Okay, so at 257.8 feet, the yacht Delphine is a bit longer than your average Dodge Grand Caravan, Monaco or Polara. It’s even bigger than a Ram 3500 with dualies, but it is a Dodge, in a manner of speaking. Horace Dodge even designed the engine.
The Delphine was built for Horace and Anna Dodge, starting in 1920 just before the sudden death of Horace and his brother John, and it is the largest existing yacht ever built in the United States. The Dodge brothers were not just boating enthusiasts. In the years before they made their first fortune supplying automobile manufacturers like Ransom Olds and Henry Ford (they made their second fortune selling cars with their own name and their third fortune when Ford bought their stock in FoMoCo which they received in the early days in lieu of cash payments when Henry owed them money), maritime engines were an important part of the Dodge Brothers business, operating one of Detroit’s two most highly regarded machine shops (the other being Leland & Faulkner, run by Henry Leland, who founded both Cadillac and Lincoln). As a matter of fact, Detroit’s location on the Great Lakes and the need for engines to power boats and ships was one reason why Detroit became the Motor City.
The Delphine in 1930, at a speedboat race, perhaps the Gold Cup on the Detroit River
The Delphine today, on the Mediterranean Sea, with its two period tenders
After some success manufacturing a sealed bicycle hub in Canada the Dodges set up shop in Detroit building steam and combustion engines of their own design for maritime use. Quickly, though, they recognized an opportunity supplying the young automobile industry, starting to supply Ransom Olds with first engines and then transmissions. In 1903 they cast their lot as primary supplier to the new Ford Motor Company. It’s not well known but from FoMoCo’s founding in 1903 until 1914, when the Dodges started making Dodge brand cars, Ford cars were essentially rolling chassis supplied by the Dodge bros, with bodies and wheels added by Ford. By 1905, when the Dodges built their first big boat, a 96 foot day yacht named Hornet, with a 1,000 horsepower quadruple-expansion steam engine designed by Horace and built at the Dodge Brothers shop, they were already rich.
As rich as they were the rough and tumble nouveau riche industrialists were not accepted by Detroit’s old money crowd. Money wasn’t enough, but Horace and John discovered that having the nicest boat on Lake Ste. Claire, adjacent to Grosse Pointe, was a better entre into high society than having a big bank account.
It wasn’t the Model T that made Henry Ford and his associates rich men. Ford Motor Company was a success before the Model T. It was that success that gave Henry the luxury of building a car for the masses. Then, he and his associates, like the Dodges, James Couzens and Horace Rackham, became fabulously wealthy. As their wealth increased, the Dodges built larger and faster boats, moving from day yachts to cruising yachts with sleeping cabins, commissioning the Nokomis I and II, 185 feet and 243 feet long respectively. After both those boats were requisitioned by the U.S. Navy for use during World War One, Horace bought an already built yacht and rechristened it the Delphine, after his only daughter.
Delphine Dodge Cromwell
The first Delphine was a placeholder until Horace could build the boat of his dreams. Actually, his wife Anna was a bit of a social climber so it was likely the stuff of her dreams as well. It cost $2 million to build it in 1920. That’s about $23 million in 2012 dollars. It had nine guest staterooms, in addition to the master suite, plus three lounges, a music room with a $60,000 pipe organ, a card room, a dining room suitable for hosting a large dinner party (and a galley capable of catering for such an event), plus on the deck above the dining room, a smoking room. A staff of 50 to 60 crew members were needed to operate the ship and attend to the passengers.
Anna Thompson Dodge
Horace never got a chance to enjoy his big custom boat. He died of influenza before the boat was finished, dying only a few months after his brother John passed away, both of them in their 50s. John had only recently had his own large boat, the Francis, built. Smaller and faster than the Delphine, the Francis had four engines totaling 1,600 HP and had a top speed of over 30 MPH.
Delphine Dodge Cromwell christened the ship in April of 1921 and it immediately became a fixture of her mother’s lavish lifestyle. On a visit to New York in 1926 fire, the Delphine caught fire and sank in the Hudson River. Anna Dodge, by then remarried to
gigolo actor Hugh Dillman, spent $800,000 having the ship salvaged and refurbished. After their husbands died the Dodge widows were two of the wealthiest women in the world and Anna particularly liked to show off her wealth. She used the Delphine for parties and for travel for two decades. Then, during WWII, the US Navy again requisitioned a Dodge yacht, renaming it the USS Dauntless for use as the command ship of Admiral Ernest King, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations. As the Dauntless the Delphine played a role in the war effort. It’s reported that President Roosevelt discussed war strategy with Adm. King on the ship. Admiral King was present at the Yalta conference between Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin and according to the sellers, those world leaders had some of their discussions on board the Dauntless/Delphine.
The Delphine in military service, 1945, as the U.S.S. Dauntless
After the war the ship reverted to private ownership and Mrs. Dodge continued to use the Delphine into the 1950s. It passed from Dodge family hands in the 1960s. For about 20 years it was used to train merchant seamen and in 1997 it was bought by a European businessman. From 1997 to 2003, the Delphine underwent a meticulous restoration to the condition it was in when Mrs. Dodge owned it along with the addition of some modern accouterments plus up to date controls, radar, and navigation.
Horace was a gifted, albeit self-taught, engineer. Had he lived longer he would have appreciated the Delphine’s engine room. Earlier, Horace Dodge had designed and built steam engines for the Great Lakes maritime trade.
The restoration was base on historical research by the current owner’s daughter. Fortunately, this was a significant ship. Original drawings and detailed plans were still extant and many historical photographs were available to work from to guide the restoration.
John and Horace Dodge liked to drink and smoke, they would have appreciated the Delphine’s Smoking Room as well.
Since then it’s been available for charters in the Mediterranean. Now, the current owner has decided to sell this unique piece of both naval and automotive history, with a passenger list that has included presidents and prime ministers. The asking price is 49 million Euros, or about $64.5 million in US dollars. Call your yacht broker. PDF brochure here.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS