SS Atlantus: New Jersey’s Concrete Shipwreck

Wreck of the concrete ship SS Atlantus off Cape May, New Jersey (Image: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons. Wreck of the concrete ship SS Atlantus)

Aground off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey, a hulking shipwreck serves as a lasting reminder of perhaps one of the most unusual wartime construction projects the US ever undertook: the concrete ship. The idea of a concrete ship may come as a surprise to many. But after World War One, concrete was considered an appropriate low cost material for constructing supply ships and troop transports.

(Image: via Wikimedia)

According to Weird NJ, the SS Atlantus and her concrete sister ships were the brainchild of one Norseman N.K. Fougner. Fougner was asked to develop alternate shipbuilding methods when traditional materials, such as steel, became difficult to come by due to World War One.

(Image: Boston Public Library)

The Atlantus was the first of his experimental concrete ships, launched in 1918. Twelve were built altogether. But perhaps not surprisingly, they were soon deemed to be both impractical and slow. Nicknamed “floating tombstones”, the ships more properly dubbed the “Concrete Fleet” were quickly decommissioned.

(Image: TypoBoy)

In 1926, SS Atlantus was given a brief reprieve when a businessman rescued her from her Virginia ship graveyard and attempted to put her back into service (sort of) as a dock for ferries that would operate between Cape May and Lewes, Delaware. But the plan was short-lived. On June 8th that year, she was jarred loose in a storm and sank off Sunset Bay, New Jersey.

(Image: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons)

Over the decades, chunks of the abandoned ship’s superstructure have broken away and sunk beneath the waves. However, the ruined shipwreck – battered by the elements – is still in evidence. One of her more ironic uses over the years was to serve as a de facto billboard for boat insurance.

(Image: Neil DeMaster)

The wreck of SS Atlantus remains a popular sight for tourists today, though her condition has noticeably deteriorated as the years have passed her by. An unmistakable spectacle from the nearby beach, there’s no telling how much longer this offbeat monument to one of America’s strangest shipbuilding projects is set to last.

Related: Mallows Bay: The “Ghost Fleet” of the Chesapeake


About the author: Debra Kelly




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