SS United States Blue Riband Celebration

| 09-04-12

The Blue Riband award for fastest Atlantic crossing will be on display for the first time in 60 years.

The Blue Riband Trophy There are many technical accomplishments our nation can be proud about; the moon landing and the entire space program are one good example. But before the space program this nation led in other areas, the world's fastest flying machines, for example, and the world's fastest ocean liner.

The ocean liner S.S. United States is a triumph of American ingenuity, and fortunately it still survives. The ship was primarily designed as a passenger liner to service the transatlantic market before air travel took over. It still holds the world's record, known as the Blue Riband, for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a passenger vessel. That record was made 60 years ago.

The ship, built in the Virginia-based Newport News shipyard in 1952, has been anchored at pier 82 on the Delaware River in the port of Philadelphia since 1996. The ship was built at a cost of $78-million (in 1952 dollars) and she remained in regular service from the early 1950s through 1969.

The government was involved in her construction due to the extraordinary role infamous ocean liners like the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth played as troop carriers during World War 2. In fact, the Queen Mary was completed just before the war started and for the next six years she only carried troops between America and Europe.

After the S.S. United States was retired it changed ownership a few times until it was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line in 2003. The line had previously taken the SS France (the largest liner ever built by France) and converted it to a Caribbean cruise ship. NCL hoped to save the United States with a similar conversion, but the plans became obsolete before they were carried out and Norwegian sold the ship to a conservancy in 2009.

60th Anniversary of Blue Riband Award Celebration

This week, the city of Newport News will honor the 60th anniversary of the winning of the Blue Riband with a special ceremony featuring the Virginia Symphony Orchestra playing a new, original composition by composer Kenneth Fuchs entitled "Atlantic Riband." Topping off the ceremony - the actual Blue Riband ribbon will be put on display for the first time in 60 years. Fuchs is also a Professor of Composition at the University of Connecticut.

The SS United States Conservancy, along with the Hampton Roads chapter of Steamship Historical Society and the Mariners' Museum, are sponsoring this concert to honor those who built the ship and to raise awareness for the ship's restoration and renewal.

In addition, the Mariners' Museum has agreed to display the actual Blue Riband, which has not been seen by the public in sixty years. The conservancy says the 40-foot ribbon has not been on public display since it was awarded to the United States in 1952 - securing the prize from the Queen Mary. The trophy is a different story, it was displayed in United States Line's New York City headquarters until after the United States was taken out of service in 1969. Ten years later, the trophy was transferred to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's museum.

In the announcement for the ceremony the conservancy quotes composer Kenneth Fuchs, "As a boy growing up in and around New York City during the early 1960's, I was dazzled by the sight of the S.S. United States at port in New York harbor. The composition of Atlantic Riband, its recording by the London Symphony Orchestra, and its premiere by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra express my wish to return this great gift of inspiration and help ensure the success of the Conservancy's work to preserve this ship for future generations."

Are you interested in the history of great Ocean Liners? Tell us here: Blue Riband Celebration

"Kenneth Fuch's orchestral showpiece pays tribute to the grace and power of our national flagship and the energy and optimism it brought not only to America but to the wider world," states Susan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship's designer, William Francis Gibbs. "This event is a wonderful way to celebrate the SS United States and the legacy of the thousands of people in Hampton Roads region who made her a great symbol of this nation. Through this composition, people the world over will take an increased interest in our Save the United States campaign to restore our flagship."

The Conservancy plans to repurpose the ship as a mixed use attraction including a new Museum of American Design and Discovery on board the refurbished vessel. Contributions to the Conservancy's campaign can be made at

The Conservancy will be holding a pre-concert dinner at the Hampton Yacht Club with cocktails beginning at 4:30 followed by dinner at 5:30pm leaving time for attendees to enjoy the 8pm concert. Those interested in obtaining tickets to the concert can visit the Virginia Symphony's website at Pre-concert dinner tickets can be purchased by contacting Elizabeth Fletcher at [email protected]

Are you interested in the history of great Ocean Liners? Tell us here: Blue Riband Celebration

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