N.S. Savannah 1962 to 1972 in operation - an Historic Monument to today!

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N.S. Savannah

in Service 1962 - 1972



I have always believed that the N.S. Savannah was one of the most magnificent and beautiful looking ships ever built in the, what was considered the new world, for she was a long sleek passenger-cargo super liner of her day! But I also have to be very honest and stick to the truth and recognise that this brilliant looking nuclear-powered ship, the N.S. Savannah was in reality a failure in many more ways than one, and she really was a foolish Presidential venture from the very beginning, as I will reveal. Let’s face it, politicians should never involve themselves in these things for what blazers do they really know about the shipping industry, besides sweet nothing! These men spend their lives in a continual power race, attempting to outdo other nations, and at that time especially during the nuclear race, etc., and this was precisely what Eisenhower was doing at that time!

This extremely expensive ship for her day carried passengers for just several years and within ten years from her maiden voyage in 1962 she even ended her cargo services and has been laid up ever since.

We need to remember that for a ship that cost for that time a massive US$49.9 million when she was built from 1958 and completed in 1962, and then having sailed for around two and a half years before ceased her passenger services, what a total waste of money! And we need to remember that almost $50 million in 1962 was like saying a half a billion dollars in today’s value, if not more, thus you would want something much more than just a couple of years, and a grand total of ten years from your massive investment!

As I already said, the N.S. Savannah was an ultra modern, elegant and she was certainly one of the most streamlined ships built for her day, and let me be totally honest she is still as beautiful today as she was on the day as she was she departed on her maiden voyage in 1962! I also feel that the Savannah had the finest passenger accommodations compared to any ship at sea at that time!

But the truth is that due to sheer fear of her being an “Atomic ship” she became a failure from the very beginning, in fact very much like her namesake, a ship also built in America in 1818, the S.S. Savannah but for a very different reason!

S.S. Savannah (1)


The tragic sailing/steamship – S.S. Savannah built in 1818

The S.S. Savannah became notable for being the very first steamship in the world to cross the Atlantic Ocean. On May 22, 1819, the Savannah departed on her historic voyage that would take her to England, Sweden as well as to Russia with additional stops in Norway and Denmark and home. However, it would only a fraction of the actual distance of the voyage whilst the ship would be sailing under steam power, for the rest of the time she was under wind power and thus using her sails for the majority of the voyage. Her steam engines drove her two large side paddle wheels. However, in spite of this historic voyage which received great praise in the press in England, sadly the Savannah the steamship was not a commercial success and she was soon converted into a fulltime sailing ship after she returned to the USA from her voyage. The sailing ship Savannah sadly had a short life as was she was tragically wrecked off Long Island in 1821. Thus S.S. Savannah (I) came to a sad and tragic end!

No other American owned steamship would cross the Atlantic for another thirty years after Savannah’s pioneering voyage.

The Building of the N.S. Savannah

Back in 1955 President Dwight Eisenhower proposed the idea of building a nuclear-powered luxury Passenger-Cargo liner to showcase his “Atoms for Peace” initiative. Then in 1956, Congress authorized the building of the now named project “N.S. Savannah”, which would be a joint project between the “Atomic Energy Commission”, the “Maritime Administration” (MARAD), and the “Department of Commerce”. The N.S. Savannah would be designed by George G. Sharp, Incorporated of New York.

Her keel was laid down on May 22, 1958, at the “New York Shipbuilding Corporation” at Camden, in Yard 529. Her nuclear reactor was manufactured by Babcock and Wilcox and her two steam turbines were by the De Laval. She was officially named at the launching by American First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower on July 21, 1959, and she was moved to her fit-out berth where she would remain until December 1961 where she was completed.


Above & Below: American First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower officiates at the launching of the Savannah - July 21, 1959


Upon completion she underwent extensive sea trails which lasted until April 1962 and she was finally officially delivered to State Maine Lines on May 1, 1962. However, she would not depart on her maiden voyage for almost three months. Finally she was ready for her maiden voyage and she departed loaded with passengers and cargo on August 20.

