The United States celebrated the 89th National Maritime Day on May 22. Congress declared National Maritime Day in 1933 to recognize the maritime industry and commemorate the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean using steam propulsion by the American steamship Savannah.
The holiday is meant to recognize the importance of the maritime industry and the Merchant Marines to the United States and honor those who severed the industry during times of peace and war.
The Merchant Marines were founded in 1775 and were vital during World War II. During the war, more than 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine served their county, with more than 6,700 making the ultimate sacrifice. Hundreds were detained as prisoners of war, and more than 800 merchant ships were sunk or damaged, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration website.
The holiday also coincides with the steamship SS Savannah’s journey across the Atlantic on an entirely steam and sail-powered journey.
The ship left from Savannah, Georgia, on May 22, 1819, and made its way to Liverpool, England, taking 29 days and four hours using the ship’s sails and steam engine.
In 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower introduced the Atoms for Peace program to the United Nations. He later proposed the program’s showcase to be the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship.
The ship was completed in 1962 and dubbed the N.S. Savannah and is still currently docked at Pier 13 in the Port of Baltimore. In 2019 the N.S. Savannah hosted an event to celebrate the 200th commemoration of the steam ship’s original journey with a two-day event aboard its namesake.
“The United States has always been and will always be a great maritime nation,” said the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration website. “From our origins as 13 British colonies, through every period of peace and conflict since, the Merchant Marine has been a pillar in this country’s foundation of prosperity and security. They power the world’s largest economy and strengthen our ties with trading partners around the world, all while supporting our military forces by shipping troops and supplies wherever they need to go.”