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Nearly 230 years of Coast Guard evolution

• Jul 31, 2018 at 5:00 PM

William H. Thiesen, Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian, recently posted a historical perspective of the U.S. Coast Guard as the service prepares for its 228th birthday. That birthday is being celebrated this week in Grand Haven.

Thiesen began his post with a quote from Cmdr. Russell Waesche Sr., who was commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1936-46.

“You can kick this old service around, tear it to pieces, scream from the house-tops that it is worthless, ought to be abolished or transferred to the Navy, have the people in it fighting among themselves and working at cross purposes and it bobs up serenely bigger and stronger than ever,” he said in 1935.

“As the quote by World War II commandant Russell Waesche indicates, the evolution of the United States Coast Guard provides a truly unique study in organizational history,” Thiesen notes. “This August marks the 228th birthday of an agency that has endured through the absorption of other agencies along with their missions, personnel, offices and assets. In spite of reorganizations and departmental transfers, the service has expanded in range and mission set.

“Throughout it all, the Coast Guard has been shaped by national and world events, wars and all forms of maritime disasters, so that the Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus (‘Always Ready’), seems appropriate now more than ever.”

Thiesen said the organizational model of the Coast Guard comes from several federal agencies.

“Congress established the service’s original predecessor agency, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, in 1790 at the insistence of first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton started the service with a fleet of 10 small sailing vessels, each one assigned to an East Coast seaport. A local customs collector oversaw each cutter’s operation and the collectors received their orders directly from the secretary of treasury. In addition to its original mission of law enforcement, the 1800s saw Congress assign the service the missions of defense (in time of war) and search and rescue. However, until the 20th century, the service remained a civilian agency militarized only in time of war.”

The rest of the history of the U.S. Coast Guard is here: “The Long Blue Line: local enforcer to global responder — nearly 230 years of Coast Guard evolution!” It’s a great read.

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