Nieuw Amsterdam was a Dutch ocean liner built in Rotterdam
for the Holland America Line. This Nieuw Amsterdam, the
second of four Holland America ships with that name, is
considered by many to have been Holland America's finest
Construction and launch
Originally she was to be named Prinsendam, however during
construction, Holland America Line decided to name their new
flagship Nieuw Amsterdam, in honor of the Dutch settlement
of New Amsterdam, modern-day New York.
Construction on the new liner was carried out at the N.V.
Rotterdam Drydock Company. Christened by Queen Wilhelmina in
April 1937, Nieuw Amsterdam was, at 36,982 tonnes, the
largest liner ever constructed in the Netherlands up to that
time. Proudly she was dubbed the Dutch "Ship of peace" since
there were no provisions for possible war use incorporated
in her design.
At the time Nieuw Amsterdam was more completely protected
against fire, had the largest air conditioning plant and the
highest percentage of private baths of any ship afloat. The
ship was also the only liner with a fully equipped and air
The Nieuw Amsterdam was the Netherlands' "ship of state",
just as the Normandie was France's, the Queen Mary was
Britain's and United States was the United States', and
numerous Dutch artists vied for the honor of creating some
part of the ship.
Their creation emerged in the spring of 1938, a
light-colored and very spacious ship throughout, and
although she had spacious public rooms, the colour scheme
used gave her an even larger feel. Modern in every way, her
owners proclaimed her "the ship of tomorrow". She followed
the Art Deco trend of the day in both interior decorations
and exterior design. The interiors were distinguished by
fluorescent lighting, aluminum motifs, and gentle pastels
throughout the ship that created an understated elegance
that would make the liner a favorite among seasoned
One of the ship’s centerpieces was the first class
restaurant, having a Moroccan leather ceiling which was
adorned by numerous Murano glass light fixtures, and columns
covered in gold leaf. Tinted mirrors, ivory walls and
satinwood furniture all contributed to create the luxurious
atmosphere. The restaurant had no portholes or windows
facing the open sea, making it depend solely on artificial
illumination, a feature it shared with the first class
restaurant on board the Normandie of 1935. There also were
two swimming pools on board, one outdoor and the other
indoors on E-deck, featuring expensive Delft tiling.
The Nieuw Amsterdam was the second ship in the world after
the Normandie to boast a theater, a feature the larger and
faster Queen Mary did not initially have. The deeply
cushioned seats commanded an unobstructed view of the stage,
and the egg-shaped contour of the auditorium took advantage
of the latest in scientific sound-proofing materials and
amplifying equipment to ensure perfect acoustics for
concerts, dramatic performances and pre-release motion
pictures. Found at the front end of the Theatre was a
striking mural in red, black and gold by Reyer Stolk.
A favorite rendezvous of many Nieuw Amsterdam passengers was
the handsome First Class Smoking Room with its rich
Circassian walnut paneling and deep, luxurious armchairs and
settees. Flanked by two enclosed sun verandas extending to
the sides of the ship, the Smoking Room had its own modern
bar stocked with a connoisseur choice of fine liquors.
First Class staterooms on the Nieuw Amsterdam were unusually
attractive, ranging in size from cozy single person cabins
to elaborate cabins-de-luxe. The handsome and modern
decorative scheme made the cabins comfortable spots for
daytime and evening relaxation. All First Class cabins on
Nieuw Amsterdam had a private bathroom, a unique feature
which no previous liner could boast.
On April 23, 1938, the Nieuw Amsterdam set out on her sea
trials, which were to take place on the North Sea. Testing
her speed and manoeuvring capability, the new vessel turned
out to be all that she was supposed to be. Upon her return
from the sea trials, the Nieuw Amsterdam was transferred to
Holland America ownership and officially registered in the
Dutch merchant fleet.
The new liner's maiden voyage was on May 10, 1938, with
arrival in New York May 17 with return begun May 21. Nieuw
Amsterdam acclaim with titles such as "Ship of the Year"
and, due to some features such as fire resistance, air
conditioning and accommodations, "Ship of Tomorrow" by some.
