, during a routine inspection, the SS United States abruptly closed up shop.

It’s been docked in South Philadelphia for two decades, now known as a common sight to IKEA shoppers who have a clear view of the ship from the parking lot and cafeteria.

Only a select few have been able to go aboard the ship in recent years. But for those wondering what it looked like inside during the cruise liner’s hey day, check out these photos of the midcentury modern interiors from the 1950s, courtesy of the Library of Congress.