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A photo of a painting of the Revenue Cutter Bear on the Bering SeaU.S. Coast Guard
History Program

Commandant (CG-09231)
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters
2703 Martin Luther King Jr., Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20593-7031


Revenue Cutter
Bear, circa 1890.  
Painting by James A. Mitchell, III.


U. S. Coast Guard History

The United States Coast Guard, one of the country's five armed services, is a unique agency of the federal government.  We trace our history to 4 August 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of ten vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling.  Known variously through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service, we expanded in size and responsibilities as the nation grew.  

The service received its present name in 1915 under an act of Congress when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the Life-Saving Service.  The nation then had a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws.  The Coast Guard began to maintain the country's aids to maritime navigation, including operating the nation's lighthouses, when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the transfer of the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard in 1939.  In 1946 Congress permanently transferred the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation to the Coast Guard, thereby placing merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety under our purview. The Coast Guard took over the adminstration of bridges over navigable waterways in 1967.

The Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations of the federal government and, until the Navy Department was established in 1798,  we served as the nation's only armed force afloat.  We continued to protect the nation throughout our long history and have served proudly in our nation's conflicts.  Our national defense responsibilities remain one of our most important functions even today.  In times of peace we operate as part of the Department of Homeland Security, serving as the nation's front-line agency for enforcing our laws at sea, protecting the marine environment and our vast coastline and ports, and saving life.  In times of war, or at the direction of the President, we serve under the Navy Department. 

The Coast Guard History Program is charged with collecting, preserving and promoting the history and heritage of the national government's oldest continuously-serving sea service.

Last Modified 3/9/2017