USS Sequoia (presidential yacht)

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USS Sequoia in Washington Marina in 2008
Sequoia in Washington Marina in 2008
Name: Sequoia II
Namesake: Sequoyah
Builder: Mathis Yacht Building Co., Camden, New Jersey
Cost: $200,000
Laid down: 1924
Launched: 1925
Name: Sequoia
Owner: United States Department of Commerce
Acquired: by purchase, 24 March 1931
In service: 1931
Out of service: 1933
Name: USS Sequoia (AG-23)
Owner: United States Navy
Commissioned: 25 March 1933
Decommissioned: 1936
Name: Sequoia
Owner: Secretary of the Navy
In service: 1936
Out of service: 1977
Struck: 1 October 1968
Fate: Sold at auction 18 May 1977
General characteristics
Type: Yacht
Displacement: 90 long tons (91 t)
Length: 104 ft (32 m)
Beam: 18 ft 2 in (5.54 m)
Draft: 4 ft 5 in (1.35 m)
Speed: 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Complement: 10
Armament: None
USS Sequoia (yacht)
US Navy 030423-N-0000X-001 The former Presidential Yacht USS Sequoia (AG 23) travels down the Potomac River near Washington D.C.jpg
USS Sequoia
USS Sequoia (presidential yacht) is located in Maryland
USS Sequoia (presidential yacht)
LocationCambridge, Maryland
Nearest cityCambridge Maryland
Coordinates38°33′59″N 76°4′37″W / 38.56639°N 76.07694°W / 38.56639; -76.07694
ArchitectTrumpy, John; Mathis Yacht Building Co.
NRHP reference #87002594
Significant dates
Added to NRHP23 December 1987[1]
Designated NHL23 December 1987[2]

USS Sequoia is the former presidential yacht used during the administrations of Herbert Hoover through Jimmy Carter, a National Historic Landmark and perhaps the most important presidential artifact in private hands.[3] Sequoia was formally decommissioned on December 9, 1935, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, yet continues to be referred to with “USS” designation. Often called the “floating White House”, the Sequoia offered presidents, first families and high-ranking government officials a place to escape the complexities of official life while also serving as the backdrop for many of the most significant moments of 20th-century American history. Sequoia is believed to have been named by her original owner, Emily Roebling Cadwalader, after Sequoyah, a leader of the Cherokee Nation.

Design and construction[edit]

Designed by John Trumpy and built by the famed John H. Mathis & Company Shipbuilders in Camden, New Jersey, Sequoia was completed at a cost of approximately $200,000 and launched October 27, 1925.[4] Originally named the Sequoia II, she was the second of four successively larger yachts built between 1924 and 1931 for Mr. and Mrs. Richard McCall Cadwalader of Philadelphia.[5] The Cadwalader’s third and fourth yachts were named Savarona and Savarona II, respectively.[6]  

At 104 feet in length, Sequoia II's hull was originally constructed of long-leaf yellow pine on white oak frames and her deckhouse of mahogany and teak. She is capable of comfortably sleeping eight guests in her three double and two single staterooms, has ample crew quarters and can seat 22 for formal dinners.[7] [8]

Richard M. Cadwalader and Emily Roebling Cadwalader[edit]

Richard Cadwalader was a prominent Philadelphia banker and his wife, Emily Roebling Cadwalader, was an heiress to the Roebling fortune and feminist engineering heritage. Emily was the granddaughter of John Augustus Roebling, chief engineer and original designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, and was named after her paternal aunt, Emily Warren Roebling.[9]

Emily Warren Roebling famously took over much of the responsibility for completing the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband, John Augustus Roebling's son and heir, was incapacitated during its construction. She later won wide acclaim for her essay, "A Wife's Disabilities," in which she argued for greater women's rights and railed against discriminatory practices targeted at women.[10]

Emily Warren Roebling's namesake and niece, Emily Roebling Cadwalader, became the driving force behind the four exceptional yachts constructed for the Cadwaladers. When launched in 1931 at a cost of $4 million, the Cadwaladers' fourth yacht, the 446-foot Savarona II, was the largest, most technically advanced and most expensive private yacht ever built. The Turkish government purchased Savarona II from the Cadwalders in 1938, and she serves to this day as the presidential yacht for Turkey.

