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January 21, 1954: World’s First Nuclear Submarine Launched at Groton

15 Jan 2019

Maritime Industry

On January 21, 1954, at 10:57am, the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, slid off a dry dock at General Dynamics in Groton, Connecticut and splashed into the waters of the Thames River, officially launching the United States Navy into the nuclear era.

Left: First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christens the USS Nautilus moments before the submarine was officially launched into the Thames River. (Bates Littlehales, National Geographic)

Hundreds of spectators, including General Dynamics employees, military brass, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, and scores of reporters were gathered along the riverbank to witness the momentous occasion.  In the summer of 1952, then-president Harry Truman had traveled to the Groton submarine shipyard to lay the keel of the Nautilus; only a year and a half later, the revolutionary sub was ready to begin its first trials in the water.  As the first vessel in the world to be powered by a nuclear reactor, the Nautilus could travel much farther and faster than traditional, diesel-based submarines; with nuclear-powered state-of-the-art air and water purification plants on board, the crew could go for months without replenishing supplies or even surfacing for air.

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