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.

The USS Williamsburg, one of the largest and most famous megayachts built in the 20th century, is rusting away at a shipyard in Italy, where she has been for nearly two decades, untouched. The photo above was taken within the past few weeks. Despite her appearance, and despite an anticipated restoration cost in the nine-figure range, there’s still interest in acquiring her and restoring her.

President Truman aboard the yacht in her glory days…

Bert Laacks, a broker with Florida-based Lloyds Yacht and Ship, holds the central listing, with Williamsburg for sale for 8.8 million euros (about $11.6 million). Laacks was hired by Navalmare, the shipyard in La Spezia where Williamsburg currently lies, to sell her. Some brokerage listings state the anticipated restoration costs are at least 33 million euros (about $43.54 million), but Laacks says that figure is about three to four years old. In today’s economy, he says, the cost would be more like 100 million euros (about $131.94 million).

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

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. Thereafter, 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.

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. The ship remained in Italy where its owner did sufficient maintenance to keep the ship afloat. Yet hope for another reprieve has never completely died. over the last five years the listing agent has had prospective clients contact him about buying the yacht, and he believes that Harry Truman’s floating White House may yet sail again.

For a complete history of Truman’s Presidential Yacht click here.


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

One comment

  1. John Scarnechia

    I sailed on the Anton braun when she completed studies off the coast of South American.I was working at the time for Alpine Geophysical in Norwood,New Jersey.I boarded her in Panama for her final journey to Red Hook,Brooklyn,NY.Scientists on board at that time were Dr. Edward Chin,Dr. Silvia Taylor and Dr. Giles Meede.Spent 30 days on board doing a capital equipment inventory prior to her retirement.These were the most memoriable days of my life and I will never forget them.

Leave a Reply