A Brief History of Her Time
The SS America was launched in August 1939 and at the time was the largest liner to have been built in the USA. Not long after going into service she was acquired by the US Navy to help in the war effort as a troop transport. She was repainted in camouflage colours and went into service as USS WestPoint (AP-23). After the war she was returned to service after a complete refurbishment, though most of her original interior, designed by Dorothy Marckwald was unaffected by the tour of duty.
America was to be the forerunner of an even larger ship, the SS United States. Both ships were built for the United States Line and were the pride of the American ship builder's craft. Again the interior design by Dorothy Marckwald, though very different in style was somehow strikingly similar to her work on America. This probably because the first class accommodation and public rooms offered very similar spaces. A detailed account of her work on both these and other liners can be found at this site. A Womans Touch.
The America was proclaimed to be the most beautiful American ship ever built with exquisite artworks commissioned for her public rooms which in turn were fabulously decorated in marble, brass, lacquered woods and leather. Both ships were very American, with the SS America being more classical in interior design and the SS United States by contrast fitted out in quite stark Art Deco style. The America was a firm favourite with the travelling public, though the United States was much faster and to this day still holds the Blue Riband for the Westbound crossing of the Atlantic. The two ships worked very much as a pair until air travel took its toll on main line passenger shipping, and maritime labour troubles combined with high fuel costs eventually made them uneconomic.
In 1964 the America was sold to the Chandris group, renamed Australis, and converted into the largest single class passenger vessel on the high seas. Her next tour of duty was a constant round the globe service, taking European immigrants to Australia and New Zealand, and delivering young travellers and disillusioned immigrants back to Europe, as well as doing the occasional cruise. In 1977 she was laid up in Timaru, New Zealand to await her fate. Further information on the ship, its subsequent lives and her fate at the hands of the sea can be found through my links page.
The SS America Gallery
Award Winning Photo entitled "The Queen Salutes" taken by Marcus Ritger Jr of Newport News, Virginia on November 9 1946 - Photo Bill Lee personal collection.
SS America is seen saluting with both steam whistles to the crowds on shore who gathered regularly to see her come and go. On this occasion she is leaving the James River to return to New York and recommence her commercial service after the war.
SS America at Newport News Shipyard in 1951 with SS United States still under construction in the background
Photo taken by Marcus Ritger Jr and supplied by Bill Lee.
An original SS America poster on display at the Smithsonian, Washington DC.
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