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This Week in History
July 19-25, 2015

First U.S. Nuclear-Powered Surface Ship
(July 21, 1959)

By Pamela Lowry

NS (Nuclear Ship) Savannah, the first commercial nuclear power cargo vessel, enroute to the World's Fair in Seattle.

July 21, 1959--The first atomic-powered ship of the United States Merchant Marine was launched today as the "N.S. Savannah" slid down the ways at Camden, N.J. She follows by four years the launching of the first nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S. Navy's "Nautilus." The "Nautilus" was able to travel 62,000 miles, or almost three times around the earth, without refueling. The "Savannah" is powered by a pressurized-water reactor, much like the Soviet icebreaker "Lenin" which was launched two years ago. Nuclear power generators on the ocean have already been joined by nuclear power plants on land, as the United States opened its first nuclear electrical plants in 1957.

The "Savannah" is appropriately named after its proud predecessor the "Savannah," which in 1819 was the first ship to cross the Atlantic using the power of steam. The original "Savannah" was a 300-ton sailing ship equipped with steam engines and side paddlewheels which could be lifted out of the water when not needed for propulsion. She left Savannah, Georgia on May 24, 1819, and, using her engines for 105 hours of the trip, reached Liverpool, England on June 20. The sight of a steamship sailing across the ocean was so unexpected that when the "Savannah" reached Ireland she was met by rescue boats launched by sailors who had seen the smoke from the "Savannah's" boilers and mistakenly assumed that the ship was on fire.

Originally written in 1993 for an EIR radio program, "And now, news from the American Republic"