At a small but significant ceremony in Elecric Boat’s South Yard on June 14, Electric Boat and Navy representatives—and a few of the actual builders—of USS Nautilus, SSN-571, gathered to commemorate the 60 year anniversary of the keel-laying of the historic vessel.
Electric Boat President Kevin Poitras recalled that it was “60 years ago today—on this spot—[that] President Harry S. Truman laid the keel for USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
“The company’s involvement in the project came in response to an extraordinary challenge from Admiral Hyman Rickover, the visionary naval leader who is considered the father of the nuclear navy.”
Poitras cited President Harry S Truman’s remarks at the 1954 ceremony, quoting him:
“I wish I could convey to everyone what a tremendous and wonderful thing has been accomplished. All of this has been accomplished in an amazingly short period of time. When it was started four years ago, most people thought it would take 10 years if it could be done at all. …But one tough problem after another has been conquered in a fashion that seems almost miraculous, and the work has forged ahead …”
And Poitras also recalled the words familiar to residents of southeastern Connecticut of any age.
“Less than three years later,” Poitras recounted, “Nautilus went to sea, transmitting the famous message, ‘Underway on Nuclear Power.’”
Navy Lieutenant Commander Robert Sawyer, officer-in-charge of the Nautilus museum, spoke as a naval officer and historian, reflecting on the importance of the vessel in symbolic and practical terms.
“Of Nautilus,” he stressed, “we can say that the men and women who built her were a credit to American skill, hard work, and innovation. These were the artisans of Electric Boat, Westinghouse, and hundreds of other industry and Navy partners.
“What an incredible achievement: little more than four years passed from Congressional authorization in July 1951 to commissioning on September 30, 1954, when Nautilus joined the fleet, bringing radically new technologies and capabilities.
“She shattered submerged speed and endurance records. In the 84 hours of her shakedown cruise, she traveled submerged 1,300 miles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, averaging about 16 knots. In that journey, she traveled continuously submerged 10 times farther than any previous submarine, and 84 times longer than any submarine had done at such a high submerged speed
“Most famously, she reached the North Pole in 1958—in a daring adventure that captured headlines and gave the United States the strategic advantage of an entire ocean at the very top of the world.
“The success of Nautilus changed the equations that described a superpower. The other world powers scrambled to join this club. The process and discipline established by Admiral Rickover has allowed the United States to decisively establish and maintain undersea warfare superiority.
“We simply must continue the work begun with Nautilus,” Taylor concluded.