William Edward Reynolds was born on 11 January 1860 in Montgomery County, MD. Reynolds served in a number of important assignments in the Coast Guard, passing successively through all grades. He was appointed a cadet in the Revenue Cutter Service on 24 May 1878 and commissioned as a third lieutenant on 17 June 1880. In 1881 he was a member of the small sled party which was sent out from the former Revenue Cutter Corwin to search along the northern coast of Siberia for the Arctic exploring steamer Jeannette. On 12 August 1881, he was at the head of the party that landed on Wrangel Island and took possession of the island in the name of the United States. During the Spanish-American War he commanded USRC McLane and served in the North Atlantic Fleet under Rear Admiral Sampson.
Several years later he was promoted to Captain on 31 January 1903. During the First World War, he was Chief of Staff, Twelfth Naval District, San Francisco, CA. Shortly after the signing of the Armistice, he was ordered to duty at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC and was appointed Captain-Commandant with the rank of Commodore on 2 October 1919. He later became the first Coast Guard officer to become a Rear Admiral, the rank having been approved, in recognition of the Service, by Congress in the Act of 12 January 1923. He retired as Commandant of the Coast Guard on 11 January 1924. Admiral Reynolds, having served in the Coast Guard for over 45 years, died on 25 January 1944.