The SS United States Trust was founded formally in July, 2009. The Trust was established in response to an announcement in February of that same year that the SS United States had been placed on the market for sale. The ship had been purchased in 2003 by Norwegian Cruise Line with the intention of being restored to service as a U.S. flagged cruise ship. Following the collapse of subsidiary NCL America Line, ownership of the United States was transferred to NCL parent company Genting Hong Kong, Ltd. Based on the economic climate, the cost to restore and operate a vintage ship and the high value of her steel hull and aluminum superstructure, the likelihood was for a sale to shipbreakers unless preservationists acted quickly.
The longest standing preservationist organization, the SS United States Foundation had fallen dormant and initiated no effort to save the ship. The SS United States Conservancy, a group that had splintered off from the Foundation some years prior, had shifted focus to the conservation of artificacts and recording the history of the ship in light of NCL's plan to return her to service. Following the announcement of the sale the organization began contacting city development councils and other mostly governmental entities in an effort to find a buyer to repurpose the ship as a static attraction. An SOS went out to their membership as well as the general public, but was independent of any specific campaign or advertised plan of action.
The SS United States Trust was born when the founding members recognized the need to secure the ship financially as a vital start to any preservation effort. The experiences of the often troubled Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach, California, and the failed attempt to preserve the RMS Queen Elizabeth as a hotel in Florida served as case studies. Comparisons with historic naval vessels such as the USS Intrepid, Battleship New Jersey and Pearl Harbor's USS Missouri strengthened the case.
The initial mission of the Trust included taking on stewardship of the United States by purchasing the ship. In March, 2010, just prior to the launch of a national public fundraising campaign NCL, acting as agent for Genting, announced that bids would have to be submitted by the end of the month. After a year of honoring a pledge to refuse bids from shipbreakers Genting was no longer able to justify carrying the expense of berthing and maintaining the vessel.