Prologue Magazine

A Heavy Sea Running

The Formation of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, 1846–1878

Winter 1987, Vol. 19, No. 4

By Dennis R. Means


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Sumner Increase Kimball, named chief of the Revenue Marine Bureau in February 1871, transformed the U.S. Life-Saving Service into an efficient and effective organization.

All too common among tragedies of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the wreck of the Almira, a small coasting schooner from Sandwich, Massachusetts, bound for Boston with a load of firewood. Having already lost her sails to the fury of an icy winter's gale, she was thrown full length upon a reef of rocks several miles south of Sandwich off Dennis on January 17, 1827. Her captain and one of the crew soon froze to death while in sight of spectators who were helpless to render assistance from the shore because of the heavy sea that was running. Amazingly, the captain's son survived, thanks to the heroic efforts of volunteers. Waiting and struggling in the dangerous surf for several hours, they had launched a boat three times before the rescue could be affected. When the local fishermen climbed on board the Almira, they found the young man with his hands frozen to the ropes and his feet and ankles encrusted with ice. Despite their exertions, he eventually lost both hands and both feet to frostbite. "The memory of that fearful night and day is fresh in his mind," noted one contemporary account.

It taught him, in truth, the inefficiency of human strength, when matched against the elements of nature; and made manifest, likewise the value of that kindness of man to man, which leads him to watch and labor, and expose even his life for the shipwrecked stranger; to minister to his wants and nurse his weakness, and safely restore him to his family and friends.1

Nevertheless, decades passed before the United States government considered such marine incidents to be of particular concern to it, and half a century slipped by before it developed a respectable coast guard.

The formation of the United States Life-Saving Service (LSS) began not with a bang of the mortar or the whiz of a rocket or even the valiant launch of a lifeboat into the foaming surf.2 The establishment of the LSS traces its origin to the fruits of a slow, tedious, reactionary legislative process— often spurred forward by earnest secretarys of the treasury. It culminated, as it began, not on shores swept by storm tides and gales but on the floor of Congress.

Pioneering efforts, however, were eventually complemented by the capable administration (after 1870) of Sumner Increase Kimball and the noble work of a host of Revenue Marine and Ordnance Corps officers, LSS keepers, and surfmen. As early as 1878, Congressman Mark H. Dunnell could write that "to read what the lifesaving service has achieved makes one feel as though he were reading a romance."3

A law enacted March 3, 1847, contained the first federal appropriation made for rendering assistance from the shore to victims of shipwreck.4 This legislation followed a June 1846 report to the secretary of the treasury by U.S. Navy Lieutenants Thornton A. Jenkins and Richard Bache that recommended such an appropriation and commended the British for having already implemented a life-saving program.5 The allocated funds, however, were not used for their designated purpose but carried forward and in 1849 placed at the disposal of the Massachusetts Humane Society, which already maintained sixteen boathouses and several "houses of refuge" along the shores of the commonwealth.6 These houses of refuge were small huts built along exposed and isolated parts of the coast where shipwrecked mariners could find shelter, food, and warmth.7

A federal life-saving service effectively began on August 14, 1848. On that day an amendment to the lighthouse bill, sponsored by Rep. William A. Newell, secured an appropriation from Congress of $10,000 to provide "surf boats, rockets, carronades, and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck on the coast of New Jersey, between Sandy Hook and Little Egg Harbor. "8 With these funds, the Treasury Department constructed eight lifeboat stations and furnished them under the supervision of the New York Board of Underwriters and Capt. Douglas Ottinger, who was detailed from the Revenue Marine Service.9 A report dated May 21, 1849, recorded that the newly completed stations were equipped with galvanized iron surfboats, metal life-cars complete with air chambers and India rubber floats and fenders, and rockets and mortars—along with blue lights, ropes, powder, heating stoves and firewood, lanterns, and shovels.10 In March of the same year, Congress had appropriated an additional $20,000 to construct and equip eight lifeboat stations on the coast of Long Island along with another six stations on the coast of New Jersey from Little Egg Harbor south to Cape May.11

In 1850 a lifeboat station was built at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and several lifeboats and boathouses were placed on the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Texas.12 Congress authorized $12,500 in 1854 to purchase dozens of metallic surfboats, primarily for use on the Great Lakes.13 Nevertheless, in spite of the periodic construction of new stations and purchase of boats and apparatus, the service just groped along.