N.S. Savannah seen arriving at Seattle in 1962 for the World Fair


Nuclear Propulsion

In 1969, The N.S. Savannah became the first nuclear powered ship to dock in New York City. It was a centrepiece for a city-wide information festival called “Nuclear Week” In New York. Thousands of persons toured the Savannah and the other special events of Nuclear Week. These events included demonstrations of advancements in peaceful uses of atomic energy, such as food products purified by radiation, new applications for technology and many information and education programs. The Johnny Carson “Tonight” TV Show featured Nuclear Week in New York on two programs. Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was the featured speaker and President Dwight D. Eisenhower was honoured for his introduction of the global Atoms for Peace program. The appearance of the Savannah and the Nuclear Week in New York program was designed and implemented by Charles Yulish Associates and supported by contributions from leading energy companies.

The N.S. Savannah is seen for her maiden arrival in Philadelphia

Her two “De Laval” Steam Geared Turbine Engines used one “Babcock & Wilcox” Pressurised Water Nuclear Reactor that used Uranium Oxide fuel (4% enriched U-235) developing a reactor rating of 74MW that drove her single screw, which gave her a service speed of 21 knots, but achieved a maximum of 24 knots during her sea tails. The Savannah was built at a considerable cost for the day of US $46.9 million, which included US$28.3 million for the nuclear reactor and fuel core, making her one of the most expensive ships of her time!

An Overall view of the engine room location on the N.S. Savannah


An overhead view of the engine room


The nerve centre of the engine (control) room! One deck above the “Bull Gear”


A closer view of the Bull Gear – Note the Control room above

The “Bull Gear” is the largest movable (rotating) piece of the ship’s steam turbine drive train except for the propeller. It is mounted between the aft end of the turbines and the propeller shaft/thrust bearing and served as a reduction gear reducing the shaft speed to a nominal 108 RPM. This precision manufactured bull gear has a 13.5 foot diameter and a 34 inch face and weighs in at 66,000 pounds. At 108 RPM, the gear face on the bull gear was travelling at a speed of about 55 miles per hour.

This is what the water reactor looked like.


This is a view from the crows nest located on the mast just forward of the bridge

Note the steam coming from what appears to be a mast atop the bridge


A view of her bridge


Here we see the unusual refuelling process


N.S. Savannah the Passenger-Cargo Liner

The Savannah was obviously a political demonstration of the technical feasibility of American nuclear propulsion for a luxury Passenger-Cargo ship, although it had not been expected at large for her to be a commercial success, which soon became obvious, for she sadly she was not! She was designed to be visually impressive and there was no doubt that she looked more like a sleek super luxury yacht, rather than a passenger-cargo ship.

She had seven holds served by three unusual looking “Ebel” rigged self-slewing derricks mounted on lightweight tubular frame “masts.’ Yet cargo her capacity was only 8,500 tons of freight in 652,000 cubic feet (18,000 m³), which was considered to be far too small for a ship of her size and the large crew that had to man her.

Promenade Deck



View a much larger Deck plan of the entire ship online via THIS LINK

When it opens it will be smaller, just click on it and it will enlarge

Main Lounge:

For Savannah’s passengers, she did offer the finest luxury public venues with there being two delightfully decorated spacious ultra-modern lounges, such as a cosy Main Lounge located far forward on Promenade Deck. The venue’s walls were painted in light colours and were bedecked with paintings on her aft wall. It featured beige coloured furnishings on a very pale grey carpet, there was also a few fawn settees as well as some blue and green lounge chairs, all adding a little additional colour to this room.

The attractive and modern Main Lounge that converts into the ships cinema when required

Large windows on the Lounge three sides overlooked her glass enclosed sides and the forward promenade deck.

The Promenade Deck – Portside looking aft

In addition the Main Lounge was also equipped with a Projection Room (starboard aft) and movies would be shown at appropriate times. Aft of this room, but walk through, where two separate smaller venues. On the portside was the Card Room; whilst on the starboard side was the location of the Library and Writing Room followed by the ship’s rather small shop. These venues had a delightful understated elegance, yet there was that exclusive feel about all her venues that spoke of luxury at its very best!

