Get tickets now Membership | Donate | Contact | Directions

Presidential yacht Seventy-fith an
F.D.R.'s "Floating White House"
Home » History » History with F.D.R.
History with F.D.R.
The USS Potomac’s Origins

The USS Potomac was built in 1934 as the Coast Guard cutter Electra. The 165-foot vessel, displacing 416 gross tons with cruising speeds of 10 to 13 knots, In 1936 it was commissioned as a U.S. Navy vessel in 1936, renamed the USS Potomac, and served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht until his death in 1945. As former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR had a deep love of the sea and the Navy tradition. He hated to fly and preferred to travel by train or ship throughout his presidency.
During the sultry summer days in Washington, D.C., he enjoyed cruising on the USS Potomac rather than staying in the White House. The USS Potomac gave the nation’s 32nd president much-needed respite from the cares of governing the United States throughout the Great Depression and World War II. He loved holding informal strategy sessions with close advisors and Congressional leaders in the privacy and seclusion of the yacht. Recreation aboard the vessel included fishing, poker games and family gatherings, and he spent endless hours on board with his beloved stamp collection.
A Special Vessel with Special Passengers
A paraplegic since 1921 when he was stricken with polio at the age of 39, FDR’s greatest fear was being caught in a fire and being unable to escape. He therefore preferred the USS Potomac, an all steel vessel, to the wooden Sequoia.  A hand-operated elevator was installed inside a false stack on the ship and the president – who had developed an extremely strong upper body – was able to use ropes and pulleys to move the elevator up and down between the saloon and upper boat deck.

There are few records of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt coming aboard her husband’s "Floating White House." In 1941, she celebrated her 57th birthday with family members aboard the USS Potomac. She also came aboard during the June 9, 1939 visit by the United Kingdom’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when the two couples cruised to George Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. (click this link for a description of the Royal visit including a copy of the ships log) Other royalty to board the presidential yacht included Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden.

At least one of FDR’s famed radio broadcasts originated from the USS Potomac, on March 19, 1941.

World War II Changes Use of the Potomac
On Monday, August 4, 1941, four months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR boarded the USS Potomac ostensibly for a fishing trip and a visit to Martha’s Vineyard. The President, however, was secretly transferred to the heavy cruiser USS Augusta on the morning of August 5, a Tuesday, to travel to Newfoundland where he would meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – their first meeting as Heads of State. During this top-secret rendezvous, the two world leaders forged the principles of the Atlantic Charter, which formed the Allied partnership during World War II and what Roosevelt called the "United Nations" to plan the post-war peace. With the United States’ direct involvement in the war at the end of 1941, the president’s recreational use of the USS Potomac came to an end.

The Potomac Association  is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Federal tax identification #93-0830589.
Address: 540 Water Street Oakland, CA 94607
Telephone: 510-627-1215
USS POTOMAC © 2009 All rights reserved