As time went on, the lack of responsible custodians to protect government property encouraged the illegitimate private use of lifeboats. Many of the boats fell prey to dilapidation. Weather and storm quickly took its toll on stations and boathouses located along the exposed shores, while much equipment was lost to pillage and decay. The frightful loss of more than two hundred lives at the wreck of the emigrant ship Powhattan, below Beach Haven, New Jersey, on April 16, 1854, six miles from a lifeboat station, spurred Congress to action. Most telling, perhaps, were reports "that several bodies have been robbed by shore villains on the Beach. The Government have [sic] no provision here to prevent such depredations."14

Following this calamity, Hannibal Hamlin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, called upon Secretary of the Treasury James Guthrie to provide information regarding the status of lifeboat stations and to make recommendations. The major problem, replied the secretary, was that once a station had been established and suitably furnished, government responsibility over its administration ceased. Stations, once built, simply deteriorated until they were unusable and were then either rebuilt or abandoned. To remedy this situation, Guthrie recommended that stations be placed in the care of responsible agents of the government. He suggested that authority be given to the Treasury Department to appoint station keepers, along with superintendents who would hold powers of inspectors of customs, for the New Jersey and Long Island coasts.15

The disaster of the ship New Era in November, when government apparatus failed and 230 lives were lost, added pressure to properly maintain both the service in general and its equipment in particular. 16 A subsequent act of December 14, 1854, authorized the secretary of the treasury to carry out his recommendations. Keepers of lifeboat stations were hired at a compensation not to exceed $200 per annum.17 No appropriation, however, seems to have been made to support this legislation until 1857.18

If 1854 marked the initial commitment to a permanent service by the United States in word, 1857-58 marked the first steps in deed. In addition to the $24,185 that had been allocated for salaries and contingencies in 1857,19 Congress authorized another $26,440 in 1858 for the purchase of the "best self-righting life-boat" for each of the twenty-eight New Jersey stations, the "best life-boats" for use on Long Island, and two "additional" improved metallic lifeboats and a metallic life-car to be used in case of marine disaster off Galveston, Texas.20 Boathouses and life-saving stations were repaired, equipment made serviceable or replaced, and bonded custodians finally secured as caretakers of the lifeboats that were not associated with fully equipped life-saving stations. Despite these advances, the absence of drilled and disciplined crews, standard governing regulations, and a dedicated national administration continued to impede progress throughout the 1850s and 1860s.

Interest in the service waned during the Civil War. Nevertheless, routine compensation appropriations continued, indicating a stable number of fifty-four keepers since the advent of a semiprofessional service in 1857. Congressman Newell again helped convince Congress to provide $10,000 in 1866 for new stations and equipment along the New Jersey coast between Sandy Hook and Little Egg Harbor, the very same section where the service had begun eighteen years earlier.21 In 1869 the state legislature of New Jersey attempted to win support from Congress in favor of employing crews at the stations, but it failed. Through the vigorous efforts of Rep. Charles Haight, Sen. John P. Stockton, and others, however, a substitute bill passed in the following year that provided for the employment of six experienced surfmen to man the boats at alternate stations along the New Jersey coast. Enlistments ran from December 15 to March 15, and surfmen received a salary of $40 per month.22 Although this meager measure proved wholly inadequate to the tasks at hand, it opened a door for the subsequent employment of crews at all stations.

