S.S. Atlantus, at one time the most famous concrete ship in the USA

Bojan Ivanov

Apart from its spectacular over the water sunsets and the famous “Cape May Diamonds”, Sunset Beach in Cape May, New Jersey, has something for the history buffs too.

About 150 feet off the coastline are the remains of the S.S. Atlantus.  This one-of-a-kind wreck was the most famous of the twelve experimental ships made of concrete during and after World War I.

Although it sounds weird at first, there is a logical explanation why engineers used concrete to built these ships. When shortages of steel in the United States threatened the supply of ships, concrete became the best and the cheapest alternative.

The wreckage of the SS Atlantus lies 150 feet off. Author: Luigi Novi CC BY 3.0

The wreckage of the SS Atlantus lies 150 feet off. Author: Luigi Novi CC BY 3.0

Atlantus in 2015. Author: Luigi Novi CC BY 3.0

Atlantus in 2015. Author: Luigi Novi CC BY 3.0

The idea of concrete ships goes back to the 19th century, but it was Nicolay Fougner from Norway who built the first one that was capable of moving under its own power back in 1917. He was then invited by the U.S. government to help in the launching of a study for construction of concrete ships in the United States.

The first concrete ship constructed in the United States was the SS Faith and after it was launched on March 18, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson approved the construction of 24 more concrete ships. The S.S. Atlantus was one of the first two experimental concrete ships that were about to be built.

 

Postcard c.1940

Postcard c.1940

 

SS Atlantus the day she ran aground, 8 June 1926

SS Atlantus the day she ran aground, 8 June 1926

It was constructed by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Brunswick Georgia and construction was finished a month after World War I ended. The S.S. Atlantus that weighed 3,000 tons and was 250-feet long was used by the US Government to transport American troops back home from Europe.

However, concrete ships proved to be too slow and as steel shortage was not a problem after the end of World War I, production was again focused on steel ships. The S.S. Atlantus was retired and sent to a ship graveyard in Virginia.

In the background, right of center, lies the wreckage of the SS Atlantus. Author: Luigi Novi CC BY 3.0

In the background, right of center, lies the wreckage of the SS Atlantus. Author: Luigi Novi CC BY 3.0

In 1926, an enterprising businessman Jesse Rosenfeld purchased the S.S. Atlantus and two of her sister ships so he can create a “Y” shaped ferry dock. The ship was repaired and towed from Virginia up to Cape May, but she broke free of her moorings during a storm on June 8, 1926, and ran aground 150 feet off the coastline where she remains today.

Attempts to free her were futile and she was eventually abandoned. In 1961 she split into two parts and is currently split into three. However, over the course of more than 90 years, this one-of-a-kind wreck became one of the main tourist attractions in Cape May, New Jersey.

Up to this day, millions have seen the most famous concrete ship in the United States and if you are planning to join the club better hurry up because it’s only a matter of time before this beauty completely sinks into the ocean.