Her keel was laid down on 15 March 1952 by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard of Kittery, Maine. She was launched on 1 August 1953, sponsored by Mrs. J. E. Jowers, the widow of Chief Motor Machinist's Mate Arthur L. Stanton, lost with the second Albacore (SS-218), and commissioned on 6 December 1953 with Lieutenant Commander Kenneth C. Gummerson in command.
The effectiveness of submarines in World War II convinced both the Soviets and the United States Navy that undersea warfare would play an even more important role in coming conflicts and dictated development of superior submarines. The advent of nuclear power nourished the hope that such warships could be produced. The effort to achieve this goal involved the development of a nuclear propulsion system and the design of a streamlined submarine hull capable of optimum submerged performance.
Late in World War II, committees on both sides of the Iron Curtain studied postwar uses of atomic energy and recommended the development of nuclear propulsion for ships. Since nuclear power plants would operate without the oxygen supply needed by conventional machinery, and since techniques were available for converting carbon dioxide back to oxygen, submarine designers turned their attention to vessels which could operate for long periods without surfacing. Veteran submariners visualized a new type of submarine in which surface performance characteristics would be completely subordinated to high submerged speed and agility. In 1949 a special committee began a series of hydrodynamic studies which led to a program within the US Bureau of Ships to determine what hull form would be best for submerged operation. The David Taylor Model Basin tested a series of designs. The best two—one with a single propeller and the other with dual screws—were then tested in a wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base. The single-screw version was adopted, and construction of an experimental submarine to this design was authorized on 25 November 1950. The hull of Albacore utilized HY-80 high-strength steel with a yield strength of 80,000 psi (550 MPa), although this was not initially used to increase the diving depth relative to other US submarines. HY-80 remained the standard submarine steel through the Los Angeles class. Other components were made from high-tensile steel (HTS). This ship was classified as an auxiliary submarine (AGSS-569) and named Albacore.
Following preliminary acceptance trials, the new submarine departed Portsmouth on 8 April 1954 for shakedown training. She began the first cycle of a career in which she experimented extensively with a given configuration and then returned to Portsmouth for extensive modifications to evaluate different design concepts, to help the Navy develop better hull configurations for future submarines. On this initial cruise, she operated out of New London, Connecticut, before sailing for Key West, Florida, to conduct operations out of that port and in Cuban waters. She returned to Portsmouth on 3 July for more than a year of trials in cooperation with the David Taylor Model Basin. Throughout these operations, she underwent repairs and modification to eliminate technical problems. It was found during these early sea trials Albacore could operate at the same maximum speed as the older modernized Guppy-type submarines with half the shaft horsepower.
The submarine departed Portsmouth on 12 October 1955 and sailed via Block Island for Key West, where she arrived on 19 October 1955 to commence antisubmarine warfare evaluation and to provide target services to the Operational Development Force's Surface Antisubmarine Development Detachment. On 4 November 1955, Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, embarked on Albacore for a brief demonstration cruise. Lord Mountbatten accompanied Admiral Burke on the cruise. On 19 November 1955, Albacore sailed for a rendezvous point off the Bahamas where she conducted special operations until 24 November 1955 and then returned to Portsmouth.