United States Lines

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Postcard of the SS United States, flagship of the United States Lines, from the 1950s

United States Lines was a transatlantic shipping company that operated cargo services from 1921 to 1989, and ocean liners until 1969—most famously, the SS United States.


SS Princess Alice, later SS Princess Matoika, c. 1914–1916

The company was formed with three ships from the tonnage of the failed United States Mail Steamship Company.[1] Two of the ships, the America and George Washington, were originally German vessels that had been seized during World War I and kept as reparations. Both the America and George Washington made New YorkBremen runs, while the Centennial State ran from New York to London.[2] One of the founders was Kermit Roosevelt, son of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

Additional ships were acquired in 1922 and renamed after various U.S. presidents. The 52,000 ton Leviathan, formerly the Vaterland and one of the largest liners in the world, was acquired in 1923.

Throughout the 1920s, the line accumulated debt, and in March 1929, the line was sold to P.W. Chapman Company, and reorganized as the "United States Lines Inc." of Delaware.[3] The stock market crash made matters worse, and in 1931, the remaining ships were sold to "United States Lines Company" of Nevada.


In 1932, the Manhattan, at a cost of approximately $21 million, became the first ship actually built for the line, followed the next year by the Washington. In 1940, a new America joined them.[4][5]

In 1932, United States Lines had offered to build a new passenger liner, called the U.S. Express Liner, which would also double as a mail ship, and would dramatically decrease the time of delivery for trans-Atlantic mail by catapulting an aircraft when it was within range. Congress refused to give a guarantee on trans-Atlantic postal rates and it was never built.[6]


In World War II, the ships were converted into troopships. The Manhattan became the USS Wakefield, and the Washington became the USS Mount Vernon.[7] The flagship America became the USS West Point[8] After the war, the company began to build smaller and cheaper ships, and operated a number of cargo ships, all named beginning with "American" or "Pioneer".

Duquesne Spy Ring[edit]

Main article: Duquesne Spy Ring

In 1941, two Nazi spies, Franz Joseph Stigler and Erwin Wilheim Siegler, worked for United States Lines as members of SS America's crew. While on the SS America, they obtained information about the movement of ships and military defense preparations at the Panama Canal, observed and reported defense preparations in the Canal Zone, and met with other German agents to advise them in their espionage pursuits. They operated as couriers, transmitting information between the United States and German agents aboard. Stigler worked undercover as the chief butcher. Both remained on the SS America until the U.S. Navy converted that ship into the USS West Point.

Stigler and Siegler, along with the 31 other German agents of the Duquesne Spy Ring, were later uncovered by the FBI in the largest espionage conviction in U.S. history. Stigler was sentenced to serve 16 years in prison on espionage charges with two concurrent years for registration violations; Siegler was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on espionage charges and a concurrent 2-year term for violation of the Registration Act.


With a government subsidy for her construction, the SS United States entered service in 1952. She was (and still is) the largest ocean liner built in the United States and the fastest ocean liner ever built. She immediately set transatlantic speed records, capturing the Blue Riband from the Queen Mary. But competition from airliners brought the glory days to an end; in 1964, America was sold to Chandris Line, and United States was withdrawn from service in 1969. She is presently docked along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.[9]

After the termination of passenger services, United States Lines continued to operate as a container ship line, being bought by containerization pioneer Malcom McLean in 1978. By the 1980s, the line operated 43 vessels and was a leader in international shipping. It spent over US$1 billion in rapidly expanding its fleet and acquiring two competitors, Moore McCormick Lines and Delta Steamship Lines, but just as the new vessels were delivered, international freight rates fell. The company filed for bankruptcy on 24 November 1986. Most of the vessels were sold to pay creditors and in the reorganization plan filed on 5 July 1988, the company was formally liquidated by 1992.[10]


The name was revived briefly in 2000 and 2001, as a brand name of American Classic Voyages. Construction had begun in 2000 on the future Pride of America, as part of Project America, but in October 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Several piers in New York City remain as artifacts left behind by the company. Pier 76, United States Lines Terminal, was constructed as a cargo pier on West Side Highway at what was then the foot of 36th Street, and is now in use by the NYPD.[11] Neon letters spelling "United States Lines" are located on the west side of the pier, facing New Jersey. One letter, "I", on the sign was working until sometime in the 2000s.[12] The sign can be seen by the arriving NY Waterway ferry passengers or those taking the New York Circle Line water tour of Manhattan. The pier head building facing the street is also marked with the Line's name, at each end. Pier 86, United States Lines' passenger pier, still exists, although the pier building has been demolished. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is now based there, with the USS Intrepid permanently berthed at the pier. In Newport News, Virginia, where many of the United States Lines ships were built, one of the huge propellers from the SS United States is on display at the entrance of the Mariners' Museum.[13]



  1. ^ Brian J. Cudahy (2006). Box boats: how container ships changed the world. Fordham Univ Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8232-2568-2. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  2. ^ "USS President Grant (Centennial State, President Adams)". Pacific Wrecks. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  3. ^ James Claude Malin (1972). The United States after the World War. Ayer Publishing. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-8369-6735-7. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  4. ^ McKenna, Robert (10 June 2003). The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-07-141950-5. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  5. ^ "Uncle Sam Enters Atlantic Race". Popular Mechanics. February 1931. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  6. ^ "America to Rule Sea with New Superliners". Popular Science. April 1932. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  7. ^ World Ship Society (1996). Marine news. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  8. ^ McKenna, Robert (10 June 2003). The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-07-141950-5. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  9. ^ "SS United States". SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  10. ^ Feder, Barnaby J. (6 July 1988). "McLean Industries Files Its Reorganization Plan". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  11. ^ "Pier 76". Hudson River Park Trust. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  12. ^ "United States Lines". New York Neon. Blogger. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Marks, Brittany (30 March 2012). "Help save the SS United States passenger liner". WTKR. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Transports and Troopships". T. Colton. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  15. ^ United States Shipping Board (1933). Seventeenth Annual Report of the United States Shipping Board (1933). Government Printing Office. p. 29. 
  16. ^ a b c d "oceania.pbworks-United States Lines". Tomasz Walczyk. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Sun Shipbuilding History". shipbuildinghistory.com. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  18. ^ "AMERICAN BANKER - IMO 5277153". Shipspotting.com. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Ships Built - Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincy MA". ShipbuildingHistory.com. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  20. ^ a b "United States Lines Fleet". TheShipList.com. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  21. ^ "Flyer Class Miscellaneous Auxiliary: USNS Flyer (T-AG-178)". NavSource Naval History. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  22. ^ "Passenger Liners New York Shipbuilding". A Place Called Yorkship. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 

External links[edit]