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Celebrate the US Coast Guard’s birthday with these fun facts

Happy birthday, U.S. Coast Guard! Today we come to celebrate the fact that the USCG has been defending our country's shores since 1790.
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coast guard birthday
Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ali Blackburn.

Happy birthday, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)! Today we come to celebrate the fact that the USCG has been defending our country’s shores since 1790. So, in honor of the Coast Guard birthday, let’s take a look at the history of this formidable force.

The Early Years

The USCG traces its origins back to August 4, 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariffs and prevent smuggling. These ships were crewed by only four men each and were armed with only eight guns each – hardly a force. And yet, the Coasties prevailed.

In 1791, these 10 ships seized 21 vessels violating American neutrality laws. They also captured 26 pirates and stopped numerous smugglers. As word of the USCG’s effectiveness spread, more and more Americans began supporting the idea of a standing coastal defense force. In time, the Coast Guard grew into the formidable force we know today.

The Modern Era

Following World War II, the USCG was tasked with an entirely new mission: enforcing environmental laws. This was in response to the 1946 Oil Pollution Act, passed to prevent oil spills from damaging America’s coastline. In time, the branch would also enforce laws about fisheries, drugs and human trafficking. Today, it’s responsible for safeguarding our country’s coastlines 24/7/365—no small feat! Want to find out what it takes to become a Coastie? Find out more here.

U.S. Coast Guard History

The United States Coast Guard is one of the oldest maritime organizations in the world. Founded in 1790, the Coast Guard has a long and storied history of providing aid to those in need, safeguarding our coasts and protecting our waterways. Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights from the Coast Guard’s more than 200-year history.

coast guard SPAR
Members of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England pose with Florence Manchester Smith at Coast Guard Station Jonesport, in Jonesport, Maine, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Smith enlisted in the Coast Guard in December 1943 as part of the SPARs, the all-female workforce that was mobilized during World War II. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Pamela Manns)

The Early USCG

The Coast Guard traces its roots back to 1790, when President George Washington signed the Tariff Act. This act created the Revenue Cutter Service, which was charged with enforcing federal tariff laws and collecting import duties. In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form the Coast Guard we know today.

During the Civil War, the USCG played a vital role in blockade running and shipbuilding. They also worked to suppress piracy and slave trading. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln established the Bureau of Naval Intelligence, which included a division devoted to coast and harbor defense. This marks the beginning of the USCG’s intelligence mission, which continues today.

In 1920, Congress passed the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture, transport and sale of alcoholic beverages. The USCG was tasked with enforcing this law, which they did with great success. In fact, they seized more than 500 illegal liquor ships and destroyed over 5 million gallons of moonshine during Prohibition.

World War II: 1941-1945

During World War II, the USCG played a vital role in anti-submarine warfare and ship escort duty. They also assisted in troop transport and humanitarian missions. At the war’s conclusion, the Coast Guard had grown significantly in size and scope; it now included 11 auxiliaries and over 200 cutters. Here are 7 wild things the Coasties did during WWII.

The Modern Era: 1946-Present Day

In 1946, Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act, establishing the branch as part of the Department of Transportation. In 1967, it became part of the Department of Transportation’s newly created Maritime Administration. And finally, in 2002, it once again became an independent agency within the Department of Homeland Security following 9/11.

Today, the USCG is responsible for a wide range of tasks, including search and rescue operations, maritime law enforcement, boating safety initiatives, icebreaking operations, environmental protection efforts and much more. Here are 15 important differences between the Coast Guard and the Navy.

Happy birthday, Coast Guard!