Published on July 8, 2016
USS Sequoia is a former United States presidential yacht used from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter, who had it sold in 1977. The ship was decommissioned under Roosevelt and lost its “USS” status at that time, but by popular convention is still often used. NorshipCo, a Norfolk-based shipbuilder and dry-docking company, repossessed the yacht after its owners, Presidential Yacht Sequoia Foundation, failed to pay the $3 million it cost to renovate the vessel. In June 2000, she was sold via auction on Bid4Assets. In November 2004 she was sought for repurchase by the US government but today remains privately owned by Gary Silversmith, who has owned her since September 2000. As of July 2015 Sequoia was in storage at a commercial boat yard awaiting resolution of a court case involving her ownership.
The yacht is 104 feet (32 m) long, with a wooden hull, and was designed by John Trumpy Sr., a well-known shipbuilder. It includes a presidential stateroom, guest bedrooms, a galley and dining room, and was at one time retrofitted with an elevator for Franklin D. Roosevelt (Lyndon Johnson had it removed and replaced with a liquor bar)
The ship was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
Sequoia started out as Sequoia II, a private yacht built for $200,000 in 1925/1926 at a Camden, New Jersey shipyard. She was built for Richard Cadwalader of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who sold her to William Dunning, the president of the Sequoia Oil Company in Texas.
Sequoia was purchased in 1931 by the United States Department of Commerce, for Prohibition patrol and decoy duties. Bootleggers would see what they thought was a rich-man’s yacht and boat over to offer to sell illegal liquor, and then undercover police would arrest them. Herbert Hoover, an avid fisherman, had decommissioned the presidential yacht Mayflower in 1929 as an economy measure, and borrowed Sequoia from the Commerce Department as an unofficial yacht during the last two years of his presidency. Hoover was not personally a supporter of prohibition and drank while on the yacht.
In 1933, Sequoia was transferred to the United States Navy, where she was commissioned and given her USS status, serving officially as the presidential yacht for three years, until replaced by the Potomac.
She was decommissioned as an official Navy vessel under Roosevelt during WWII, supposedly because Churchill would not drink liquor on a Navy boat, and she remained decommissioned since. A more likely reason is that alcoholic beverages are prohibited on commissioned U.S. Navy ships and by being “in service”, rather than commissioned, the users of the Sequoia could technically not violate the prohibition.
From 1936 through 1969 Sequoia then became the yacht of the Secretary of the Navy. During this period Sequoia was used by presidents and other high-ranking government officials. From 1969 through 1977 the yacht was dual-use for the Navy and executive branch officials including the president.
At Jimmy Carter’s direction, the US government sold Sequoia at auction in Manalapan, Florida on 18 May 1977, for $286,000, as a symbolic cutback in Federal Government spending (annual cost to the US Navy was $800,000) and to help eliminate signs of an “imperial presidency”.
Notable events aboard Sequoia include:
Herbert Hoover sailed her to Florida
Dwight Eisenhower lent her to Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit to the US
John F. Kennedy held strategy meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and had his last birthday party on the yacht
Richard M. Nixon negotiated the SALT I arms treaty with Leonid Brezhnev and Anatoly Dobrynin, and later made the decision to resign the presidency
Gerald Ford conducted Cabinet meetings
Ronald Reagan met all 50 state governors at the gangplank
George H. W. Bush met with Chinese premier Li Peng
And some seem to be legends:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower planned European war strategy.
Harry S. Truman decided to bomb Hiroshima (the decision was made during the Potsdam Conference)