The Treasury Department did not begin to systematically compile records of disaster until the fall of 1871.23 Before that time, the department had no reliable method of determining the general condition of the service or its overall usefulness. It is clear, however, that in spite of poor organization, mismanagement, general neglect, and scanty support, the early service accomplished noble work. Manned only by makeshift crews as each occasion of shipwreck demanded, the stations proved valuable in preserving life and property from storm and sea. Sumner Kimball, chief of the Revenue Marine Bureau, which administered the life-saving stations, evaluated their pioneer efforts thus:

No official record of disasters was kept prior to the appointment of superintendents in 1855, and the reports made to the Department since have not been regular or complete[.] I have been able to learn with certainty of the rescuing of 4,163 lives and the saving of $716,000 worth of property through the instrumentality of this service. There is reason to believe that these figures would be largely increased if accurate statistics could be obtained.24

During the winter of 1870–1871, however, several disasters occurred within the purview of irresponsible employees, when boats and apparatus proved inadequate, and where the remoteness of stations contributed to the loss of life.25 The Treasury Department therefore pressed Congress for and received the unprecedented sum of $200,000 to enable the secretary "to employ crews of experienced surfmen at such stations and for such periods as he might deem necessary and proper . . . for . . . more effectually securing life and property on the coast of New Jersey and Long Island."26 The time had come to make the U.S. Life-Saving Service respectable, and that task fell to "the little blackeyed man at the head of the revenue-marine."27

The single most important event in the history of the Life-Saving Service occurred in February 1871 when Sumner Kimball was appointed chief of the Revenue Marine Bureau by Secretary of the Treasury George S. Boutwell. For months, Boutwell had sought a man of character to reform the bureau, its cutters having become little more than the pleasure yachts of public men. Eventually, Secretary Boutwell's search led him to Sumner Increase Kimball, who was then only thirty-six years old. A lawyer and former state legislator from Maine, Kimball had come to Washington in 1861 and secured employment as a clerk in the Treasury Department. He rose steadily through the ranks and was promoted chief clerk in the second auditor's office on September 1, 1869.28

Having considered the secretary's proposal carefully for a week, Kimball accepted the promotion on the following terms. "Mr. Secretary," he said,

I shall accept your offer upon one condition. If you will stand by me, after I have convinced you that I am right, I shall attempt to bring about the reforms you desire. But I want to warn you that the pressure will be tremendous. Congressmen will come to you in long processions and will attempt to convince you that I am wrong and that the service is being ruined. It will require an uncommon display of backbone on your part, but if you will stand firm and refer all complaints to me I promise you that I shall put the service where you want it and where it ought to be.

Secretary Boutwell replied, "I shall support you. No matter what the pressure may be I shall not interfere."29 By this initial gentlemen's understanding a torch of reform was lit that Kimball kept burning in the Revenue Marine Bureau and then the Life-Saving Service for forty-four years.

In April 1871 Chief Kimball directed Capt. John Faunce, U.S.R.M., to inspect every station and ascertain the current state of the service. Faunce, who had supervised the construction of numerous station houses during the early years of the service, submitted his report on August 9, 1871.30 In it he concluded that most stations were in a dilapidated condition and too remote from one another to coordinate effectively. Most were in need of extensive repairs while others had become irreparable. Apparatus had rusted, and at some stations such indispensable articles as powder, rockets, shot-lines, and shovels were not to be found. Elsewhere it was discovered that every article that could be plundered and carried off, had been. The keepers at the stations were not in much better shape. Several were either too old or lived too far from stations to carry out their duties properly. Few of them were competent in launching and beaching a small open boat through heavy wind and surf; politics had more influence on their appointments than practical ability. Significantly, the employment of crews at alternate stations had resulted in placing crews where there was often relatively less need for them, raising the ire of faithful volunteers at the intervening stations.31

Through increased congressional support and Kimball's able administration, the U.S. Life-Saving Service quickly took on the characteristics of an efficient and effective organization. The new chief personally inspected the stations in the most dangerous districts, replaced incapable officers with more suitable men, and added sixteen keepers to the payroll.32 Many of the decayed buildings were abandoned and the stations relocated to more appropriate spots and built anew. Others were repaired. The service prepared plans and specifications to standardize station construction, and Congress provided $50,000 to build life-saving stations along Cape Cod and on Block Island, Rhode Island.33

