Nautilus was built in 1946 by US Navy Captain Hyman G. Rickover, a brilliant Russian-born engineer who joined the US nuclear program. In 1947, he became responsible for the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program and began work on an atomic submarine.
Viewed as a fanatic by his critics, Rickover managed to develop and deliver the world’s first nuclear submarine years ahead of schedule. In 1952, the keel of Nautilus was laid by President Harry S. Truman, and on January 21, 1954, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower broke a bottle of champagne on the bow as she was released into the Thames River at Groton, Connecticut. On September 30, 1954, she was given her mission clearance, first operating with nuclear power on the morning of January 17, 1955.
Much larger than any diesel-electric submarine before it, the Nautilus was 319 feet long and weighed 3,180 tons. It could remain submerged for almost unlimited periods of time because its atomic engine needed no air and only a very small amount of nuclear fuel. The uranium-powered nuclear reactor produced steam that drove the propulsion turbines, allowing Nautilus to move underwater at speeds exceeding 20 knots.
USS Nautilus set numerous submarine voyage records in the early years of her service, making the first voyage under the geographic North Pole in August 1958. After a 25-year career and nearly 500,000 miles steamed, Nautilus was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, the world’s first nuclear submarine was displayed as the Historic Ship Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in 1986. Groton, Connecticut.