The History of the United States Coast Guard

Coast Guard ship docked at the Portsmouth harbor in New Hampshire.

August 4, 1790. That’s the date the story of the United States Coast Guard begins. On that day, Congress authorized a proposal by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, which outlined the construction of 10 vessels. These vessels, known as cutters, were needed to help protect the budding new nation of the United States of America, and became known as the United States Revenue Cutter Service (USRC). The Massachusetts is known to be the very first of these vessels constructed. 

Though the Massachusetts was commissioned in 1791, the first anti-piracy action by a cutter wouldn’t take place until 1793, when USRC Diligence intercepted and ran a pirate ship ashore in the Chesapeake Bay. During this time, the Revenue Cutter Service was the only naval force of the United States (the U.S. Navy wasn’t re-established until 1798).

In 1915 the United States Coast Guard (USCG) got the name it holds today. An act of Congress merged the USRC and the Life-Saving Service. This act created one United States maritime entity tasked with both enforcing US laws of sea and saving lives in danger at sea.

The USCG Cutters wouldn’t get their current look until decades later, though. That stripe on today’s Cutters first came to life in the 1960’s. It became apparent that there wasn’t a universal, easy way to identify Coast Guard vessels to both civilian and military crafts, and the stripe was added to distinguish them from other vessels. 

In 2003, the U.S. Coast Guard began operating as a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security. With this change, the USCG also serves under the U.S. Navy during times of war, or at the direction of the president. 

As of 2018, more than 40,000 active duty and 7,000 reservists make up the USCG, along with nearly 40,000 employees and auxiliary members. The USCG is the second smallest of the U.S. military branches, but it’s the world’s 12th largest naval force. 

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Posted on August 3 2020 in Blog

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