In 1871–1872 the average distance between stations was reduced to approximately three miles, and a preliminary system of signals was established by which one station could summon the aid of its neighboring stations. Of particular importance, the service devised and introduced a patrol system whereby surfmen, by actual march, maintained a vigilant and constant watch of our nation's coastline throughout all weather conditions. Chief Kimball instituted examinations of apparatus used by foreign maritime nations with the intent of securing whatever improvements might be applicable to the American shore, including "a contrivance called the breeches-buoy" that would soon become standard equipment in the United States. Kimball correctly questioned the general application of the expensive Merriman life-saving dress, which nonetheless performed commendable service on occasion, anticipating that the cork life-belt then in use in Europe would provide adequate buoyancy for the crew while proving less cumbersome than the rubber suit. No surfboat, however, could be found or designed that year that was generally satisfactory and could be launched effectively at our sloping beaches. Nevertheless, a special commission met at Seabright, New Jersey, in May 1872 and recommended a cedar surfboat, with modifications, then in general use by wreckers on the coast of New Jersey. All boats supplied to stations along the Atlantic coast in the next few years were constructed upon this model.34

During 1872–1873 Congress appropriated $30,000 to establish storm signal stations at lighthouses and Life-Saving Service stations, which Kimball had advocated in his first annual report.35 Weather signal flags flown by day and rockets fired by night at life-saving stations could be seen by coasters passing in their usual tracks at sea while direct telegraphic communication to the Treasury Department facilitated early notification of disasters and requests for assistance.

On January 11, 1873, regulations for governing the LSS were promulgated. Stations were grouped into districts managed by civilian superintendents and under the jurisdiction of an inspector of the Revenue Marine. The new regulations specified in detail the duties of each individual connected with the service and established a systematic method for the inspection and maintenance of stations. Physical examinations and general requirements for keepers were set up to ensure that only capable men entered the service.36

Instructions for drill in the use of apparatus, rules for managing open boats in the surf and in beaching them, instructions for rescuing drowning persons by swimming to their relief, directions for restoring the apparently drowned, instructions for the care of shipwreck victims and the protection and disposition of property falling under LSS responsibility, and a complete set of forms and procedures for daily record keeping and reporting by stations were also established and printed during Kimball's second year of earnest administration.37 Congress responded to these accomplishments by authorizing the expenditure of $100,000 to build lifesaving stations along the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina.38

An act of March 3, 1873, provided for the examination of sea and lake coasts to determine where additional stations could be situated to the best advantage. Chief Kimball personally led this review accompanied by his two most reliable subordinates, Captains Faunce and J. H. Merryman.39 Guided by Kimball's survey that drew upon the experience of insurance underwriters, shipowners, captains, and local fishermen and mariners, Congress passed the immensely significant Life-Saving Stations Act on June 20, 1874.

This legislation provided for the LSS to extend its operations to the shores of Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, California, and the Great Lakes. The secretary of the treasury was given authority to employ volunteer crews at the paltry rate of $10 per man per occasion of actual rescue— although each could now also earn gold and silver life-saving medals of honor. The secretary was also empowered to establish regulations for the service, dispose of surplus materials "to the best advantage," and demand reports from owners of wrecked vessels as to the extent of damage and the circumstances involved in the loss.40 Resultant wreck reports that were abstracted and published in the annual reports of the secretary of the treasury and of the LSS produced information useful to the service and commercial interests of the day. Today they remain a rich and detailed resource for maritime historians.

In three seasons of work, only three lives were lost within the range of LSS activities. During the winter season of 1874-1875, however, the service suffered its first setback. Fourteen men were lost from the Italian bark Giovanni wrecked off Provincetown, Cape Cod, on March 4, 1875. This vessel had grounded beyond range of the line throwing cannon and in a surf in which no boat could live.41 Although the loss of life could not be charged to any deficiency or neglect of the life-saving establishment, Captain Merryman, assisted by officers of the Ordnance Corps, commenced work immediately to increase the range of wreck artillery.42

Eighteen seventy-six marked the first year that Congress formally required an annual report of the service to be filed with the secretary of the treasury.43 In this report Chief Kimball noted that 512 persons had been reported to have perished along the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island between 1850 and 1871. He believed three times that number to be a more reliable estimate. In the succeeding five years, only sixteen lives had been reported lost along the same coasts, even though reporting had become more trustworthy and accurate. Kimball concluded that "if ever the annual result shall be less proud, it will be because the Government fails to meet the demands made by the natural development of the service."44