Although she was neither as large or fast as many of her
contemporaries, she was to be a popular liner for the Dutch
and was showered with superlatives. Her sleek outline and
two slim funnels provided a striking profile and she soon
garnered a loyal following amid stiff competition from great
liners such as Cunard's Queen Mary and the superb Normandie
of the French Line. Despite the fierce competition, Nieuw
Amsterdam proved to be one of the few money-making vessels
of the day.
The Netherlands’ “ship of peace” was not to enjoy the praise
lavished on her for long. After only seventeen voyages,
Nieuw Amsterdam was laid up at Hoboken, New Jersey in 1939
after the German invasion of Poland. She would be idle for
only a year, however, and was requisitioned by the British
Ministry of Transport after the Netherlands fell to Hitler’s
armies. She would spend the remainder of the war years as a
troop transport, despite the fact she had been constructed
without the consideration of ever being used in a military
Nieuw Amsterdam, with a nominal troop capacity of 6,800 and
speed of over 20 knots, was among the British-controlled
"monsters" – high-capacity, high-speed troop ships capable
of sailing unescorted due to their speed, and thus critical
to the build up in Britain for the invasion of the
During the course of the conflict she transported over
350,000 troops and steamed around 530,452 nautical miles
(982,397 km) before being returned to the Holland America
Line in 1946.
Refitting the Nieuw Amsterdam
The Nieuw Amsterdam triumphantly returned to her home port
of Rotterdam on April 10, 1946. Fifteen weeks were required
to remove the troop fittings: the special kitchens, alarm
systems, hammocks, and 36 guns.
Then 2,000 tons of furniture and decorations were shipped to
the Netherlands from wartime storage in San Francisco. The
furnishings were for the most part in very poor condition, a
result of six years of neglect. About 3,000 chairs and 500
tables were sent back to their original builders for
reupholstering and refinishing. One quarter of the
furnishings had to be replaced entirely.
Factories and warehouses in Europe combed their supplies for
materials and fabrics, much of which had been concealed from
the Nazis during the occupation. Many smaller parts, such as
hinges and clamps, had to be made by hand, since the
machinery that once made them had been stolen or destroyed
by the enemy.
The entire rubber flooring was renewed, as was nearly all of
the carpeting. All of the steel work was scaled and
preserved and all piping cleaned. All ceilings and floors
were removed; all of the liners 374 bathrooms were rebuilt.
In the passenger spaces the wood paneling, which had been
scratched and mutilated, was sanded down to half its
thickness and relacquered. All the cabin's closets and
fixtures were replaced. The entire electrical wiring system
Having been painted over for blackouts and cracked in
tropical climates, 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of glass
was refurbished. Even the hand rails had to be repolished to
eradicate thousands of carved initials. The project was
monumental, because of the material shortages and the
decline of the number of skilled craftsmen.
On October 29, 1947, after 18 months at the shipyard, the
Nieuw Amsterdam reentered transatlantic service. Over 100
liners were restored with similar efforts.
Postwar career and demise
The refit took eighteen months and cost more than her
original construction, but on October 29, 1947, the Nieuw
Amsterdam was finally back on the transatlantic run. Her
passenger accommodations had been slightly altered, and the
ship emerged with a gross tonnage some 400 tons larger than
before, ending up at 36,667.
For the next twenty years Nieuw Amsterdam would enjoy a
loyal following and financial success. Even when joined by a
more contemporary fleet mate in 1959, the SS Rotterdam, the
Nieuw Amsterdam still commanded a loyal following and
remained one of the most popular ships on the north
Atlantic. Her several refits in the 1950s ensured she
remained in top condition and continued service despite her
being near thirty years of age. In 1967 severe boiler
problems seemed to indicate an end to the venerable liner’s
career, however new US Navy surplus boilers were installed
during a sixteen-week shipyard period at Wilton-Fijenoord in
Schiedam and her career continued.
In the same decade jet travel had made continued Atlantic
passenger runs impractical, so Nieuw Amsterdam was shifted
to cruising in the Caribbean. Soon escalating operating cost
and competition from newer cruise vessels meant an end to
the grand liner’s service career. Nieuw Amsterdam had been
an enduring icon on the North Atlantic for the better part
of three decades—certainly her refined interiors and
impeccable service added much to her appeal.
The ship sailed to the breakers in 1974.