Sequoia II's christening and early use[edit]

Local newspapers recount that after arriving with her party in two Rolls Royce automobiles, Mrs. Cadwalader broke a bottle of champagne against the bow of the Sequoia II commemorating its service to her family. Oddly, these accounts of Sequoia II's christening make no mention of prohibition when discussing the champagne.[11] The Cadwaladers sailed Sequoia II on various high-profile trips to the coasts of Florida, including to West Palm Beach and Miami. [12][13]

Three years after being built for the Cadwaladers, Sequoia II was sold to William Dunning, a Houston-based oil executive who used the vessel for various gambling trips to Cuba and business-related travel along the Mexican coastline.[14] Dunning was forced to sell Sequoia II during the Great Depression.

U.S. Government service[edit]

On March 24, 1931, the U.S. Bureau of Navigation within the Department of Commerce purchased Sequoia II from Dunning for approximately $40,000.[15] Sequoia II initially was used to patrol the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays as a decoy vessel to attract would-be bootleggers.[16] In hope of selling illegal liquor, bootleggers would paddle over to what was seen as a wealthy family's yacht only to be arrested.

Presidential service[edit]

President Herbert Hoover disembarking from the USS Sequoia

The Herbert Hoover Administration[edit]

Herbert Hoover was known to have an affection for Mathis-Trumpy houseboats, such as Sequoia, and had spent time both between his election victory and inauguration and during the early part of his administration cruising and fishing in Florida aboard the yacht Saunterer[17], a 98-foot Mathis-Trumpy house boat owned by his friend, Jerimiah Milbank.

Having decommissioned the former presidential yacht The Mayflower in 1929, Herbert Hoover initiated Sequoia II's presidential service by using her on various occasions during the final years of his Administration. This included four documented voyages from 1931 to 1933 for official presidential business as well as for pleasure cruises.[18] Various news outlets reported on the status of Hoover’s fishing trips aboard Sequoia.[19] During 1932, President and Mrs. Hoover spent both Christmas and New Year’s Eve aboard the Sequoia II as part of a ten-day fishing trip along the Georgia and Florida coastlines.[20] In an act of political malpractice, Hoover placed a photo of the palatial yacht on his 1932 White House Christmas Card at a time when many Americans were suffering from the Depression and struggling to find money for basic necessities.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration[edit]

FDR - U.S. Naval Academy (1935)

On March 25, 1933, what was now known simply as Sequoia became the official presidential yacht after it was transferred from the Department of Commerce to the Naval Department.[21] President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the yacht much more frequently than did his predecessor, with over fifty recorded uses between 1933and 1935.[22] An elevator was installed in 1933 to make access easier for the polio-stricken President, who, like Hoover before him, enjoyed fishing aboard Sequoia.[23]

As war approached, the wooden Sequoia was not deemed safe enough for the President, and on December 9, 1935, Sequoia was officially reassigned to the Navy and the steel-hulled USS Potomac was designated as the presidential yacht.[24] For the next three decades, Sequoia served at the pleasure of the United States Secretary of Navy until its recommissioning in 1969 as a presidential yacht.[25]

The Harry S. Truman Administration[edit]

President Harry Truman and prime ministers Clement Attlee and Mackenzie King board the USS Sequoia for discussions about nuclear weapons, November 1945

Even while in the custody of the Navy, Sequoia continued to be used by U.S. presidents and members of the Cabinet, often providing the backdrop for critical moments in American history. President Truman, for example, who used the USS Williamsburg as his official yacht, nevertheless called upon Sequoia just three months after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was on board the Sequoia that Truman discussed the future of the atomic bomb and atomic energy with the United States' closest allied leaders, Prime Ministers Clement Attlee of Great Britain and Mackenzie King of Canada.[26]

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration[edit]

