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August 2018

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U.S. Census Bureau History: USS Nautilus

USS Nautilus Patch

Artists from the Walt Disney Studios designed the ship's patch worn by crew members
of the USS Nautilus.

In 1959, Disneyland's "Submarine Voyage" attraction in Anaheim, CA, featured
the USS Nautilus' 1958 trip under the polar ice caps and North Pole.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

At 11:15pm on August 3, 1958, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571)—the U.S. Navy's first operational nuclear powered submarine— successfully reached 90 degrees North. In doing so, it completed the first-ever submerged transit of the geographic North Pole.

The U.S. Congress authorized construction of the world's first nuclear-powered submarine in July 1951, after the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission (led by Hyman G. Rickover) successfully developed a nuclear propulsion plant that could be fitted to a submarine. On June 14, 1952, President Harry S. Truman laid down Nautilus' keel in Groton, CT. Nautilus launched on January 21, 1954, and the U.S. Navy commissioned the submarine on September 30, 1954. Nautilus was "underway on nuclear power" for the first time on January 17, 1955, under the command of Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson.

In 1955, Nautilus conducted sea trials which included a record-breaking Connecticut-to-Puerto Rico "shakedown" submerged cruise (completed in less than 90 hours at an average speed of 16 knots). The submarine then participated in several years of exercises and testing off the U.S. east and west coasts and visited several European ports.

In the late 1950s, Nautilus played a critical role in the Cold War as tensions increased between the United States and Soviet Union. The sub's ability to remain submerged longer and travel faster than diesel-electric subs potentially opened huge expanses of the ice-covered Arctic ocean to the U.S. Navy. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Navy to secretly attempt the first-ever transit of the North Pole, symbolically proving that the United States could position its forthcoming submarine-launched ballistic missiles on the Soviet's doorstep. After two earlier aborted attempts, Nautilus and its 116-man crew (under the command of Commander William R. Anderson) departed Pearl Harbor, HI, for the polar ice cap on July 23, 1958. Anderson ordered Nautilus to dive on August 1, near Point Barrow, AK. At 11:15pm on August 3, Nautilus' gyroscopic compass indicated the sub was at 90 degrees North—the geographic North Pole. After 96 hours and 1,830 miles under the ice, Nautilus surfaced near Greenland on August 5.

Once surfaced, Anderson sent a short, encoded message—"Nautilus 90 North." Following receipt of that message, President Eisenhower publicly announced the successful completion of "Operation Sunshine" Link to a non-federal Web site and awarded Nautilus a Presidential Unit Citation. He awarded Commander Anderson (who flew to Washington, DC, from Iceland) a Legion of Merit. Following a parade in New York City, NY, the sub returned home to New London, CT, on August 29, 1958.

In the years following its trip under the Arctic ice, Nautilus participated in North Atlantic Treaty Organization exercises in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, participated in the October 1962 naval quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and tested technologies for the future nuclear submarines. The historic sub's last voyage ended at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on May 20, 1982, where it was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on March 3, 1980. Nautilus became a National Historic Landmark on May 20, 1982. The Navy towed it to Groton, CT, in 1985, and it opened to the public as part of the Submarine Force Museum Link to a non-federal Web site on April 11, 1986.

You can learn more about the USS Nautilus and other submarines using census data and records. For example:

