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The History Of The Coast Guard

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

The US Coast Guard (USCG) is America's guardian angel of the sea that's been around almost as long as the country itself. The dynamic institution is utilized for everything from seizing drugs to preventing piracy to ensuring the safety of fellow boaters and sea travelers. Throughout the years, its role has increased and diversified, making it more important with each passing decade.

Beginning their history

According to the US Coast Guard, the earliest incarnation of the military branch was formed on August 4, 1790, when George Washington signed the Tariff Act. The document allowed for 10 boats known as "cutters" to be built, which would be used to stop smuggling and help enforce the overseas tax. This institution was known as the Revenue Cutter Service, and later it was joined by the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service and the Bureau of Navigation to form the US Coast Guard.

Lighting the way

Lighthouses were originally constructed from stone and put on America's shores to help guide sailors to safety. According to USCG.mil, lighthouses were federalized on August 7, 1789. Throughout the years, more than 1,000 were built, each one reflecting the technology of the time with both light and sound. For example, cannons were originally fired to aid boats during foggy days and nights, but gunfire and then fog horns were later implemented. While lighthouse keepers were stationed on shore, they also performed life-saving missions during shipwrecks and many of them lost their lives due to hurricanes. The USCG eventually took over search and rescue missions.

Enforcing the law

One of the Coast Guard's duties has been to enforce shipping and receiving laws on the coast. In the 18th and 19th centuries, taxes and tariffs enforced by the government caused much more of an uprising than they do today. To avoid paying the nominal fees, many people tried to smuggle goods in.

As time wore on, the Coast Guard's attention focused on other law violations, notably the smuggling of illegal products into the country. According to USCG.mil, the first drug bust by the USCG occurred in August, 1890, when the USRC Wolcott found a large amount of opium onboard a ship named the George E. Steer. Combating the smuggling of contraband liquor was also an important task during the 1920s' prohibition era, and the USCG's crackdown on other narcotics and illegal drugs has continued throughout the 20th century.

Readying for battle

The Coast Guard has played a major role in nearly every American war. USCG.mil reports that the institution serves two purposes during times of battle - one is to supplement the US Navy with ships and backup, while the other is to perform special missions that Coast Guard members have been trained for. Some of the first military undertakings that the Coast Guard took part in took place during the War of 1812 as well as the skirmishes with the Seminole tribes in Florida, which occurred from 1836 to 1839. Throughout the centuries, the Coast Guard continued to aid the military, especially during World War II.

Aiding the environment

The USCG has also helped enforce environmental laws all along the coast. The first instance of this was in 1822, when Congress utilized cutters to patrol shores to make sure no one was cutting down timber on public land. Later, in 1867, the USCG helped prevent the extinction of seals in the Pribilof Islands and later helped to enforce Alaska's hunting laws after the purchase of the territory. One of the USCG's main roles in environmental protection today is providing aid in the event of oil spills.