Then General Eisenhower's calendar shows that on September 16, 1946, he met aboard the Sequoia with U.S. Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. This meeting, under the guise of a cruise to Mount Vernon, initiated a series of highly classified political and military discussions from which emerged the Western European Union, which came into being in 1948, followed by NATO a year later.[27] Upon ascending to the presidency, Eisenhower directed the Sequoia to similarly serve as a secret meeting place for his Joint Chiefs in August 1953. According to the account of Lieutenant Chic Bowling, Eisenhower had requested use of the Sequoia for four high-ranking military officials (including Admiral Arthur W. Radford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) to formulate Eisenhower's “New Look” defensive policy. Over the course of four days, these titans of post-war American military might helped to usher-in a defensive strategy which relied heavily on nuclear deterrence, a doctrine that would serve as a defining turning point in U.S. strategy during the Cold War.[28]

The John F. Kennedy Administration[edit]

President Kennedy's use of Sequoia is not as well documented as that of other presidents. Government photographers did not accompany him on to the yacht, and immediately after his assassination, an order was given to destroy all personal logs associated with Sequoia's use during Kennedy's Administration.[29] At the time, Paul “Red” Fay, one of President Kennedy's closest friends and confidants, served as Acting Secretary of the Navy.

John F. Kennedy opening gifts with family and friends on board USS Sequoia

On May 29, 1963, President Kennedy and the First Lady hosted a cruise to celebrate what would be his 46th and final birthday. At 8 pm, the couple boarded Sequoia to the sound of music played by two orchestras. Surrounded by 25 friends and family, the President and his guests danced aboard Sequoia after being treated to a meal of roast filet and Dom Perignon.[30][31][32] In the words of Clement Norton, a close Kennedy family friend who was aboard that night, “You never can imagine anything happier or more normal or nice.”[33] The iconic photographs documenting the President's last birthday were not taken by an official White House photographer, but by the navy officer in charge of Sequoia using his own Kodak Instamatic.

At the time President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, he and the First Lady were scheduled to host friends for a Sunday cruise aboard Sequoia, two days later, on November 24, 1963.[34] This cruise did not take place until April 1964 when the widowed Mrs. Kennedy spent an evening aboard Sequoia with a group of President Kennedy's closest friends. Frank Gannon, the piano player aboard that day, recounts a poignantly sad story of Mrs. Kennedy requesting him to play “Me and My Shadow” a song about being alone.[35] On May 27, 1963, two days before what would have been President Kennedy's 47th birthday, his closest family and friends once again gathered aboard Sequoia for a dinner cruise documented by Kennedy speechwriter and presidential historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Administration[edit]

In an interview after her husband had left office, former first Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, remembered the Johnson's “love affair with the Sequoia goes back indeed to 1949.”[36]Having become friends with then Secretary of the Navy and soon to be Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, the future president and First Lady had been invited guests aboard the ship on numerous occasions during the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations.[37]

As Kennedy's vice president, Johnson made eight recorded trips aboard Sequoia. As president, Johnson's use of Sequoia would rise exponentially, with more than 35 recorded trips during his 5 years in office.[38] Johnson used Sequoia to lobby members of congress on critical legislative matters including civil rights and to strategize with his advisors regarding important decisions like the escalation of the Vietnam war.[39] Sequoia was also used for hosting foreign ambassadors, as well as the leaders of Turkey and Greece who discussed the ongoing issue of Cyrpus.[40] In addition, President Johnson frequently used Sequoia as a place to unwind and watch a film.

President Nixon and Secretary Brezhnev on board the USS Sequoia

The Richard M. Nixon Administration[edit]

Sequoia's most frequent presidential passenger was Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon. President Nixon recorded more than 80 trips aboard the ship while in office. Among the more memorable moments of Nixon's use came on June 19, 1973, when a party of U.S. and Soviet diplomats accompanied the President and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev on a working dinner aboard the yacht. Throughout their cruise, the leaders discussed an agreement between the U.S. and U.S.S.R regarding the prevention of nuclear war, which was signed by President Nixon and General Secretary Brezhnev two days later on June 22, 1973.[41]