  • The acorn-shaped Turtle was the first submersible vessel used in combat. Inventor David Bushnell developed the craft in the hope it would break the British Navy's blockade of east coast cities during the American Revolution. In August 1776, Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parson selected his brother-in-law and Lyme, CT, native, Ezra Lee, to pilot Turtle in an unsuccessful attempt to attach explosives to Admiral Lord Richard Howe's flagship HMS Eagle anchored in New York Harbor.
  • The U.S. Navy commissioned its first submarine, the USS Holland, (SS-1) on October 12, 1900, at Newport, RI. The Holland provided valuable experimental data needed to build the American submarine fleet and trained future submariners at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and Naval Torpedo Station, in Newport, RI. The sub was decommissioned in 1905 and sent to Norfolk, VA. The Navy sold it for scrap in June 1913. It's new owner (a wealthy doctor and his son) offered the hulk for display in Philadelphia and at the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries in 1918. Portions of the ship continued to be displayed in Paterson, NJ—home to some of John Philip Holland's early submarine experiments—until 1932.
  • The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) launched in 1954, was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel to carry that name. A shipyard in Maryland built the first Nautilus in 1799. It served in the First Barbary War and was the first vessel lost during the War of 1812, when it was captured by the British off the New Jersey coast. In 1838, the second Nautilus launched as a Coast and Geodetic Survey ship and served in the Mexican-American War. In 1930, a submarine named Nautilus (SS-168) launched from the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA. The sub served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was decommissioned in Philadelphia, PA, in 1945.
  • The U.S. Congress authorized construction of the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in 1951. President Harry S. Truman laid its keel during a ceremony in Groton, CT, on June 14, 1952. Mamie Eisenhower sponsored its launch on January 21, 1954, and the Navy commissioned the sub on September 30, 1954. Nautilus was underway on nuclear power with Eugene P. Wilkinson in command on January 17, 1955.
  • In 1951, Remington Rand dedicated the U.S. Census Bureau's UNIVAC I—the first computer built for civilian purposes. The company merged with Sperry Corporation in 1955 to form Sperry Rand. Sperry Rand built the gyroscopic compass Link to a non-federal Web site used by the USS Nautilus to provide accurate readings as it approached the geographic North Pole.
  • Less than 2 years after the USS Nautilus completed the first submerged transit of the North Pole, the USS Triton (SS-586) completed the first submerged circumnavigation of the world. The nearly 27,000 nautical mile voyage—code named "Operation Sandblast" Link to a non-federal Web site—began on February 24 and ended April 25, 1960. The achievement is often overlooked because days later, the Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 spy plane over its territory and captured pilot Francis Gary Powers.
  • According to the 2012 Economic Census, the United States is home to 697 ship building and repairing (NAICS 336611) establishments employing more than 105,000. Value of shipments rose from $10.4 billion in 1997 to $24.9 billion in 2012. States employing the largest number of people in ship building and repair are Virginia (27,300), Louisiana (10,894), and California (10,383).
  • As of July 2018, the U.S. Navy reported that it had 327,804 active duty personne—l97,219 ready reserves; 3,183 reserves currently mobilized; and 210,031 U.S. Navy Department civilian employees. Some of these personnel help maintain submarine bases around the world, including Naval Station Pearl Harbor (Honolulu, HI), Naval Station Norfolk (Norfolk, VA), Naval Base Kitsap (Kitsap Peninsula, WA); Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay (Camden County, GA); Naval Base New London (New London, CT); Naval Base Point Loma (San Diego, CA); and Naval Base Guam (Apra Harbor, Guam).
  • In March 2018, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest Virginia-class submarine—USS Colorado (SSN 788). The 377 foot, 7,800 ton submarine has 134 crew members and is stationed at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, CT. Shipbuilders in Groton, CT, and Newport News, VA, are currently building or have orders for 15 Virginia-class submarines, including the USS Hyman Rickover (SSN-795) "laid down" in May 2018. SSN-795 is named after the "Father of the Nuclear Navy" Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.
  • Many other museums throughout the United States feature historic submarines, including the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center Link to a non-federal Web site in North Charleston, SC; USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove Link to a non-federal Web site in Fall River, MA; USS Drum (SS-228) at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park Link to a non-federal Web site in Mobile, AL; USS Bowfin (SS-287) and Parche (SS-384) at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park Link to a non-federal Web site in Honolulu, HI; the USS Blueback (SS-581) at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry Link to a non-federal Web site in Portland, OR; and the USS Requin (SS-481) at Pittsburgh, PA's Carnegie Science Center Link to a non-federal Web site.

USS Nautilus

The flag-draped USS Nautilus launched into the Thames River, Groton, CT, on January 21, 1954, approximately 19 months after
President Harry S. Truman laid its keel. Nautilus was commissioned on September 30, 1954, under the command of Eugene P. Wilkinson.
It remained in service until the U.S. Navy decommissioned and struck it from the Naval Vessel Register on March 3, 1980.

Nautilus opened to the public as part of the Submarine Force Library and Museum Link to a non-federal Web site in Groton, CT, on April 11, 1986.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Counting Seafarers

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted the Shipboard Enumeration Operation to accurately count U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel and merchant marines with a U.S. homeport during the 2010 Census.

The Census Bureau sent Shipboard Census Reports to 1,071 military and maritime vessels and received 88,479 completed forms.

After removing 36,615 respondents who reported a "usual home elsewhere," the Census Bureau added data for 51,864 respondents aboard 434 vessels that would not otherwise be collected.

1790 Census Act
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This Month in Census History

On March 1, 1790, President George Washington signed an act to take the United States' first census as of August 2, 1790.

From 1790 to 1820, the United States conducted the census as of the first Monday in August. It moved to June in 1830, (June 2 in 1890), April 15 in 1910, and January 1 in 1920.

"Census Day" has been April 1, since 1930.

Submarine Turtle
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Revolutionary Sub

In 1775, Connecticut inventor David Bushnell developed the first submersible vessel used in combat.

Piloted by Continental Army Sergeant Ezra Lee, Bushnell's Turtle attempted to attach a torpedo to British Admiral Lord Richard Howe's flagship HMS Eagle as it lay anchored in New York Harbor the night of September 6–7, 1776. River currents and difficulties with attaching the bomb to the Royal Navy warship forced Lee to abandon the attack.

Turtle unsuccessfully attempted to attack several other British ships in the days that followed before the British sunk it (along with the sloop carrying it) near Fort Lee, NJ.

Image courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 05, 2022