Zac McDorr“If you have to ask the cost, you can’t afford it.”

This famous line is attributed to J.P. Morgan, Jr., the wealthy investor, when another banker asked about the cost of maintaining a yacht.

There is no hard evidence that Morgan ever said the line, however. Other versions include, “No man who asks himself that question can afford a yacht,” “Young man, if you have to ask, don’t get one,” and “If there is any doubt in your mind, you can’t.”

However he said it, Morgan was referring to his mega-yacht “Corsair IV,” the largest yacht built in the United States at 343.5 feet. It was built and launched at Bath Iron Works in 1930, just after the Roaring ‘20s came to an end and the Great Depression was settling in.

Morgan was the fortunate heir of J.P. Morgan, Sr., the “Greatest banker in America.” (Some people attribute the “you can’t afford it” line to the father.)

Responsible for organizing or financing General Electric, AT&T, International Harvester, and other companies, the elder Morgan made a great deal of money and left it to his son. The Morgans had already owned three yachts with the name Corsair, the last having been built in 1899.

Pete Newell of BIW originally came up with a design for a 310-foot ship, but Morgan wanted to go bigger. The new design came with a bid price of $1,455,190 after a bit of haggling. The contract was signed in January 1929, eight months before the stock market crash.

The new Corsair would look very similar to the earlier models, with a clipper bow, bowsprit, and buff stack. The masts had to be proportionately shortened so the boat could fit under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Morgan brought several train cars full of friends and relatives to the launch, but the press was not invited. Instead, they scoured the city for any vantage point to watch the proceedings.

Later, at sea trials, Morgan was so delighted with the ship that he decided to skip the last-minute troubleshooting process and bring the Corsair directly to New York for the furnishings to be installed.

Morgan used the Corsair IV for 10 years. Later it was converted into a pricey cruise ship and began cruising to Mexico in 1947.

In 1949, the ship struck a rock in Acapulco and was abandoned.

Source: “Bath Iron Works, the First Hundred Years,” by Ralph Linwood Snow, 1987.

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