Veranda Lounge and Bar:

Far aft on Promenade Deck was the spacious Veranda Lounge and Bar, complete with a large dance floor in the middle and a Bar located on the portside wall. Unlike the Main Lounge, this room was not carpeted, but had its floor covered in a non-slip blue tilling and the dance floor in white. Furnishings were streamlined and ultra modern in style befitting the day. The colour scheme varied from white, blue and grey leather, as well as red leather bar stools and blue and white striped upholstery chairs. At night when the lights were dimmed, all the cocktail tables would be illuminated and bring a whole new kind of charm to this venue. The Veranda’s huge aft facing windows looked out to the swimming pool and Lido Deck. The overall idea of the decorator’s was not to overcrowd this venue and to keep it simple and use just a few splashes on colour and as can be seen no curtains, giving this venue that beach and club like feel during the day.

The Bar was surrounded by a beige sculptured feature wall that was created by artist Pierre Bourdelle, who also did a feature wall in the Dinning Room. In addition, the Bar’s deep blue back wall has an unusual colourful lit up feature, being a futuristic sculpture made from glass and metal that is meant to represent the “Periodic Table of Elements”

The Veranda Bar that overlooks the pool


The futuristic Veranda Bar sculpture named - “Periodic Table of Elements”


A Deck


Lobby & Pursers Desk:

Down on A Deck far forward starboard side was the hairdresser and the men’s barber, whilst amidships the rather streamlined over modernistic Main Lobby and the Pursers Desk located on the centre aft wall. When I saw her in Rotterdam Holland, the lobby and the pursers office certainly looked far better than it looks in the photograph below, the glass display cases on both sides were then filled with all sorts of items that were for sale, including the Cobalt Blue M.S. Savannah dish seen below the Lobby photograph.

The Main Lobby - looking towards the Pursers Desk



In addition A Deck also contained all the ships passenger accommodations consisting of thirty superbly furnished staterooms all having private facilities. Cabins A-01 to A-16 located forward had one berth as well as one sofa bed in the lounge area and a bathroom with a shower, etc. Located along the Main Lobby are two series of cabins - A-17, 19 & 21, and A-18, 20 & 22. These are the suites of the ship which can be sold independently as both A-17 and A-18 are the most spacious rooms on-board. However, as there is a connecting passage between these three cabins on each side of the ship they can also be sold as three roomed deluxe suites. Rooms 17 to 20 have full sized baths, as do rooms 25 to 28 further aft, all other cabins have showers. See the Cabin Plan below for details. However all rooms had a sofa, one or two lounge chairs and as well as a coffee table in the lounge areas, ample wardrobe space and every possible comfort that would be expected on a luxury ship.

A typical cabin, having a bedroom and a lounge


B Deck

The Dinning Room:

Amidships on B Deck, being the lowest passenger level was just one passenger facility the Dinning Room. It could only be reached via the main stairwell, just forward of the main Lobby of from promenade Deck. This delightful venue was light and bright, very modern with mid toned blue walls and blue and lighter blue stripped carpet. The main special features include the superb bronze model of the 1818 SS Savannah at the entrance on the Port side, on a stand in the garden bed, as well as such as a delightful slightly off white sculptured curved wall by artist Pierre Bourdelle called “Fission.” This wall did have a purpose, for it allowed stewards to enter and come out of the galley on the respective sides, thus beautifully hiding the entrance to the galley!

The Dinning Room was furnished with tables for two, four, eight to twelve with red and blue chairs with the venue offering sufficient seating for all passengers in one sitting. Although the Savannah was built to carry 60 guests, this venue could actually hold more, this was done as at various times the captain and his officers would dine with the guests at times, in addition, whilst the ship was on goodwill voyages, guests would come aboard and also dine with passengers.

There was just one thing lacking in this remarkable venue and that was natural light and views, for there were no windows or portholes whatsoever! The walls were covered with what was more of a mural of blue with vertical misshapen stripes of several lighter colours that really looked very attractive. However, as I stated at the outset this venue was indeed light and bright as special lighting was installed and it made the Dinning Room a wonderfully happy place to be in and no one would have missed the exterior for the cuisine was simply amazing!

