Throughout the 1930s a remarkable period of growth was experienced by the merchant fleets of many nations. This growth occured in spite of a depression that put a strangle-hold on the world-wide economy. National governments found it prudent to fund the construction of ocean liners as a means of easing severe unemployment and providing national icons that would, hopefully, show those at home and abroad that somehow the bleak situation would soon improve. Into these circumstances was born the fabulously sleek Holland-America liner Nieuw Amsterdam.
Construction on the new liner was carried out at the Rotterdam Drydock Company. Christened by Queen Wilhelmina in April 1937, Nieuw Amsterdam was, at 36,000 tonnes, the largest liner ever constructed in Holland. Modern in every way, Nieuw Amsterdam 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 transatlantic passengers. The sleek new liner’s maiden voyage was set for 10 May 1938, and upon her arrival in New York she immediately won adulation and acclaim.
Nieuw Amsterdam was considered by many to be one of the most beautiful liners constructed in the 1930’s. 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 and garnered a loyal following amid stiff competition from great liners such as Britain’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. 

Holland’s “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 Holland 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 capacity. During the course of the conflict she would transport over 350,000 troops and steam some 530,452 miles before being decommissioned in 1946. Fourteen months were required to restore Nieuw Amsterdam to her to pre-war condition, and in October 1947 she resumed her transatlantic schedule. 

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 RotterdamNieuw Amsterdam still commanded a loyal following. Her several refits in the 1950s ensured she remained in top conditin and continued service despite her being near thirty years of age. In the 1960s severe mechanical problems seemed to indicate an end to the venerable liner’s career, however new boilers were installed 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. When she sailed to the breakers in 1974, the world saw the end to one of the greatest liners to sail the Atlantic. The links below provide a glimpse into the fabulous interiors that made Nieuw Amsterdam a favorite among seasoned transatlantic travelers.
HTML layout and design by Bryan R. Guinn. Images on this page used with permisson of Hans Segboer and the Unofficial Holland-America site. Bibliography on text available here. No unauthorized reproduction of text or images.