USS Sequoia (AG-23)

USS Sequoia (AG-23) On this day in 1933, President Herbert Hoover accepts the newly commissioned USS Sequoia as the official presidential yacht. For 44 years, the Sequoia served as an […]
March 25, 2016

USS Sequoia (AG-23)

On this day in 1933, President Herbert Hoover accepts the newly commissioned USS Sequoia as the official presidential yacht. For 44 years, the Sequoia served as an occasional venue for recreation and official gatherings for eight U.S. presidents.

Designated a national landmark in 1987, the 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. The yacht is 104 feet (32 m) long, with a wooden hull, and was designed by John Trumpy Sr., a well-known shipbuilder.

The Sequoia may have been America’s first handicapped-accessible boat. During the early 1930’s, FDR was frustrated that he needed the crews’ assistance to move him from the Main Salon to the upper deck of the Sequoia. The public was unaware of his frustration since numerous photos were released to the public showing FDR standing on the Sequoia (with hands on the railing). FDR instructed that an elevator be installed between the upper and lower decks. This allowed FDR to travel between the Presidential Stateroom and the Main Salon without assistance.

he Sequoia was the scene of some of America’s most historic events: It was used during the Harding administration to enforce Prohibition; Herbert Hoover promoted his use of the Sequoia during the Depression in a misguided effort to elevate the spirit of a starving public; FDR and Eisenhower planned D-day; Truman decided to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and later conducted the world’s first nuclear arms control summit; Eisenhower entertained Korean War veterans; Kennedy celebrated his last (46th) birthday party; LBJ lobbied for civil rights legislation, and planned Vietnam War strategy; Nixon negotiated the first arms control treaty with the Soviet Union, and later decided to resign; Gerald Ford conducted cabinet meetings on board; President Ronald Reagan once met the nation’s Governors at the Sequoia in Richmond. Reagan later wrote in his diary: “I think before I leave I should get the craft back for future Presidents. Virginia. Emperor Haile Selassie and other world leaders have also sailed on Sequoia.

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.

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”.

The Sequoia has since undergone expensive restoration efforts. She is currently owned by the non-profit Sequoia Foundation and serves as a historic charter vessel on the Potomac River.

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