The ships delightful Restaurant – note the bronze model of the1818 SS Savannah on the left hand side

Please note the Restaurant ceiling light fittings as they are similar to the one below that were featured onboard!



Memorabilia of items of Savannah - Table Settings




N.S. Savannah memorabilia - a mug and saucer - provided by John Simpson – Savannah USA

Her safety record was quite impressive. Her fuel economy was unsurpassed and her gleaming white paint was never smudged by exhaust smoke. Even her cargo handling equipment was designed to look good.

However, her life as a passenger ship was sadly not a great success and it was rather short lived, for she stopped transporting passengers in 1965, this being just over two and a half years after her maiden voyage. Thus, was she a success? I would say as a passenger ship without any doubt NO sadly she was not, even though she was so perfect in every way! Thus in some way she was one of America’s big maritime failures and a typical politician’s fancy trying to big note themselves. Politicians do not look into the real picture with any sense of reality, they thought that by going nuclear they were grandstanding, but sadly it failed for this ship to operate in the passenger industry.

In 1965 the Maritime Administration leased the N.S. Savannah to the “First Atomic Ship Transport Inc”, of the famed “American Export-Isbrandtsen Lines” for she was unsalable and she could only operate as a cargo ship. Thus Savannah’s sublime and very expensive passenger accommodations were now totally wasted. She was placed on the U.S.A., Europe, Mediterranean service and this continued for six years, after which she was laid up in 1971. Although had her design been better for she was beset with certain problems, she could have gone on.

A fine image of her portside whilst she was in port!


N.S. Savannah – 1. Summing Up – 2. What went Wrong?

I was sent the following statement by a good friend of mine in America who found it written on a website regarding the N.S. Savannah …

“By many measures, the ship was a success. She performed well at sea, her safety record was impressive, her fuel economy was unsurpassed, and her gleaming white paint was never smudged by exhaust smoke. Even her cargo handling equipment was designed to look good.”

All this may be good and true, but with the author having been a co-owner owner of a cruise company, I can tell you nothing said in that statement makes the N.S. Savannah a financial success, for she was, I have to say a failure, and sadly that a fact, and the simple truth as I will describe this after I have summed her up!

1: Summing Up:

I am sorry, I may be repeating myself somewhat, but I do wish to be most fair to what was indeed a beautifully designed ship!

There is no doubt that if you look at this amazing ship, considering she was designed in the mid Fifties, she is certainly is one of the most beautifully designed sleek, streamlined luxury Passenger-Cargo liners ever to have been built and that is regardless if she was powered by regular steam turbines engines, diesel engines or as in this case operating on nuclear powered steam engines! There is no doubt that this ship is as modern as tomorrow!

The Savannah had several roles, she was; 1. Pioneer ship of the atomic age. 2. Travelling exhibition of industry. 3. A World-circling Ambassador for Good-will as well as American Art and cul­ture. Her magnificent interiors where designed by Jack Heaney & Associates, which differ greatly from any other ships afloat.

The Savannah accommodated just 60 First Class passengers, but her public rooms were scaled to suit a much larger job of re­ceiving sizable groups who would visit her as she proceeded around the world as the American Ambassador for the Arts, culture and Industry, etc!

The interiors of the Savannah epito­mises her advanced design, yet, for the sake of the timid passenger, reminders of the ship’s atomic plant were expressed with restraint. In her Main Entrance and Lobby there was an “Exposition” contributed by the “United States industry,” indicative of “further horizons in science, medicine and pro­duction.” This impression is reiterated in the vessel’s own fittings and furnish­ings that help to tell America’s story. A wide variety of materials and products had been incorporated into the interiors, and frequently in rather unusual ways.

