Built to be both luxury superliner and Cold War weapon, America’s flagship, the SS United States was the fastest and safest ocean liner ever built. Larger than the Titanic and faster than the Queen Mary, this marvel of America n engineering smashed the transatlantic speed record on her historic maiden voyage in 1952, a record that remains unbroken. As part of a year-long, 60th anniversary celebration of the vessel’s dramatic debut, the SS United States Conservancy has produced an exhibition of rare artifacts, artwork, and ephemera showcasing the lost-era of transatlantic sea travel. Revealing letters and photographs featuring the ship’s designers, officers, crew, and passengers will also be on display. The exhibition, entitled “The Ocean Liner United States: Celebrating the Past and Future of America’s Flagship,” opens at the Forbes Galleries, New York today May 18th and runs through September 8th. The SS United States exhibition will be free and open to the public from 10am –4pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Items in the exhibition lent by collectors from across the country will transport visitors back to an era of travel in grand style, where world leaders and celebrities roamed America’s “ship of state” as she sped across the Atlantic. Through personal stories of crew members, tourists, and immigrants, the exhibition will shine a spotlight on life aboard the ship in the 1950s and 1960s and convey the SS United States’ special role as national symbol and cultural icon.
China, furniture, artwork and documents from the ship’s top-secret design are among more than 120 artifacts assembled. These include souvenirs from the maiden voyage, custom-made glassware from the ship’s bars and period graphics, both in the form of print advertisements, ship menus and brochures. Prominently featured will be famed enamellist Mira Jedwabnik Van Doren’s original plaques of American birds that once hung in a first class suite and one of the stunning cocktail tables she designed for the ship’s Observation Lounge. Mira traveled with her family from Poland to the United States in 1939 where her biggest early break was her work on the SS United States. Private papers from the vessel’s designer, William Francis Gibbs, as well as from Commodore John Anderson, the ship’s longest-serving captain, will also be featured. Other personalities associated with the ship profiled include Elaine Kaplan, the pioneering female engineer who helped design the ship’s record-breaking propellers, as well as other passengers and crewmembers.
The exhibition calls attention to the SS United States Conservancy, which purchased the historic vessel last year, and its work to save and repurpose this beautiful, one-of-a-kind triumph of American engineering for future generations. The group has mounted a national effort to raise funds for the vessel’s upkeep, commence an external restoration process and develop a shipboard museum. The Conservancy’s Redevelopment Project is also working to identify a private developer to transform the United States, withdrawn from seagoing service in 1969, into a self-sustaining, multipurpose waterfront destination.
“By celebrating and saving this American icon, future generations will have a window into a bygone era of passenger travel and this testament to American optimism and inventiveness,” states Susan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs.
Space for the exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Robert L. Forbes, Vice President of Forbes and President of ForbesLife, who serves as a member of the SS United States Conservancy Board of Directors. The Forbes Galleries, New York are located at 62 Fifth Avenue (at 12th Street) in Manhattan.
ABOUT THE SS UNITED STATES CONSERVANCY
A national nonprofit organization founded in 2004, the SS United States Conservancy leads the global effort to save and repurpose the SS United States. The Conservancy raises public awareness and financial resources for the maintenance, restoration and ultimate reuse of this iconic vessel and works to ensure that the fastest ocean liner ever to cross the Atlantic remains an inspiration for generations to come. For more information about the SS United States, visit ssusc.org.
Image Courtesy of the SS United States Conservancy