September 1, 1954 - USA: First Nuclear Submarine

USS Nautilus

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) USS Nautilus was the first nuclear-powered submarine. Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut—the same company that had sold the U.S. Navy its first submarine in 1900—laid her keel 14 June 1952. She was launched 18 months later and commissioned in September 1954.

USS Nautilus (SNN-571)

The USS Nautilus was the first vessel to use a nuclear reactor as its main source of power. There are four important dates to keep in mind when considering the USS Nautilus: Awarded to general Dynamics on August 2, 1951, launched on January 21, 1954, first cruise on May 10, 1955, and her decommissioning on March 20, 1980. The USS Nautilus was used for two purposes in addition to the nuclear arsenal she carried. The first was that it was used as a testing vessel from its commissioning on January 21, 1954, to January 17, 1955, and secondarily was used to help develop new strategies based off of the range that nuclear submarines had.

The USS Nautilus represented a new age of naval warfare and nuclear threat. With her capabilities to submerge for approximately a month, and have the fuel range to patrol the artic, it gave the USA the capability to both patrol an area where neither the Soviets nor the Americans could previously reach with conventual submarines. With its journey to the artic, it also started on its secondary role. The secondary role of the USS Nautilus was as a research submarine that would help improve the tactics and doctrines to fit the new nuclear submarines and their capabilities.

The USS Nautilus also displayed the USA’s continued naval dominance. As it was scantly 5 years after the victory in the Pacific, and with the defeat of Germany in Europe, it left many of the world’s naval powers either disarmed or destroyed, leaving the USA and Russia as the last significant naval powers. Since the USA was the first to both nuclear munitions and submarines, it showed that the technological prowess of the United States surpassed the Soviet Union’s. This was important as the technological level of each country was both important to national pride, as-well-as the amount of confidence the American people placed in the cold war – this was shown during the space race, and the United States’ subsequent victory.


USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in Long Island Sound off New London, Connecticut, during its shakedown cruise in May 1955. (US Navy photo)


By Nick Subong


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———. “Nautilus (SSN-571).” Naval Heritage and Naval Command. Last modified November 4, 2019. Accessed May 26, 2020.