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The Maritime log #21 - President Woodrow Wilson organized the modern Coast Guard

September 8, 2018

The Maritime Log by Dyke Hendrickson

President Woodrow Wilson organized the modern Coast Guard

by Dyke Hendrickson
Custom House Maritime Museum Outreach Historian

President Woodrow Wilson organized the modern Coast Guard

Newburyport is the birthplace of the Coast Guard but it wasn’t known by that name until 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson (shown here) merged the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service into one organization.

Woodrow Wilson

Then in 1939, the Lighthouse Service was melded into the Coast Guard, and since that time the Coast Guard has been a well-known and valuable resource in the maritime community.

Actually, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 had a “ripple effect” in the development of the Coast Guard.

When the huge “unsinkable” vessel went down in April 1912, the maritime community hosted several world conferences to improve ship safety.

Or, as the official Coast Guard history reflects, “RMS _Titanic _collided with an iceberg off Newfoundland while sailing on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. She sank a little over two hours later. There were 1,517 lost including 103 women and 53 children out of total passenger and crew of 2,207. The tragedy led to the creation of the International Ice Patrol.

“1914 - 7 February. Following the Convention for Safety at Sea in London, President Woodrow Wilson directed the Revenue Cutter Service assume responsibility for the International Ice Patrol, a mission the Coast Guard performs to this day.

“1915 - 28 January. President Woodrow Wilson signs the bill merging the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service to establish the U.S. Coast Guard.

” Actually, Wilson had a lot on his plate in 1915. Countries in Europe wanted the U.S. to enter World War I. In a separate confrontation, American women were fighting for the vote.

Also, the issue of Prohibition was debated throughout his terms (1912 – 1920).

Prohibition started in 1920 and keeping rumrunners in check turned out to be one of the Coast Guard’s most difficult tasks.

Indeed, in May 1929 there was a shoot-out off Plum Island that resulted in the death of one Coastie by friendly fire.

I plan to include that incident in my upcoming book, “New England Coast Guard Stories: Remarkable Patriots.”

If your organization would like me to speak at an event, please get in touch.  I can be reached at

Thanks. Dyke Hendrickson

Dyke Hendrickson, Outreach Historian, The Maritime Log

The Maritime Log by Dyke Hendrickson

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