Presidential Cruises Are a Thing of the Past

SS Cleveland President, December 27, 1947.


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It may not be the most pressing question in our politically divided times, but judging by where we stand now, it’s probably worth pondering: Will there ever be another? cruise ship or cruise ship named for a president of the United States?

There doesn’t seem to be any nowadays and there hasn’t been any for almost 50 years. But until the 1970s, such ships proudly advertised themselves to world travelers, believing that a president’s dignity and stature would be good for business.

Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, James K. Polk, James Monroe – their names are etched on the hulls of the cruisers that have sailed around the world that have stopped at some of the world’s most captivating ports. The president of the United States owns ships, and the business strategy is simple: What could be more thrilling for Americans than sailing on a ship tied to a president?

Every arrival and departure makes passengers feel as though they are part of history — the headline in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on June 3, 1950, when one of those ships docked, was “Woodrow.” Wilson arrives.” Company slogan: “Travel with the President.”

In today’s difficult times, it can be seen as too risky. Naming a passenger ship for a Republican president, you’d worry about alienating half of your potential customers. Naming the ship for a Democratic president, same headache. It doesn’t matter how far a cruise company looks back – certain people would consider any president whose name fits the ship as too far from the political left or too far from the political left. political right.

And sailing through waters near countries unfriendly to the United States would make a passenger ship bearing the president’s name an easy target for adversaries looking for guaranteed publicity. Better stick with the safe generic names of today’s cruise ships: Jubilee, Summit, Equinox, Mardi Gras, Infinity, Elation, Apex and the rest.

Warships are another matter: The US Navy has numerous ships booked for presidents, including Lincoln, Washington, Eisenhower, Truman, and Ford. Jimmy Carter has a submarine. But no one was asked to buy tickets for trips on those ships — no marketing traps.

US President Lines is a reflection of the mid-20th century era when their ships set sail, as evidenced by their advertising: “Only Father Pays All Fares”. With the breadwinner father on board, the wife and children had a slump in prices. (And has this promise: “Free 350 pounds of baggage.”)

When, under the Nixon administration, President SS Wilson arrived in San Francisco in April 1973, that was the terminus of the (passenger) route. The company was sold to a company in Singapore, and then to a French consortium that turned American President Lines into a subsidiary called APL, a freight train operator. Some still bear the names of presidents, but you won’t come across them on your leisure travels. Their decks now carry huge stacks of containers, not vacationers.

As for that last American President Lines passenger ship, the SS President Wilson was sold to a Hong Kong businessman after its final voyage in 1973 and renamed the Oriental Empress. “Hail to the Chief” was not played.

Mr. Greene’s books include “Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights.”

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Appears in print May 11, 2022.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/presidential-cruises-past-uss-ships-naming-wilson-cleveland-partisanship-11652214261 Presidential Cruises Are a Thing of the Past

Alley Einstein

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