Deceased , Historic

Arthur Curtiss



James was an avid yachtsman. He served as Commodore of the New York Yacht Club from 1909 to 1910 and was the first commodore of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport from 1928 to 1932.

Sailing Accomplishments
• 1896 on Coronet, took the Amherst Eclipse Expedition to Japan to observe the sun’s total obscuration
• 1909-1910 Commodore New York Yacht Club
• 1921-1922 Sailed Aloha around the world
• 1928-1932 First Commodore of Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport, Rhode Island


“A storm at sea is a grand sight, but a little goes a long way.”

In 1896, James took Professor David P. Todd and his team, who made up the Amherst Eclipse Expedition, to Japan in his yacht Coronet, considered by many to be the finest sailing yacht of its day, to observe the sun’s total obscuration.

James’ most prized possession was his barque-rigged 218-foot, 659-ton sail and steam yacht Aloha. The Aloha was one of the largest yachts of its day and large sailing yachts were unusual at that time, as steam had become the preferred means of propulsion.

The Aloha was built in 1910 at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, and was acquired by the U.S. Navy during the First World War. Commissioned as the USS Aloha in 1917, she served as the flagship for the inspector of Naval Districts, East Coast, Rear Admiral Cameron McRae Winslow. After the war ended, the Navy returned Aloha to James in January 1919.

From 1921 to 1922, James took Aloha on an around-the-world tour and used her to visit Europe several times thereafter. Unlike most owners of large yachts, who hired professional captains, James made it clear that he was the captain of the Aloha and personally supervised the crew in their operation of the yacht.

The following is an excerpt from James’s nomination:
Mr. James, who was one of the last railroad barons, valued sailing above all in his life. Upon graduation from Amherst College in 1889, James’ father – CEO of Phelps Dodge – gifted him half interest in his 131-foot yacht, Coronet. James entered NY Nautical College and got his masters certificate so he would be fully qualified to command the yacht. He also mastered celestial navigation. He put more than 50,000 miles under Coronet’s keel, including carrying a scientific team from Amherst to Japan in 1896 to witness the eclipse of the sun (it was fogged out).

James’s next yacht was called Aloha, a 160-foot brigantine that he cruised to Europe several times. That was replaced by the 206-foot barque Aloha, designed by Clinton Crane, in which James cruised the world. Coronet and the barque are thought to be two of the great legendary yachts of all time. Aloha is gone but Coronet is being restored at IYRS in Newport, Rhode Island.

James was Vice Commodore of the New York Yacht Club in 1907 and Commodore in 1909 when he still had the barque. He had to reject a second term because of business. A Newport, Rhode Island resident, James purchased Lime Rock on the south side of Newport Harbor for the home of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. He was commodore from 1928 to1932. In a speech given at the opening of Ida Lewis, he recalled how much small boat sailing had meant to him as a child and hoped the club would bring small boat sailing back to Newport.

James’ business accomplishments include his success with completing a second transcontinental railroad route in the northwest. He drove the golden spike in Beiber, California, in 1931. When he died in 1941, he owned one-seventh of all the track in the United States, and was considered one of the ten wealthiest men in the country. His estate donated $125 million to various charities.

“To the yachtsman truly interested in his hobby, who enjoys a home on the rolling deep for its own sake, deep-sea cruising affords a wider scope and a more perfect enjoyment than can possibly obtained from short trips on inland waters.”



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