Home / CRUISING THE PAST / The USS WILLIAMSBURG… President Harry Truman’s presidential yacht scrapped…
The USS WILLIAMSBURG… President Harry Truman’s presidential yacht scrapped…
President Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill aboard the presidential yacht in the 1940s.

The USS WILLIAMSBURG… President Harry Truman’s presidential yacht scrapped…

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  • The steel-hulled, diesel-powered yacht Aras was laid down on March 19, 1930, by the Bath Iron Works; launched on December 8, 1930; and delivered to wood-pulp magnate Hugh J. Chisholm on January 15, 1931.
  • The Aras, a long graceful steel ship, was sold in April 1941 to the US Navy for use as a patrol gunboat and re-christened it USS Williamsburg.
  • She served as a gunboat and then as the Presidential Yacht for Harry Truman.
  • The yacht was scrapped earlier this year in Italy after years of restoration attempts.

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  • Hosted international dignitaries and took Truman on vacation to destinations like Cuba and Bermuda.

The Presidential Yacht Williamsburg at the Naval Station Key West during a visit by President Truman.

President Harry Truman’s presidential yacht, the vessel once known as the U.S.S. Williamsburg went up for sale in the spring of 2011 for $12 million-plus at a shipyard on the Italian coast.

The yacht, which once served as Truman’s floating White House, is now a rusted-out hulk of its former self.

President Truman aboard the yacht in her glory days…

Yacht interiors…  Lounge, Dining Salon, Presidential and First Lady Staterooms… very late 1940s streamlined modern decor… 

A video history of the presidential yacht…

  • How the Williamsburg got that way is a sad saga of big plans and small budgets.

The Williamsburg’s descent from glory began almost as soon as Truman left the White House in 1952. His successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower used the yacht briefly before announcing that it was “too rich for my blood” and ordering the ship decommissioned in the spring of 1953. After that, the Williamsburg languished dockside in Norfolk, Virginia, and then at the Philadelphia Naval yard along with other decommissioned ships in the navy’s Mothball Fleet. In 1962 the Williamsburg rechristened the Anton Bruun, became a research vessel for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Under its new name, the vessel participated in a multi-year international Indian Ocean expedition involving 24 nations and more than 40 vessels.

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The  Presidential Yacht in Key West, Florida… 

President Truman on the yacht’s fantail…

The WILLIAMSBURG as the ANTON BRUNN … U.S. National Research Foundation Research Vessel ANTON BRUUN at anchor off Phuket, Thailand. BCF scientists conducted fisheries surveys from this vessel while participating in the International Indian Ocean Expedition. 

When that expedition ended in 1965, the Anton Bruun, set sail for the Pacific Ocean as part of the Southeastern Pacific Biological oceanographic program. After its return and a subsequent dry docking accident in which the ship sank, the yacht was turned over to the Maritime Administration. The Maritime Administration sold the vessel to a New Jersey marina owner in 1969 for conversion into a combination restaurant, cocktail lounge, gift shop, and boatel. That venture lasted two years.

Photograph of participants in a conference aboard President Truman’s yacht, the U.S.S. WILLIAMSBURG: (seated, left to right) British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden; British Prime Minister Winston Churchill; President Truman; Secretary of State Dean Acheson; Secretary of the Treasury John Snyder; Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett; (standing, left to right) Walter Gifford, U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain; General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Oliver Franks, British Ambassador to the U.S.; Lord Cherwell, British Paymaster General; Lord Ismay, British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations; Mutual Security Administrator W. Averell Harriman.

The Williamsburg next surfaced in Philadelphia where in the late 1970s, the vessel was refurbished with Truman memorabilia in hopes of making her a private club. The venue never opened. The Williamsburg was then sold and resold several more times before a group called the Presidential yacht Trust purchased the ship and returned it to Washington, D.C. The Trust had planned to arrange a sale to a local restaurateur, but when that failed, it abandoned the vessel. Kim Nielsen, a former Coast Guardsman who later worked for the Smithsonian, mounted a one-man effort in the 1980s and early 1990s to save the vessel. It was an uphill effort because by then the Williamsburg was in sad shape.

According to a 1990 Washington Post article, the Williamsburg was “a bedraggled, listing vessel” with “grass, weeds and even small trees” sprouting “from the sodden pulp of her once-gleaming teak decks.” Its owners were sinking as well—into debt. The Presidential yacht Trust went bankrupt in 1991 and offered the yacht to the District of Columbia to dispose of as it wished. Before that happened, the Williamsburg received another reprieve. In 1993, a group of investors calling themselves the USS Williamsburg Corporation purchased the yacht and sent it to Italy for what was billed as a $65 million restoration. (Italy was chosen because the craftsmen there know how to work on a vintage vessel like the Williamsburg.) The corporation planned to use the ship as an “exclusive charter yacht” and tourist venue. Sadly none of these plans ever materialized and the ship was scrapped earlier this year.

 

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About Michael L. Grace