The History of the S.S. Normandie

Posted by Sarah Seippel on

A History of the S.S. Normandie

The S.S Normandie is most commonly known for her exquisite design and the global touristic experience it once offered.  For five years, she was the largest, heaviest, and fastest ocean liner in existence, weighing in at more than 20,00 tons than White Star’s Majestic. Not only was she the heaviest but she was also the first liner to exceed 1000 feet in length; the first liner to exceed 60,00 tons; the largest turbo-electric powered liner; and the first to make a known eastbound Atlantic crossing.

 Built by Chantiers et Ateliers de St. Nazaire and launched in 1932, Normandie made her first remarkable voyage from Le Harve to New York on May 29, 1935.  During the winter months from 1935-36, her travel was temporarily ceased to correct significant vibration issues.  While being worked on, she lost her spot as the largest liner when Cunard White Star’s Queen Mary was built and put to service; however, Normandie was put back into action soon after.

Unfortunately, Normandie’s career as a passenger liner was short-lived due to the outbreak of World War II.  She was seized by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1940 at Pier 88 and then later taken over by the U.S. Marines, where she was renamed the U.S.S. Lafayette for Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who fought on the Colonies’ behalf in the American Revolution.  Two years later, her transformation into a troopship was nearly completed; however, while she was being loaded with supplies, a spark from a welder’s torch ignited a bale of lifejackets.  The fire spread rapidly, and the ship’s crew and firefighters were not prepared for how to put the flames.  Tipping her to her port side, she sank under Pier 88 and Pier 90.  When she was finally tower in 1973, there were plans to turn her into an aircraft carrier, but it was thought to be too costly and she was then picked apart for scraps over the next four years.


The Interior

The luxurious interior was designed in the Art Deco and Streamline Modern style.  To compare the extent of this ship’s beauty to that of a city’s, she is the Paris of ships, being nicknamed the “Ship of Lights”.  Facilities included lavish dining rooms, lounges, a swimming pool, a department store, theater, nightclub, chapel, beauty parlor, and a winter garden.  The dining room had 20-foot-tall doors adorned with bronze medallions kept it enclosed from the hall.  The functional, casual café gilled turned into an exotic nightclub and smoking lounge once the sun set, and the walls were paneled with ominous Egyptian murals.  Each first-class suite was accompanied with its own baby grand piano and private deck.  This was a ship for the rich, and many celebrities, such as Ernest Hemingway and Walt Disney, ventured out on this majestic ship.

Our Photographs


Decorated with various tables, armchairs, and lamps is the stylish lounge of SS Normandie. Round tables that are draped in white tablecloths are placed in several neat columns down the floor of the lounge, and armchairs of several different designs are arranged around the tables. Many lamps are also positioned alongside the tables to provide pleasant lighting as passengers enjoy a pleasant meal and socialize together. Along the walls, several tall, paneled windows line the ship and allow natural sunlight to fill the room. Above, the ceiling is styled in a series of square paneling and decorated with lights that run along the surface. The comfy-looking chairs and relaxed environment give the lounge a very sophisticated, yet also laid-back, feeling.






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