With minor changes, the appropriations for fiscal year 1878 remained at the level of the previous season.45 After six years of creditable work, the Life-Saving Service had rendered assistance to 407 distressed vessels, saved $6,967,947 in property, and preserved 4,650 lives. The property ($4.1 million) and eighty lives lost within the range of operations could not be attributed to the conduct of the life-saving crews or to any defects in their attempts to render prompt and determined assistance.46

In the fall of 1878, Lt. David A. Lyle, Ordnance Corps, completed work on a gun that weighed 202 pounds with projectile and whose shot had been fired a maximum distance of 695 yards. This success greatly increased the range of wreck artillery while it dramatically reduced the weight of ordnance. The weight of other apparatus had already been reduced to facilitate the dragging of a lighter beachcart to the site of shipwreck.47 Unfortunately, that same year local politicians in the fifth and sixth LSS districts sought to "prostitute and pollute" the service for their petty ends by packing the stations with their own men. But in every case the incompetents were quickly turned out by General Superintendent Kimball.48

Kimball's departmental recommendations following the 1876-77 season focused on the inadequate pay of the volunteer crews of the Great Lakes and of his keepers. He wisely proposed that volunteers be compensated $8 per man for each occasion of actual service whether lives were saved or not, and $3 per man for every day's attendance at drill and exercise. The chief reemphasized his complaint that keepers were grossly underpaid, having received the 1854 mandated wages of $200 per annum for twenty years. Upon the "daring, alertness, and integrity" of such men, said Kimball, belong the major credit and honor for the success of the service.49

In addition, Superintendent Kimball once again stressed that "the experience of the last few years has plainly shown the need of additional stations upon the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina." Due to a lack of funds, stations there were situated approximately ten miles apart, far beyond the three- to four-mile effective range for the patrol system— by then considered "the most important feature of the whole life-saving scheme."50 Finally, Kimball prophetically pointed out the desirability of additional congressional funds to enable stations to be open from September 1 to May 1 along the Atlantic seaboard.51

On January 31, 1878, their life-plans came to nothing. Eighty-five persons aboard the Metropolis had drowned in the raging surf that morning, their lifeless forms swallowed up by the ocean or strewn haphazardly along a lonely stretch of Carolina beach. The captain of the ill-fated steamer denounced the efforts of the lifesavers, demanding that they be censured "in the severest terms."52 The New York Daily Tribune accused the Life-Saving Service of "scandalous inefficiency" and charged that in the case of the Metropolis, "it must be held accountable for the awful sacrifice of human beings."53 Another paper slanderously contended that "the chances are about two to one that the Life Savers . . . are in partnership with the wreckers."54

The LSS crew at Station No. 4, North Carolina, had failed to notice the imperiled vessel on its patrol, gotten a late start to the scene of the shipwreck, and concluded before it left the station house that no boat could live in such a sea as was running that morning. What followed was "the first instance in the history of the service that a shot-line fired [had] parted after reaching a wreck," thereby crippling rescue efforts at a critical moment. Moreover, the "inexcusable neglect" of the station keeper in bringing only two charges of powder in his flask, which were quickly spent, had rendered their life-saving apparatus useless just as the steamer was being torn asunder in the pounding breakers.55 Finally, to add insult to injury, a courageous Newfoundland dog had plunged into the surf to bring a half-drowned man safely to shore.56 Within three weeks, Sen. Aaron A. Sargent introduced a bill to transfer the Life-Saving Service from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of the Navy where "proper military discipline" could be secured.57 Almost overnight our country's nascent coast guard was placed on trial.