The Gerald Ford Administration[edit]

President Gerald Ford holds a Cabinet meeting Aboard the USS Sequoia

Following President Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford assumed the presidency and with it, unfettered access to the USS Sequoia. President Ford used Sequoia far less than his predecessor, but the yacht was still occasionally called upon. In May 1975, for example, Ford was the first known president to host a Cabinet meeting aboard the vessel. Lasting around four hours, the President and his cabinet discussed wide-ranging issues facing the United States, including a discussion regarding Congressional relations, confronting the issue of Vietnamese refugees, and the status of the U.S. Energy program in light of the 1973 oil crisis.[42]

Later that summer, Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, wife of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, entertained Mrs. Takeo Miki (wife of the Prime Minister of Japan) on a cruise along the Potomac during a state visit.[43] Similarly, in October, 1975, the ship would cruise along the Potomac to entertain Emperor Hirohito and the accompanying delegation from Japan. Another notable visitor on board the Sequoia from the Ford years was the prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, who in 1976, had a working dinner with the President aboard Sequoia.[44]

The Ford family also made use of Sequoia. In 1975, Susan Ford hosted her pre-prom aboard the ship with a select group of friends, and she celebrated her 19th birthday on board Sequoia the following year.[45] President Ford celebrated his 62nd birthday on the Sequoia shortly after a surprise party was thrown for him by staffers at the White House.[46] President and Mrs. Ford hosted a June 9, 1976 Sequoia cruise in celebration of Happy Rockefeller's 50th birthday.[47]

The James Carter Administration[edit]

After 46 years of distinguished government service, citing economic concerns – the Sequoia cost taxpayers an estimated $800,000 per year – President Carter ordered that Sequoia be sold at auction. Thomas Malloy purchased Sequoia in May 1977 for a price of $286,000.[48][49]

Carter would later jokingly remember that selling the yacht was among his worst decisions as president. In a conversation with broadcaster Ray Suarez, Carter said: “People thought I was not being reverent enough to the office I was holding, that I was too much of a peanut farmer, not enough of an aristocrat, or something like that. So I think that shows that the American people want something of, an element of, image of monarchy in the White House.”[50]

Winston Churchill and the Sequoia[edit]

Sequoia served as refuge for presidents to relax with friends and conduct business outside of the public spotlight. As a result, no official documentary evidence exists for many events which took place aboard the yacht, and certain lore has developed, particularly regarding British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's activities aboard Sequoia. This includes, but is not limited to, Churchill and Roosevelt planning D-day together on the large table in Sequoia's main salon, Churchill gifting deck chairs from the Queen Mary for Sequoia's upper deck and Churchill being the impetus behind Roosevelt decommissioning the USS Sequoia so that the two leaders could drink on board – alcoholic beverages were prohibited aboard commissioned naval vessels. Despite these persistent legends, Churchill was never documented as being aboard the yacht.

Post-presidential period[edit]

Sequoia has had 7 owners since she was sold by the U.S. government in 1977. Certain of the past owners sought to offset the costs of maintaining and operating the vessel by offering Sequoia for private charter, and others were non-profit groups seeking to maintain her for historical or other reasons. The Presidential Yacht Trust, a non-profit organization, acquired Sequoia in 1980 and sponsored an eight-month, 6,000-mile "comeback" tour. While owned by the trust, Sequoia also was part of the flotilla of vessels that passed during the International Naval Review at New York City celebrating the centennial of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986. Sequoia was designated a National Historic Landmark during 1987 and then spent the 1990s under restoration and in storage at a Norfolk shipyard. The Sequoia Presidential Yacht Group, LLC purchased Sequoia during September 2000, made her available in Washington, D.C., for private charters until 2014 when Sequoia was sold to FE Partners, LLC, a portfolio company of The Equator Capital Group.

Sequoia is currently owned by Equator Capital, which acquired the vessel during October 2016 after a prolonged litigation with the previous owner. Equator Capital is controlled by L. Michael Cantor and is in the process of restoring the Sequoia. Once restored, Sequoia will be used as venue to promote conservation and particularly ocean conservation causes.

