SS Independence SS Constitution - Purple Mountain Press

by William H. Miller

From Chapter Five.

"In an article dately July 13th 1949, the New York Times reported, `The INDEPENDENCE and the CONSTITUTION are designed to accommodate 1,000 passengers each in what would be the best equipment aboard any American craft, symbolizing, like their names, the very finest in American culture. The ships will be the first fully air-conditioned big liners ever to be built and will incorporate all the latest improvements in streamlining, design, construction and equipment.'

This was a period of great optimism in America. There was hope for a better world, for peace and, especially among the middle class, hopes for greater comfort, convenience and more leisure in life. Top news stories for 1949 included President Truman's proposal of the Four Point Program of technical assistance to underdeveloped nations. Twelve other nations signed a treaty setting-up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Council of Europe was established. Indonesia declared independence from the Dutch while France granted freedom to Viet-Nam. Konrad Adenauer became the first chancellor of the German Federal Republic, West Germany as it was best known, while the Soviets lifted the Berlin blockade and established the German Democratic Republic or East Germany. Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India while Mao Tse Tung proclaimed the People's Republic of China. And as the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb, bikini bathing suits made thier debut on American beaches. The first jet airliner, the COMET, was developed while the fastest ocean liner ever built, the UNITED STATES, was soon to begin construction. The musical South Pacific opened on Broadway, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was published and the film The Third Man opened in movie theaters....

Soon afterward, American Export in conjunction with Bethlehem Steel released periodic technical details and mechanical distinctions for the two liners. First, they required the largest bull gears (main propeller shaft drivnig gears) ever produced in the United States. Each bull gear weighed 45 tons and measured over 17 feet in diameter. They were produced by the Milwaukee-based Falk Gear Corporation. Secondly, the bow assemblies for each ship were the among the largest ever prefabricated for an American merchant vessel. When the bows were assembled at Quincy, each weighed 142 tons and had a height of 54 feet. They were so large that Bethlehem Steel engineers had to cut them in fore and aft sections to fit into place.

In all, 12,000 tons of steel went into each liner. While the 683-foot long hulls were riveted, there was also 315,000 tons of welding on each ship, including the butts, engine and boiler foundations. For the highest saftey standards then incorporated into an American passenger ship, each liner would have separate engine rooms capable of operating as independent units. Each had four 1,100-kilowatt generators capable of supplying power to a city of 20,000 inhabitants.....

The interiors were entrusted to Henry Dreyfus, a very prominent American designer and who had done extensive studies of American living habits and comforts following the Second World War. Export said of his work, "Dreyfus, charged to provide the utmost comfort for every passenger in each of the three classes as well as American living standards for the 575 officers and crew, has produced innumerable refinements that set new standards for living at sea. Spacious, bright color combinations, exclusive fabric designs and weaves for drapery and upholstery; private baths, ample dresser, wardrobe and storage spaces and air conditioning are stateroom features. Oversized folding wall and sofa berths permit instant conversion of bedrooms into spacious living rooms."

They were two of the world's most famous and popular and innovative ocean liners. They were symbols of the might and ingenuity of American maritime design and construction. They were big, fast, very comfortable and innovative; they were, for example, the world's first fully air-conditioned ocean liners. They were the biggest liners built in the USA in a decade. One of them even ranked for a time as the fastest merchant ship under the Stars & Stripes. They were the twin sisters INDEPENDENCE and CONSTITUTION, and now, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of their completion, the story of these American Export Lines' flagships is told in this new softcover co-published by the Steamship Historical Society of America of Providence, Rhode Island, and Purple Mountain Press of Fleischmanns, New York. There is an extensive text enhanced with anecdotes from those who knew the 29,500-ton ships more intimately, many photos as yet unpublished and color covers from two of the worlds finest marine artists, William Mueller and Donald Soltenberg.

Bill Miller has penned more than fifty books on ships of all kinds and now turns his attention to these "Export sisters." The story begins in the early days of American Export with the first "Four Aces," a quartet of superb combination passenger-cargo ships. They were followed by a second, post-Second World War set as well as a vast freighter fleet. In the late 1942, American Export also looked into the liner trade and at first experimented with the LA GUARDIA. But she was merely a prelude to the creation of the specially-designed INDEPENDENCE and CONSTITUTION, both commissioned in 1951.

They sailed the Atlantic, between New York and the western Mediterranean, for over fifteen years. They carried kings and presidents, movies stars and corporate moguls, tourists and immigrants. They were three-class ships: luxurious, upper-deck first class, comfortable, but less expensive cabin class, and, for the more budget-minded, tourist class. They were designed by the brilliant Henry Dreyfus, who believed in comfort combined with simplicity and who looked after every detail, from the funnel colors to match book covers.

The future of the great Atlantic liners of the 1950s and '60s was prematurely cut short, however, by the airlines or more specifically the jet. Like others, American Export had fewer and fewer passengers after 1958. The ships' last struggling years are chronicled here as well. By 1969, both ships were out of work, laid up and for sale.

The scenic Hawaiian islands brought them second careers, however. Both were bought by American Hawaii Cruises and began cruise sailings from Honolulu in 1980. A new popularity and prestige surrounded them. The CONSTITUTION was finally decommissioned in 1995 and then, very sadly, sank two years later when on her way to Far Eastern scrap yards. But the INDEPENDENCE, proud and sturdy, sails on and to 2001, her own golden anniversary.

This book recreates a great story in both American and maritime history of two superb ships. It is a tale of glory and glamour, tradition and triumph, invention and creation, and decline followed by revival. They were two of the finest, most successful liners to fly the red, white and blue. Now, hear the whistles, feel the salt spray and "sail" again on the great INDEPENDENCE and CONSTITUTION.

116 pages, illustrated, 8.5 x 11, 2001
$22.50 paperback--A Purple Mountain Press - Steamship Historical Society of America co-published original

Copyright © 2002 Purple Mountain Press. All rights reserved.