Metals for example, were given new jobs, new faces, or even a new form. Large sheets of tex­tured aluminium were colour-anodised in blues, greens and golden beige and these were used to pan­el the bulkheads of the main stairwell. Whilst stainless steel turned to be decorative and was formed into stateroom furniture. Even plas­tics found new uses, ranging from soft poly foams to fill uphol­stered chairs and vinyl’s to cover them, to hard-epoxy-porcelain for colour coatings on walls and ceilings.

There were products of industry’s genius were evident everywhere. Even entire table tops, around the dance floor in the Ballroom, where actually lamps that lit up with the colour glow of electro­luminescence.” A closed-circuit televi­sion projector would show large audi­ences the nuclear reactor in operation. Those who inspected the Savannah whilst she was in foreign ports will be aware of her, however, not only as a scientific achievement, but also as a travelling showcase of America’s great creative achievement and talent.

Here we see a superb view of N.S. Savannah’s stern, whilst she was in port

2: What went Wrong?

Thus as a ship she was in no doubt a modern day miracle and a wonder, but the simple truth is that mankind was not ready for the Atomic age of travel, for there was an edge of FEAR attached to it, and who was at fault there? America nuclear bombs falling in Japan killing just a few mother’s, children, fathers, the elderly, etc, etc. Yes it did end the way, but it was the United States of America who was the first to use the Atomic Bomb on people and now America was saying, come on our Atomic luxury liner at a time when the world was in the middle of a “Cold War” crisis! Just think about it, what would you do under the circumstances?

It is sad to say that in truth the beautifully sleek lines of the Savannah did nothing to aid her future wellbeing, as she was sadly doomed from the very beginning to be a failure, for she was plagued with a variety of design problems. Obviously there were passengers who had fears to sail on her, for the very thought of sailing on a nuclear powered ship did not seem to be safest of things to do in the sixties as people did not trust this new technology! In addition there was a massive design error when it came to her overall hull design as the future would comprehensively prove that and put her our of business for good, as well as the eventual cost of operation which was mostly due to having to crew the ship with large number of mariners. Thus the cost of keeping her sailing was far too great and she could never have made a sufficient profit to cover the costs!

One of her major design problems was the fact that Savannah’s cargo space was limited to a mere 8,500 tons of freight in 652,000 cubic feet (18,000 m³), whilst other ships of a similar size could carry a great deal more. In addition Savannah’s sleek and ultra streamlined hull may have looked simply superb to all who saw her, but it made loading cargo, especially in her two forward and aft holds extremely difficult and this became a huge disadvantage, especially when ports became more and more automated and all too soon this ultra modern futuristic looking N.S. Savannah had become obsolete, out of date and totally useless in the modern age.

And as I have already stated a number of times she had that massive crew, a third larger compared to a regular ship, also Savannah’s mariners had to go and study highly specialised technology, having already completed all their regular training requirements for their maritime licenses, etc. In addition, the Savannah’s operating budget included the maintenance of special and separate shore organisations for negotiating her port visits as well as a special shipyard facility unique for any needed repairs, and this was something that was not required for any other ship. All this added massive additional costs.

No ship with these disadvantages could possibly hope to be commercial success. Thus the solution became a simple one, already her once beautiful passenger space was totally wasted since 1965, and already her cargo capacity was insufficient for a ship of her size operating with such a huge crew. As a result with her many handicaps the Eisenhower’s pride, the N.S. Savannah ended up costing over US$2 million a year more in operating subsidies compared to a similar sized cargo ship, that was powered by a diesel/motor or turbine steam engine.

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) finally had to decommission the N.S. Savannah early in 1972, which was a wise decision because she was losing them massive amounts and she was no longer the ship that was originally intended, the “Pride of America”, a luxury ship transporting 60 happy passengers in luxurious surroundings, for as we know that had turned out to be a failure and tragically her passenger days ceased after only three after just two and a half or so years and that is a sad failure indeed! One that could have possibly been better far managed had they had the right media team!

As we read earlier in this story, N.S. Savannah’s namesake, the S.S. Savannah in 1819 became the very first steam powered ship to cross the Atlantic and she was also a commercial failure even though she was innovative when it came to propulsion in her age, indeed she made history, and so it would be for her namesake the N.S. Savannah. The Savannah was officially decommissioned on January 10, 1972, as she was laid up at Savannah, but thankfully it would not be the end of her for thankfully she did have many friends and she survives to this day although there were a number of changes.

