International Call Sign: November-Whiskey-Charlie-Lima
Construction of USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear-propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, under the leadership of Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Her keel was laid on 14 June 1952 at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut. President Harry S. Truman laid the first keel plate, onto which a shipyard worker welded his chalked initials.
On 21 January 1954, Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower broke the traditional bottle of champagne across NAUTILUS's bow as she slid down the ways into the Thames River. On the morning of 17 January 1955, the boat's commanding officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, ordered all lines cast off and signaled the historic message: "UNDERWAY ON "NUCLEAR POWER." Over the next several years, NAUTILUS shattered all submerged speed and distance records.
On 23 July 1958, NAUTILUS departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, under orders, classified Top Secret, to conduct "Operation Sunshine," the first crossing of the geographic North Pole by any vessel. At 11:15 PM on 3 August, commanding officer Commander William R. Anderson announced to his crew of 116 men, "For the world, our Country, and the Navy—the North Pole." NAUTILUS had accomplished the "impossible."
In the spring of 1966 NAUTILUS again entered the record books when she logged her 300,000th mile underway. During the ensuing fourteen years the boat was involved in a variety of developmental testing programs while continuing to serve alongside many of the modern nuclear-powered submarines that had been built as a result of her success.
NAUTILUS was decommissioned on 3 March 1980. (For that reason, she is now technically known as "Historic Ship" or "HS" rather than "USS," which is reserved for vessels in active service.) In recognition of her pioneering role in the practical use of nuclear power, NAUTILUS was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on 20 May 1982. Following an extensive conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California, she was towed to Groton, Connecticut, arriving on 6 July 1985. On 11 April 1986, the 86th birthday of the Submarine Force, NAUTILUS was opened to the general public as part of the Submarine Force Museum.