Keep Oakland Beautiful Point of Interest: USS Potomac

Keep Oakland Beautiful Points of Interest remind us of how interesting and beautiful Oakland is and why we should care about protecting it.

USS Potomac in 1939.

USS Potomac

One of the ships moored in Oakland’s Inner Harbor is the USS Potomac. Built in 1934 on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the vessel began its career as the US Coast Guard cutter, Electra. It was transferred to the Navy in 1935 and renamed the USS Potomac in 1936.

The 165-foot long vessel served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht from 1936 until his death in 1945. Prior to World War II, Roosevelt cruised on the ‘floating White House’ on an almost weekly basis, along the river the yacht was named for. He entertained many dignitaries on the yacht and he used it to conduct private strategy sessions with his advisors.

In the summer of 1941, FDR traveled north to Cape Cod on the USS Potomac where he secretly boarded the USS Augusta, bound for Newfoundland and a meeting with Winston Churchill. The clandestine meeting culminated in the Atlantic Charter which outlined the Allied partnership in World War II and plan for post-war peace. President Roosevelt also used the yacht, at times, for travels to Florida and the Bahamas with his family.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt cruising aboard the USS Potomac.

Roosevelt on USS Potomac

During World War II, the USS Potomac was put into service as sonar research vessel.

After President Roosevelt’s death, the USS Potomac fell upon hard times. Passing through numerous hands (including ownership by Elvis Pressley for a time), the vessel was seized in San Francisco in 1980, as a front for drug smugglers. It was impounded at Treasure Island where it then sank. The Potomac was subsequently raised and dumped in the East Bay estuary where it was unceremoniously abandoned and left to rot. Like an old horse on its way to the glue factory, the Potomac was destined for the scrap heap when it was purchased by the Port of Oakland.

The USS Potomac, sunk off Treasure Island.

USS Potomac sunk

The USS Potomac has now been restored to its former glory. It is permanently berthed at the foot of Clay Street, at the western end of Jack London Square. A number of events and cruises on the bay are available through Docent-led dockside tours are also given on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Please see the above website for details.

The USS Potomac today.


The world almost lost this interesting piece of history. Fortunately, the Port of Oakland stepped in with a planned partnership to restore and preserve this vessel, so it’s available to us today, to learn about and experience. The USS Potomac is now a national historic landmark.

Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

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