On Jan. 17,1955, the first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571 ), put to sea for the first time and signaled her historic message "Underway on nuclear power." On her shakedown cruise Nautilus steamed submerged 1,300 miles from New London, CT, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 84 hours, the first time a submarine had maintained a high submerged speed for longer than one hour. After operating on nuclear power for more than two years and covering 62,562 miles (submerged more than half the time), Nautilus was refueled. A diesel-powered submarine would have used more than 2 million gallons of fuel oil during that period. The success of Nautilus ensured the future of nuclear power in the Navy.
The world's first nuclear-powered surface warship, the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN 9), was commissioned Sept. 9, 1961. Two months later, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was commissioned as the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Her first refueling occurred three years later after steaming more than 207,000 miles, equal to more than eight trips around the world.
The Nuclear Navy reached a memorable milestone Nov. 11, 1981, when the largest and most powerful U.S. submarine ever built, USS Ohio (SSBN 726), was commissioned. Ohio was the first ship of her class, more commonly known as the Trident submarine. Nuclear-powered ships in the U.S. fleet now include aircraft carriers (CVNs), attack submarines (SSNs) and fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).
- August 1949 - The Chief of Naval Operations establishes a January 1955 "ready-for-sea" date for development of a submarine nuclear propulsion plant.
- August 1950 - President Harry S. Truman signs Public Law 674, authorizing construction of Nautilus.
- August 1951 - Electric Boat begins construction of the first nuclear-powered submarine.
- June 1952 - President Truman lays the keel of the Nautilus.
- September 1954 - Nautilus is commissioned.
- January 1955 - Under the command of CDR Eugene P. Wilkinson, USS Nautilus puts to sea for the first time—less than four years after construction began—signaling her historic message, "Underway on nuclear power."
- February 1955 - Nautilus steams 1,300 submerged miles from New London, CT to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 84 hours—ten times farther than previously traveled by a submerged submarine. This is the first time that a submarine maintains a high speed (about 16 knots average) for longer than an hour.
- 1957 - Nautilus is refueled after steaming over 62,000 miles on her first core. The ship was fully submerged for more than half the distance.
- August 3, 1958 - Nautilus, during an 1800-mile, 96-hour historic trans-Polar voyage from Point Barrow, AK to the Greenland Sea, becomes the first ship to reach the geographic North Pole. For demonstrating the Arctic's strategic potential, President Eisenhower awards Nautilus the Presidential Unit Citation (the first such award in peacetime) and her commanding officer, CDR William R. Anderson, the Legion of Merit.
- 1960 - Nautilus deploys to the Mediterranean and becomes the first nuclear-powered submarine assigned to the Sixth Fleet.
- 1960-1979 - Nautilus participates in numerous defense missions, including the Naval quarantine during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and demonstrates U.S. technical capability though high-visibility visits to numerous foreign ports in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
- April 1979 - Nautilus departs Groton, CT en route to California for her final voyage. Completes her 2500th dive and 510,000 miles on nuclear power.
- May 1979 - Nautilus enters Mare Island Naval Shipyard for inactivation and conversion as a historic ship for public display. Following this, Nautilus leaves California under tow for the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.
- Today - Nautilus is currently a National Historic Landmark, open to the public as part of the Nautilus Memorial and Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, CT.