Skip Navigation


National Archives Reveals Historical First Chiefs

CWO Guy Cashman, USCG

Who was actually promoted to Chief on May 18th, 1920?  General Order No. 43 was the original message that advanced a select few individuals to the rank of Chief Petty Officer.  However, these shipmates have remained nameless to most of us.  The historical published records (U. S. Coast Guard Record of Movements 1790-1933) of a ship's crew include only the Officers and Chief Warrant Officers.  Pay records have been recorded on everything from three by five index cards to ledgers and are stored in several locations throughout the country.   The Coast Guard Historian's Office has no records of enlisted members who were promoted while assigned to the numerous vessels, lighthouses, and life-saving stations in service during the 1920's.

Aside from the various shore stations, the U.S. Coast Guard had 129 vessels and 1 air station on May 18th, 1920.  Which ships or units rated a Chief is still being researched.  Regardless, only 5 vessels (Cutters Algonquin, Ossippee, Morrill, Earp and Tybee) had log transcripts, muster rolls or payroll records still intact at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.  On four of those cutters, eight petty officers were identified as being promoted to Chief.  They were:

USCGC Algonquin Ship's muster role, identifies rate & rank.
CGM (Chief Gunners Mate) A. Wold
CEM (Chief Electricians Mate) R. F. Dibb
CMM (Chief Machinist Mate) G. H. Davis

USCGC Earp Ship's log transcript, General Order #43, transfers, underway entries.
CBM (Chief Boatswain's Mate) S. Christiansen
CMM F. A. Kleindt
CGM John Ask

USCGC Tybee Ship's log transcript, promotions from General Order #43.
CBM John Starr

USCGC Ossipee Ship's muster role, annotates promotion endorsement.
CMM W. W. DeWever

Upon recommendation all qualified petty officers were promoted to Chief for their experience and meritorious service effective May 18th, 1920.  This disputes the belief by some history buffs that Boatswain's Mates (L) serving at lighthouses and life-saving stations were the first to be promoted.  Obviously due to the dated entries of the logs and payroll records some cutters were underway on May 18th, 1920.   On the cutter Earp, an ambitious storekeeper had already filled out the payroll records with names and amounts in advance of payday.  He was not anticipating General Order No.43, thus the records show a red line through two large pages of the payroll records nullifying his preparation.  The subsequent pages of the ledger reflect the revised payscale for the newly promoted Chiefs.

The National Archives has indicated that each of the 12 Regional Archives has records for the local/regional Coast Guard units, (Light-House Service, Life-Saving Stations) depots, and Headquarters for that period in time.  Unfortunately many logs and muster rolls were not stored in the regional or national archives.  Some are in museums, city halls and attics around the country. The discovery process has been time consuming, albeit the search continues.

This serves as a data call to shipmates and historians.  These names are a small example of the historical evidence awaiting to be revealed. Please visit the regional archives in your area and search for Record Group 26 for that period in history.   These records should prove to be significant and may help to identify our Chiefs of the past.  A records inventory of Coast Guard related material was compiled by the National Archives on July 1, 1963.  Designated as Record Group 26, this amounted to 10,194 cubic feet, including 154 reels of motion-picture film, 10 sound-recording disks, 45 cubic feet of photographic prints, 308 rolls of microfilm, and 2 cubic feet of cartographic records.  The records are described hierarchically by creating unit: the Light-House Service, the Revenue-Cutter Service, the Life-Saving Service, and the United States Coast Guard.

Closely related records include some personnel records and related correspondence in Record Group 56, Records of the Secretary of the Treasury, and some records concerning predecessor units of the United States Coast Guard in Record Group 36, Records of the Bureau of Customs.  Records pertaining to inspection of vessels and welfare of seaman before 1942 are in RG41, Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation.   Records of Coast Guard general courts-martial for the World War I period are in RG125, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy).  In RG40, General Records of the Department of Commerce, among the Secretary's general files, is correspondence about lighthouses, including a series of case files on the construction and repair of lighthouses, lightvessels, buoy tenders, and other Light-House Services units.

Author's note:  Sincere appreciation to Archivists Angie Vandereet and Richard Peuser, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC for their assistance.

The National Archives and Records Administraton (NARA)

NARA is an independent Federal agency that helps preserve our nation's history by overseeing the management of all Federal records.  Its mission is to ensure ready access to the essential evidence that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of Federal officials, and the national experience.  NARA's mission states "We must make it easy for citizens to access this essential evidence regardless of the location of the documentation or of the people using it.  We hope that by providing electronic public access to more and more of our records and services, we will better meet your information needs."

NARA administers a nationwide network of facilities.  Their business hours, service policies and directions can be located at NARA's website,

Last Modified 1/12/2016