Unfortunately, the wreck of the aging wooden steamer Metropolis, laden with laborers, coal, and railroad iron, followed closely upon the heels of the worst catastrophe in the history of the service up to that time—and one to which the LSS had rendered no assistance at all. On November 24, 1877, the new and sturdy U.S. sloop-of-war Huron, under full power, had run aground and broken up at Nag's Head, North Carolina, just twenty-five miles from where the Metropolis would disintegrate. Ninety-eight men had been lost. Although the nearest life-saving station was situated only two and a half miles from the dying vessel, no one had responded. Censure for the horrible loss of life from the iron Huron originally centered on the LSS, but provision had not been made by Congress to open and man stations along that barren coast until December 1.58

On February 19 the Senate received a formal reply from the secretary of the treasury to its resolution of the sixth soliciting information relative to "the present condition and state of efficiency of the life-saving service on the coast of North Carolina." Secretary John Sherman forcefully pressed Kimball's claims regarding the LSS and praised the personnel and equipment in North Carolina. The effectiveness of the service in that locale, however, was impeded by the great distances that separated the stations. The Metropolis, for example, had gone down at a point between two stations that were about twelve miles apart and about four and one-half miles from the nearest station.59

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the service made no excuse for Keeper Chappell's "lack of forethought" in leaving the station without a full powder flask, and he was discharged from the service.60 Nevertheless, the focus of the disaster remained on the great distances between stations. Feisty bulldogs! the keeper and his exhausted crew insisted that if they had arrived sooner, they "could have saved every soul."61

The wrecks of the Huron and Metropolis highlighted the shortcomings of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. These weaknesses were not, however, to be found in its administration, personnel, equipment, or overall earnestness and fortitude as the Sargent bill implied. The deficiencies of the 1877-78 season were the same ones that Kimball had formerly acknowledged and petitioned Congress for redress. The station that could have assisted the Huron had not yet opened; the station that could have best assisted the Metropolis had not yet been built.

On February 19 the bill to remove the management of the LSS from Kimball and the Treasury Department was officially filed in the Senate. But an old ally of the service, Rep. Samuel S. Cox, had previously filed a bill in the House that would strengthen and extend the existing Life-Saving Service.62 One contemporary press account claimed that Sumner Kimball had reorganized and established the Life-Saving Service "out of nothing, and made it the most complete and efficient in the world" in seven short years.63 Many agreed. The successful development of the LSS had been achieved in the face of prevailing winds to the contrary: chronically insufficient appropriations, a watershed of national and local political intrigue, and the unprecedented nature and extraordinary scope of the service itself. On March 4 the Senate received a letter signed by the keepers and crews of LSS stations nos. 1 and 2 on the Delaware coast petitioning against transfer of the service to the Navy Department, where they would not be willing to serve. Additional remonstrances followed.64

Eighteen seventy-eight was a year that bore witness to the high-water mark of political shenanigans in America—when we had a president who, though a good man, had actually lost the presidential election, was only nominal leader of a badly divided party, and faced an opposition in control of both houses of Congress. In this year, with a Congress that could barely tolerate the president, in a country already ripped apart by inflation, strikes and riots, Reconstruction, and the need for civil service reform, our nation's leadership almost spitefully refused to agree on anything. But northerner and southerner alike, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor came to agree on a Life-Saving Service bill—and that must ever stand to their credit.

James W. Covert was the first to speak formally in the House against the navy bill on March 11, 1878.65 He contended, "without reservation, that departmental records nowhere show such sure and satisfactory progress in all right directions as are exhibited in 'the short and simple annals' of the life-saving service."66 On March 21 Charles B. Roberts reported for the Committee on Commerce that H.R. 3988 had been substituted for House bills 1920 and 3442. The report on the substitute, a masterpiece of reasonableness, made short work of arguments set forth by proponents of a transfer including that of improved economy. It portrayed, instead, a service born of necessity, bred on neglect, and tenacious and successful nonetheless.67

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More than 100 stations were built along the lines of this quaint model and its variations between 1874 and 1881. (General Records of the Department of the Treasury, 56-AL-2)

