A Taste of the Past

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Click for a large view. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Greetings readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. In its day, the SS United States was the pinnacle of transatlantic transportation. Passengers could travel in style, and enjoy all manner of comforts from air conditioning to news broadcasts. The luxury of the voyage was also present in their dining, as a rich tapestry of food options was presented for each meal. Roughly 55 years ago on a Friday in 1957, passengers on the SS United States were treated to the following menu for their dinner.

This particular menu has a host of delicious and elegantly prepared dishes available. While the quality of this fare would be customary to the richer and more sophisticated guests on board, humbler passengers of average means would no doubt have been elated to see soups, fish, fruits, roasts, entrees, cakes and ice creams all so richly prepared and served together on a single menu. The extra care and specialization put into its cuisine is apparent in the translation of the menu text into German for the convenience of the German guests, and everyone who dined on that particular Friday would no doubt have remembered it prominently – at least until breakfast the next morning. It’s refreshing to see that the SS United States took as much care in feeding its guests as it did in crossing the Atlantic as quickly as it could be done.   Read more

Tuesdays Past and Present

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Click on the picture for a much, much better view. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Library blog. This blog mentions the SS United States with some frequency, but I’m sure many people are curious what a typical day might be like aboard one of her Caribbean cruises. The Mariners’ Museum Library has a large collection of programs from the SS United States, which offer a glimpse into one of those days – but how does a cruise aboard the SS United States compare to a modern one? How would your average Tuesday differ from past to present? Using the below pictured program, we can compare its Tuesday in 1962 to a modern Carnival cruise line’s Tuesday in 2008, which can be viewed in its entirety HERE. Both vessels arrive at St. Thomas on their respective Tuesdays, so let’s see how they compare!

On first inspection, the programs share some similarities: both have morning religious service followed by breakfast, a morning excursion to the island, lunch, dinner, and entertainment. However, a number of differences present themselves. First, the SS United States seems to have a much shorter program than the Carnival line. The SS United States program covers only the basic events of the day, while the Carnival program extensively lists each and every activity aboard ship by time and location. Carnival features a schedule teeming with family activities, sports, games, music and movies in large number: the SS United States program only has one movie, two cocktail hours, a swimming pool, afternoon tea and a dance.   Read more

A Byte of History

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People who remember traveling on the great ship have bought bits of the places that were special to them, like the Promenade Deck pictured above. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Julie Zauzmer, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted an interesting article on Philly.com today (article HERE). The SS United States Conservancy has created a virtual copy of the SS United States in order to raise money for the conservation of the real ship. Donors can purchase virtual pieces of the vessel for the price of $1 per square inch, and use that space to display things like photographs and messages. Creating a virtual ship like this is an interesting step not just the SS United States, but for museums in general: when you need to quickly raise funds or awareness for a project, what better way than by using the internet? The Conservancy has given an electronic version of the ship to the people, and let them run with it.

Financially, the project is off to an admirable start. The Conservancy needs $25 million to renovate the ship and convert its interior into a museum, and has raised $6 million already. The catch is that their current allotment of money will only allow them to hold on to the ship until November of this year. After that, the SS United States will be sold for scrap metal. A poor end for the flagship of the American merchant fleet and the world’s fastest transatlantic passenger ship.   Read more

Born in Ink – the Plans for the SS United States

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These four volumes used to be one book.

Hello again, gentle readers. Welcome back to the Library blog – today, I would like to tell you about a unique volume from the Library’s Rare Book collection that has piqued my interest. I refer to the double-volume schematics and design specifications for the SS United States, a work that is only available at The Mariners’ Museum Library. The first volume of the plan is split into four smaller volumes, because the original work was so incredibly thick that using it was very unwieldy.

All four sub-sections of the first volume deal with the plans, schematics, projected costs, and potential profits of the SS United States. The vessel, often referred to by the number 12201, is compared heavily to the 1930s Cunarder RMS Queen Elizabeth in design, operating costs and potential speed. There is a lot of focus in the plans on the comparative speeds of the ships. In fact, it is often repeated that one of the primary goals in building the SS United States is so that she will claim the record for Fastest Atlantic Crossing several times in a row. How would she do that, you may ask? Well, the plan was to slightly underpower the United States in order to beat the Queen Elizabeth’s speed by a small amount. That way, if the British ever reclaimed the record, the United States could then repeatedly take it back and earn a healthy dose of prestige for her parent company, the United States Lines.   Read more

Sketching History

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The bow of the ship takes form behind a thin veil of scaffolding. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library blog! I have a special treat for you today: a glimpse at the birth of the fastest ocean liner ever built, the SS United States! Launched in 1952, the United States was at that time the largest passenger ship ever constructed in the United States.  She served in a place of honor as her namesake nation’s crown jewel for 17 years. Although retired in 1969 and currently in a state of disrepair, the United States deserves recognition for not just the people it ferried across the Atlantic, but for the engineering prowess and detailed specialization with which it fulfilled its role.

In a series of black and white pencil sketches, the artist C. E. Parkhurst captures the construction process of the United States as each piece of her frame – funnel, keel, stern, bow and propeller shaft – slowly comes into being. The pieces are shown individually at first, as each sketch focuses on a different aspect of the ship’s construction. By just looking at the sketch out of context, the individual pieces seem rather commonplace. It’s when one gets to the last of his sketches that one can see the pieces assembled into the whole, with the now-recognizable ship standing ready to sail into history.   Read more