Categories: Groton, Imagining Connecticut, Postwar United States, Transportation, War and Defense
Launching of the USS Nautilus 1954
The USS Nautilus demonstrates Connecticut’s continuing maritime traditions and dedication to our national defense. In July of 1951, Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. Five months later the Navy Department announced that she would be called the Nautilus, the sixth Navy ship to hold that name. On June 14, 1952, President Harry S. Truman arrived at the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton to lay the keel of this revolutionary vessel. The building of the Nautilus helped Groton sustain its title of “Submarine Building Capital of the World.” Approximately a year and a half later, on January 21, 1954, the ship was completed, and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower broke a bottle of champagne over the ship’s bow as it slipped into the Thames River. On September 30 of that year the USS Nautilus became the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the US Navy. On January 17, 1955, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson USN ordered all lines cast off and signaled the historic message, “Underway on Nuclear Power.” The Nautilus eventually shattered all submerged speed and distance records. In July of 1958 the USS Nautilus left Pearl Harbor on “Operation Sunshine” to attempt the first crossing of the North Pole by ship. By August 3rd the 116 men on board had accomplished this seemingly impossible task. After almost 25 years of active service to the United States Navy, in the spring of 1979, the USS Nautilus set out from Groton to California on her final voyage. In 1982 the ship was designated as a National Historical Landmark. Three years later she was towed back to Connecticut, where she was made a part of the Submarine Force Museum in Groton and was opened for public viewing.