N.S. Savannah seen during her earlier days with some of her passengers out on deck

Reaching her final and her best Destination:

On January 30, 2007, the Savannah was towed to Pier 23, which is owned by the City of Newport News. Then the Savannah she departed under tow and she arrived in Baltimore on May 8, 2008. Thankfully the Savannah remains in Baltimore under a “US Maritime Administration” contract with the Vane Brothers' Co. at the Canton Marine Terminal in the Canton section of Baltimore.

While still under a long term contract with Canton Marine Terminal, N.S. Savannah was towed via C&D canal to Philadelphia for drydock maintenance and pre-decommission work in early September 2019. She arrived to drydock at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia on September 10, 2019. Pre-decommission work is to include removal of nuclear support systems and other mechanical components leading up to the removal of the reactor. Decommissioning must be accomplished by 2031. By mid-February 2020, the ship had returned to Baltimore.

Since Savannah is historically significant thus she has been designated a “National Historic Landmark”, MARAD has expressed interest in offering the ship for preservation once Savannah's decommissioning, decontamination and radiological work is completed. A MARAD spokesman told The Baltimore Sun in May 2008 that the maritime agency envisions the ship’s eventual conversion into a museum, but that no investors have yet offered to undertake the project.

Historic Designation:

Savannah was listed on the “National Register of Historic Places” on November 14, 1982. She was designated a “National Historic Landmark” on July 17, 1991. Savannah is notable as one of the most visible and intact examples of the Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, and was designated a “National Historic Landmark in advance of the customary fifty-year age requirement because of her exceptional “national significance”



N.S. Savannah - Specifications:

Owner:                               US Maritime Aministration.

Operators:                          States Marine Lines 1962-1965.

.                                        American Export-Isbrandtsen Lines 1965-1972.

Port of Registry:                  Savannah, USA.

IMI No:                               5314793.

Callsign:                             KSAV.

Ordered:                             1955.

Built by:                             New York Shipbuilding Co, Camden, USA.

Yard Number:                      529.

Keel Laid:                            May 22, 1958.

Launched:                           July 21, 1959 (by Mamie Eisenhower).

Completed:                         December 1961.

Delivered:                           May 1, 1962.

Cost:                                  Us$46,900,000 (18,600,000 for the ship, & $ 28,300,000 for the nuclear plant & fuel.

Maiden Voyage:                   August 20, 1962.

Decommissioned:                 January 10, 1972.

Tonnage:                            15,858 GRT (Gross Registered Tons).

Length:                              181.5m - 595ft.

Width:                                23.8m – 78.1ft.

Reactor:                             Babcock & Wilcox - Pressurised Water Nuclear Reactor.

Engine:                               De Laval - Steam Geared Turbine Engines - 22,000 SHP.

Screw:                                Single.

Speed:                               21 knots service speed (max 24 knots).

Passengers:                         60 First Class.

Crew:                                 124.


The Savannah is seen here whilst on display to the public



Get your copy of …

“Once Upon a Nuclear Ship”

A Superb NS Savannah Documentary!

Watch the superb One hour and five minutes long film entitled “Once Upon A Nuclear Ship” covering the N.S. Savannah so superbly! It is without a doubt the very best way to get to know this still ultra modern looking lady, but is yet historic ship! 1. You can watch it online for just US$4.99, or buy the full DVD for $US24.00 within the U.S.A, including shipping, or $US30.00 internationally including shipping. Visit: http://nssavannahdocumentary.com.

My personal thoughts on this DVD;

I have watched only a small part of this documentary, and all I can say that this is a simply remarkable achievement and a must have DVD! It contains so much great footage of this amazing ship and it will provide you with so much more than just an insight into the ship!

Thus do yourself a favour and for a pittance get yourself a copy of this excellent DVD and enjoy it for yourself, as you will need to watch it again and again!

Reuben Goossens.

Click the DVD above


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