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Passenger Memories: Neil Roosevelt Shares His Extraordinary SS United States Collection

The SS United States has always been a true American icon; she made a lasting impression on all who traveled aboard her, and to this day, many of the Big U's most enthusiastic supporters are former passengers and crew members eager to see the ship restored to her original glory.

Former passenger Neil Roosevelt has an extra special connection to America's Flagship — his father, James Arthur Roosevelt, served aboard as an engineer during the vessel's prolific service career!

Former passenger Neil Roosevelt, whose father worked aboard the SS United States, returns to the ship in 2018. Photographs courtesy of Neil Roosevelt.

James Arthur Roosevelt was born in 1914 in Lynwood, PA. After leaving high school in the eighth grade to support his family, James began a prolific career at sea at the age of only fifteen, working his way through the ranks aboard multiple vessels, and ultimately serving as 1st Assistant Engineer aboard the SS United States from 1957 until the vessel's final voyage in 1969.

Neil Roosevelt recalls:

"As a child I always remembered meeting him at the docks to pick him up when he arrived home. I loved the ships and wanted to be a seaman...

He’d tell me funny stories about his times at sea. He started work at the Ford plant in Chester, and his job was to crate the new cars as they came off the assembly line. He said it took him so long to nail all the crating together that the assembly belt took him all the way to the car ship, and that’show he started his career on ships.

When I was little, he told me that his job was to stand at the front of the ship with a long pole and lift up the line that marked the equator to allow the ship to pass under it. He also told me that he pulled a tooth out of a whale’s mouth and brought it home for me...He brought exotic gifts from all the wonderful ports of call he had travel to and everyone in all the families would love the neat things he would bring them."

Neil recently joined the SS United States Conservancy on a special limited-access curatorial tour of America's Flagship, joined by fellow passengers and crew members also assisting with our ongoing Legacy and oral history projects.

In addition to regaling the Conservancy with stories and memories of his own multiple crossings on the ship, Neil shared that he has decorated a space in his home with SS United States and United States Lines memorabilia. Of course, we were eager to see his extraordinary collection, and he has generously shared the images below:

Neil Roosevelt shares some of the highlights of his expansive SS United States collection.

Photographs courtesy of Neil Roosevelt.

How many fascinating original objects from the SS United States can you spot in these photographs? Again, our sincere thanks to Neil for sharing his collection and stories!


The stories of the passengers and crew members who traveled aboard the SS United States are vital to the ship's incredible history. Today, the Conservancy is preserving those memories through our Legacy Project, documenting the intangible history of America's Flagship.

Do you have your own SS United States story to share? CLICK HERE to learn how, or drop us a line at Do you own SS United States memorabilia? We're cataloguing the location and ownership of items from the vessel in advance of future exhibitions. Fill out our object loan survey HERE.

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