18. The Liberty ships had varying post-war careers
When World War II ended with the surrender of Japan in 1945 construction on Liberty ships came to an abrupt halt. Existing contracts for additional ships were cancelled. Roughly 2,400 Liberty ships came out of the war in serviceable condition. Of these, the Maritime Commission planned to use just over 800 as the backbone of the American merchant fleet. 624 ships were sold to European shipping lines, with over 500 being purchased by Greek shippers, among them Aristotle Onassis. A few were sold to other shipping lines, but the majority entered the US Reserve Fleets in anchorages at Suisun Bay in California and Philadelphia. Others entered Reserve Fleets in the James River in Virginia, the Hudson near Tarrytown, New York, and other locales. Their use as a major cargo carrier was limited due to their lack of speed. The emergence of containerized shipping sounded their death knell.
In the 1950s the United States Department of Agriculture purchased surplus grain and stored it in the holds of several Liberty ships anchored in the Reserve Fleets. Three reserve fleets were used for the program; Astoria, Washington; Hudson, New York, and James River, Virginia. By 1955 the need for surplus grain storage led to the transfer of 22 Liberty ships from Suisun Bay to the Astoria fleet, laden with grain. The ships were transferred under tow by seagoing tugs. The following year ships were transferred from the Reserve Fleet in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, using the same method, also laden with grain. Ten years after the end of the war the ships which had served as the workhorse of the American war effort were little more than floating silos.