In September 2019, the Sequoia was moved by barge from Deltaville, Virginia, to Belfast, Maine, to be refitted by French & Webb Inc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
  2. ^ "Sequoia (Yacht)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-09-08.
  3. ^ "NPGallery".
  4. ^ “New $200,000 Yacht Built Here.” Camden Post-Telegram, October 27, 1925.
  5. ^ “New $200,000 Yacht Built Here.” Camden Post-Telegram, October 27, 1925.
  6. ^ "Millionaires, Mansions, and Motor Yachts: An Era of Opulence".
  7. ^ One Folder Collection Series of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
  8. ^ Box 49, folder “SO 6: Receptions” of the Kenneth A. Lazarus Files at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
  9. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004.
  10. ^ "American National Biography".
  11. ^ “New $200,000 Yacht Built Here.” Camden Post-Telegram, October 27, 1925.
  12. ^ “Party of Northerners Arrives Aboard Yacht.” The Palm Beach Post, February 8, 1927.
  13. ^ “In Miami Beach Social By-Ways.” The Miami News, January 28, 1926.
  14. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004.
  15. ^ One Folder Collection Series of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
  16. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004.
  17. ^ "Ship Building History Trumpy".
  18. ^ Box 389 “Presidential Subject Files”, folder “USS Sequoia” of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
  19. ^ “Giant Fish Falls Prey to Hoover.” Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1933.
  20. ^ “Hoover Luck Fails in Day of Fishing.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27, 1932.
  21. ^ "Naval History and Heritage Command".
  22. ^ "FDR Day by Day".
  23. ^ "Naval History and Heritage Command".
  24. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004
  25. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004
  26. ^ [ttps:// "Truman Daily Schedule"].
  27. ^ "Google Books".
  28. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004
  29. ^ Kelly, Giles M. Sequoia Presidential Yacht. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2004
  30. ^ Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Staff Files of Sanford L. Fox. Social Events, 1961-1964. Events: 29 May 1963, Birthday Dinner, Aboard the Sequoia
  31. ^ "Oral History Interview with Clement Norton" (PDF).
  32. ^ Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Staff Files of Sanford L. Fox. Social Events, 1961-1964. Events: 29 May 1963, Birthday Dinner, Aboard the Sequoia
  33. ^ "Oral History Interview with Clement Norton" (PDF).
  34. ^ "Link to Google Books Page".
  35. ^ "Link to Google Books Page".
  36. ^ Transcript, Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson Oral History Interview XXV, 1/2-3/82, by Michael L. Gillette, Internet Copy, LBJ Library.
  37. ^ Transcript, Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson Oral History Interview XXI, 8/10-11/81, by Michael L. Gillette, Internet Copy, LBJ Library.
  38. ^ "Link to LBJ Daily Diary".
  39. ^ "Oral History Interview with Lawrence Obrien".
  40. ^ Folder, "Greece, Papandreau Visit - 6/2324/64 [2 of 2]," Country Files, NSF, Box 127 [2 of 2], LBJ Presidential Library, accessed July 15, 2019,
  41. ^ "Link to Nixon's Daily Schedule on Day of Brezhnev visit" (PDF).
  42. ^ Box C20, folder “Presidential Handwriting, 5/5/1975 (3)” of the Presidential Handwriting File at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
  43. ^ Box 32, folder “State Dinners - 8/5/75 - Japan” of the Sheila Weidenfeld Files at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
  44. ^ Box 17, folder “Canada (Aboard the Sequoia)” of the Maria Downs Files at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
  45. ^ "Link to Documents about Susan Ford's Senior Prom" (PDF).
  46. ^ "Link to Ford's Schedule on day of his birthday" (PDF).
  47. ^ "The Ford Presidential Library" (PDF).
  48. ^ Box 57, folder “Sequoia – Presidential Yacht” of the Elizabeth Lumpkin Press Office Files at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.
  49. ^ "Link to Naval History and Heritage Command".
  50. ^ "Link to Oral History Interview with Jimmy Carter".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]