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Gerry Lenfest to Donate Up to $5.8 Million to Save SS United States

Liner History and Social History: Gerry Lenfest to Donate Up to $5.8 Million to Save SS United States

The SS United States Conservancy has announced a gift of up to $5.8 million from Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest to help save the legendary ocean liner from destruction.

Mothballed liner SS United States as seen in Philadelphia from the Ikea Restaurant.

The funds will be used to buy the SS United States from its owner, Norwegian Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Genting Hong Kong, and to maintain the vessel in its current South Philadelphia berth for up to twenty months while redevelopment and refurbishment plans are solidified. The conservancy plans to establish a public-private partnership to own and operate the ship as a multi-purpose stationary attraction. In the meantime, the group will work to develop enhanced capabilities and resources, including new offices in Philadelphia and New York City, an expanded board of directors, a “Blue Riband” Council of influential Americans, and an advisory council of maritime experts and individuals with close ties to the ship.

Since being removed from service in 1969, the SS United States has had several owners. Still the holder of the Blue Riband transatlantic speed record, which it set fifty-eight years ago on the ship’s maiden voyage from New York City to England, the SS United States is widely considered the greatest ocean liner ever built. Indeed, the ship became an icon of its era, transporting four American presidents and numerous other heads of state, military and business leaders, and celebrities in addition to bringing many immigrants to the U.S. The ship was purchased in 2003 with plans to be returned to ocean-going service, although bids from scrappers were accepted in February 2010.

“We are thrilled that the SS United States has received a new lease on life,” said conservancy board president Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the vessel’s designer, William Francis Gibbs. “This is a game-changer in our work to save this irreplaceable American icon. Mr. Lenfest’s vision and generosity give us a fighting chance to preserve the SS United States for generations to come. We also want to recognize the support of Norwegian/Genting. They first listed the ship for sale in early 2009 and turned down higher offers to partner with us in this patriotic effort.”

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