June 14: The Nuclear Age Gets a Game-Changing, Record-Breaking Submarine



Today in 1952, President Harry S. Truman journeyed to Groton, Connecticut to dedicate the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus.

The keel-laying ceremony took place at the Electric Boat shipyard on the banks of the Thames River and was hailed in the press as “The Birth of the Atomic Era Navy.” Before a crowd of 10,000 spectators, Truman delivered a lengthy speech highlighting the Nautilus as a harbinger of peace and human progress. “This is a great day for us,” said Truman, “A day to celebrate—not because we are starting a new ship for war, but because we are making a great advance in use of atomic energy for peace. We want atomic power to be a boon to all men everywhere, not an instrument for their destruction. Today, we stand on the threshold of a new age of power.”

Eighteen months later, in January 1954, the completed USS Nautilus was christened by (new) First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and sailed into history, shattering all sorts of speed and distance records over the 25 years it was in active service. On August 3, 1958, it became the first vessel in history to sail under the North Pole.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, the USS Nautilus was overhauled to become a floating museum and was towed to the New London Naval Submarine Base in Groton, where she remains free and open to public visitation as part of the Submarine Force Museum.

Further Reading

Erica Buell, “Flag Day and the Beginning of the Nuclear Navy,” Submarine Force Museum

Harry S. Truman, Address in Groton, Conn., at the Keel Laying of the first Atomic Energy Submarine, The American Presidency Project

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