The story of the last US presidential yacht, which hosted foreign leaders and cruised the Caribbean until the 1970s

AP/Getty ImagesA composite image shows the USS Sequoia in 1932 (left) and President Lyndon B. Johnson dining on board in the 1960s.
  • From 1932 to 1977 US presidents had at their disposal a private yacht named USS Sequoia.
  • The vessel was capable of sleeping six, and hosting parties of up to 40 on its deck.
  • Aboard the Sequoia, presidents hosted foreign leaders and held glamorous parties.
  • President John F Kennedy celebrated his final birthday on the yacht, and President Richard Nixon held a summit with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
  • The boat was sold by the government by order of President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories .

From Air Force One to armoured cars like “the Beast”, the President of the United States tends to travel with a degree of style and fanfare.

And, until the 1970s , perhaps the ultimate option was the US presidential yacht – a ship maintained for their exclusive use, known as the “floating White House.”

On board, presidents hosted foreign leaders and held glamorous parties – or escaped the cares and clamour of Washington, D.C.

Below, Business Insider takes a look at the story of the last ever presidential yacht, the USS Sequoia.

The USS Sequoia was designed in 1925 by Norwegian John Trumpy, who at the time made the most sought-after luxury yachts in the world.

Al Fenn/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty ImagesThe Sequoia taking a trip on the Potomac River.

The yacht, which still exists in 2019, measures 104 feet long. In its heydey it had elegant cabins of mahogany and teak with brass finishings.

The vessel is named after Sequoyah, a leader of the Cherokee Nation.

It was bought by the US government from a Texas oil tycoon in 1931, and was soon reserved for use by presidents.

The vessel was berthed at Washington Navy Yard, a short drive from the White House.

Herbert Hoover was the first president to use the vessel, embarking for Florida coast fishing expeditions on the boat.

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty ImagesThe USS Sequoia in 1932, shortly after it entered presidential service.

He was so enamoured of the Sequoia he even used a picture of it on his 1932 Christmas card, seen above.

However, at a time when many Americans were suffering unemployment and poverty as a result of the Great Depression, the card drew criticism from political opponents.

The Sequoia has ample crew quarters and could sleep around eight people in her three double and two single state rooms.

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty ImagesThe main bedroom of the Sequoia.

Here is a picture of the president’s bedroom cabin, with the presidential seal above the bed.

The vessel had a spacious aft-deck, where about 40 guests could gather.

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

It was ideal for hosting family gatherings, or meetings with foreign leaders and their staff.

Up to 22 guests were able to dine on the vessel.

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty ImagesA view of the piano and dining room of the Sequoia.

It was President Harry Truman who added the piano to the salon after becoming president in 1945.

Lyndon Baines Johnson later added a drinks bar.

Different presidents made their own adjustments to the vessel.

AP PhotoPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt on the deck of the Sequoia at Annapolis, Maryland on June 1, 1935, at the start of a weekend cruise.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was confined to a wheelchair for much of his presidency, had an elevator installed so he could access each deck.

According to legend, he also decommissioned the vessel so he and Prime Minister Winston Churchill could enjoy alcoholic drinks on deck while they planned their strategy in World War II.

At the time, no alcohol was permitted on US Navy vessels.

The vessel was intended as a place presidents could use as a private retreat, and there are no official records of its guests. As a result, rumours have long circulated about what took place on board.

The vessel was ideal for hosting foreign dignitaries, far from the glare of the media.

AP Photo, FilePresident Richard Nixon, centre left, speaks with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, centre right, on a cruise down the Potomac aboard the Sequoia in 1973.

In June 1973, President Richard Nixon hosted Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the Sequoia, where the two negotiated the SALT-1 nuclear arms treaty.

It was Nixon who embarked on more trips on the boat than any other president, taking more than 100 in total.

During the Watergate crisis, he used the boat as a refuge.

It was on a trip on the Sequoia that he told his family of his intention to resign the presidency, before retiring to the boat’s saloon to drink scotch and play “God Bless America” on Truman’s piano.

Presidents also used the yacht on private trips, where they hosted friends and family

Robert Knudsen/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and MuseumPresident John F. Kennedy aboard the USS Sequoia opening presents in 1963, on his 46th birthday.

On May 29, 1963, President John F Kennedy celebrated his 46th birthday aboard the Sequoia.

Among the guests for the dinner-party cruise were actors David Niven and Rat Pack member Peter Lawford (at the time married to Kennedy’s sister).

His brother Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general, was among family who attended, alongside select members of Washington high society.

Guests later recalled it as a raucous party, with French cuisine, champagne flowing and the president even making a pass at the wife of a party guest, a prominent journalist.

The birthday party was to be his last. Seven months later, Kennedy was assassinated on an official visit to Dallas, Texas.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to project movies on the main deck.

LBJ presidential libraryPresident Johnson, left, has dinner with a guest aboard the Sequoia in July 1965, as Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood stands in the background,.

Johnson would use a projector to watch Western films on board the ship.

He also used the Sequoia as a retreat to cajole potential allies and formulate policy.

On board, he hosted members of congress whom he lobbied over his landmark civil rights bill, and strategised with officials as the US became further mired in the Vietnam War.

It was Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who best explained the unique appeal of the Sequoia to a succession of presidents.

The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty ImagesRichard Nixon (centre) with Texas businessman and one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot (left) and a third man on board the Sequoia.

Kissinger told Newsweek in 2012:

“It’s important for the President to be by himself, to remove himself from the machinery of the White House. Of course, he can get on a plane and go to Florida or anywhere else, but that requires throwing the machinery into motion.

“But here, he just can say at five o’clock: ‘I’m going to the boat, I’m taking four or five people. And you don’t have to call it a meeting and you don’t have to prepare the papers.'”

Vowing a more modest presidency, Jimmy Carter sold the Sequoia in 1977

AP Photo/Don WrightA staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum during renovation works on the Sequoia in August 2003.

When Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, he sought to make good on his election pledge to strip the White House of the trappings of an “imperial presidency.”

And with running costs totalling $US800,000 a year, the Sequoia had to go.

Later, Carter revealed that selling the vessel was a decision he came to regret.

“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,” he told the JFK Presidential library in a 2011 interview.

After its sale, the yacht had a succession of owners.

It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, spent the ’90s in a shipyard, and ran chartered cruises until 2014.

However it fell into disrepair, and, according to a CBS News report in 2016, was decaying in a Virginia dry dock, overrun by raccoons.

It is currently owned by investor Michael Cantor who is restoring the vessel. In a 2017 interview with Town and Country magazine, Cantor said he was determined to return it to its former condition.

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