The U.S. Navy celebrated the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of USS Nautilus and the birth of the nuclear Navy Sept. 30, 2014 in a ceremony aboard the historic ship in its home at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton, Conn.
It was Sept. 30, 1954, when the submarine community took the first step in shifting from diesel-driven engines to those powered by the collision of atoms, an evolution that eventually resulted in the all nuclear-powered submarine force of today.
The possibility of nuclear-powered vessels was just a dream in 1946 until the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission. The program was driven to completion under the leadership of then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, widely-known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy.”
Many in attendance at the ceremony recalled their service onboard Nautilus as the pinnacle of their Navy careers and shared their fondness for Vice Admiral Eugene “Dennis” Wilkinson, the ship’s first commanding officer.
Just three years after being authorized by Congress in 1951, USS Nautilus was commissioned, Sept. 30, 1954. It wasn’t until the morning of Jan. 17, 1955, however, when its first skipper, Cmdr. Eugene P. Wilkinson, signaled the message: “Underway on Nuclear Power.”
From then, Nautilus went on to break numerous speed and distance records for submarines.
Decommissioned and stricken from the Navy rolls in 1980, Nautilus’ future was assured when the Secretary of the Interior designated the submarine as a National Historic Landmark May 20, 1982.
After a historic ship conversion, Nautilus opened to the public April 11, 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the establishment of the U.S. Submarine Force, to continue her service as an example of the Navy’s pioneering role in harnessing nuclear power, as the first in a fleet of nuclear-powered ships, and as steward of the American submarine force’s reputation for and history of operational excellence.