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Learn the History of the USS Sequoia, America’s Former ‘Floating White House’

History RealClearLife Staff


The U.S.S. Sequoia on the Potomac River in 1959. (Al Fenn/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

 

Most Americans are familiar with the trappings of the U.S. presidency: the White House, Air Force One, Camp David. But how many of you know that, at one point in history, the presidency came with its own yacht? Back in the day, the president took to the water in style aboard the USS Sequoia, a luxury yacht once known as “the floating White House” that was used by eight U.S. presidents for recreation purposes.

Designed in the 1920s by shipbuilder John Trumpy, the 100-foot-long Sequoia boasted a presidential stateroom, guest bedrooms, and a dining room. It was privately owned until 1931, when the U.S. Department of Commerce bought it as a decoy boat to bust bootleggers during Prohibition. Herbert Hoover then borrowed it from the Commerce Department for the last two years of his presidency.


Secretary of the Navy John Connally, Jr., greets President John F. Kennedy aboard the USS Sequoia on July 11, 1961 (Byron Rollins/AP Photo)

President Richard Nixon with Ross Perot aboard the USS Sequoia. (Robert Grove/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

 

In 1933, the Sequoia was commissioned by the Navy and used as the official presidential yacht, only to be decommissioned during World War II, so that world leaders—specifically, Winston Churchill, according to legend—could drink on it.

From 1936 onward, the Sequoia was used by both the Navy and civilian government officials, including the president. President Hoover sailed it to Florida, Eisenhower famously let Queen Elizabeth II use it during a visit to the U.S., and JFK held strategy meetings and his final birthday party there.


The main bedroom (Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

A view over the deck of the USS Sequoia (Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

 

It’s also rumored that LBJ brought a movie projector on board the ship to watch films that may not have been suitable for the White House.

Of all the presidents to use the Sequoia, Richard Nixon spent the most time on board; he negotiated the SALT I arms treaty with Russian officials aboard her, and sequestered himself there when he ultimately chose to resign as president in the 1970s. Even after Jimmy Carter sold the Sequoia in 1977, it still saw presidential use; Ronald Reagan met all 50 state governors at its gangplank, and George H.W. Bush used it to meet with Chinese premier Li Peng.

Today, the Sequoia is docked at D.C.’s Gangplank Marina. While it’s in desperate need of renovation, CBS News reports that a heated legal battle has erupted over who should pay for it, with one company already declaring it a lost cause.


Framed photos of former presidents sit on a table aboard the Sequoia (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

President Ford chats with House Speaker Carl Albert, right, and Rep. John Anderson, on the Sequoia (AP Photo)

 

Though the Sequoia’s future is uncertain, its past is important. She occupied a unique place in American presidential history, and should be preserved for that reason alone.

Watch the videos below for a closer look at the historic vessel.