H.R. 3988 provided for the construction and manning of over thirty additional life-saving and lifeboat stations, fifteen on the Virginia-North Carolina coast alone, and authorized the unexpended balances of appropriations made earlier to be used to erect the new stations. All station and equipment salvage monies would remain available to the LSS. Most significantly, the compensation for keepers was doubled to $400 per annum, and they were given powers of inspectors of customs. All stations upon the sea and Gulf coasts would remain open for active service between September 1 and May 1, and on the lakes from opening to the close of navigation. Provision was made for a general superintendent and assistant of the service who would have overall charge of operations under the immediate direction of the secretary of the treasury. Revenue Marine officers would continue to serve as inspectors and assistant inspectors of the LSS. This measure also called for thorough investigations of every instance of shipwreck within the scope of operations whenever it was attended by loss of life. This was to be done to determine the cause of the calamity and whether any party within the service had been guilty of dereliction of duty and, if so, to have him dismissed. A volunteer crewman would be paid $8 for his action at any shipwreck and receive $3 per day to protect property under the charge of a keeper, and $3 per day when called out for drill and exercise.68

For three hours and five minutes on June 3, supporters of this "Life-Saving Service" bill filled the air with their oratory. The bill having been read, Roberts rose first to speak. He declared that no evidence had been supplied "by any one demonstrating inefficiency in its present management, or exhibiting how increased efficiency [or economy] might be attained under the Navy Department.69 The substitute bill, Roberts noted, embodied those concerns for expanding the service that Secretary of the Treasury Lot M. Morrill had requested in his Annual Report 1876. By then the life-saving establishment had already grown to encompass 150 stations and 1,200 subordinates. Morrill had seen fit at that time to relieve Chief Kimball of his other Revenue Marine duties, as far as practicable, so that he could devote his entire attention to the general superintendence of the Life-Saving Service.70

John Pugh, a man who had served this country without compensation as a physician throughout the Civil War, stood up next. He fervently remarked that the proposition to transfer the service to the navy had been met "with almost universal dissent" by the people of New Jersey who "better understood, better appreciated, and better managed" its life-saving stations than "any other State of the Union."71 Representatives Mark H. Dunnell and William W. Crapo expressed similar hearty support for the current system. Jesse J. Yeates regretted that he could not challenge each and every legislator to defend whatever he might have against the LSS. He honored the character of his coastal constituents in North Carolina, and then he sat down. Omar D. Conger focused upon his personal experiences assisting the life-savers at rescues.72

Rep. Curtis H. Brogden understood best that a government exists, above all else, to preserve human life. He presented the fundamental point that the Treasury Department was and had always been responsible for the aid and protection of marine commerce and the collection of revenues in the United States. Where was the Coast Survey? the Light-House Board? the Revenue Marine Bureau? the Steamboat-Inspection Service? and the Life-Saving Service? Where, indeed, but under the Treasury.73 It was 10:05 p.m. and the House adjourned; the vote would come the following day.

Shortly after noon in the House of Representatives on June 4, Samuel S. Cox magnanimously yielded five minutes to Washington C. Whitthorne, who had introduced the Sargent bill on March 25. Whitthorne contended that the U.S. Life-Saving Service operated "under the influence and control of politicians and of local influence." He again prescribed navy "discipline and organization" as the best remedy to reform and thereby improve the service. Whitthorne strongly denied that the Sargent bill "makes war upon this service" and conceded that the House strongly favored the Cox bill.74

In a speech that filled nine full double-column pages of the Congressional Record, Cox responded with substantive histories of recent world maritime commerce and immigration; world life-saving activities and improvements dating back to 1785; piracy; and detailed analyses of the wrecks of the Huron, Metropolis, and the French steamer Amerique wrecked near Seabright, New Jersey, January 11, 1877. If not openly hostile, he defiantly offered neither peace nor rest to supporters of a transfer. A veteran of ten Congresses (with six to follow), he likened most of his efforts to "writing in water." He regretted that he could not reverse many of his former actions that had been spawned by party loyalty and his own convenience. "Confessing so much inadequacy," he exhorted his colleagues to forget the things of men and to "do good deeds," to save lives. He prayed to Almighty God to guide this nation. Congressman Roberts called for the previous question, and the bill having been read a third time was passed.75

On June 17, the eminent Sen. Roscoe Conkling introduced a motion in the upper house to consider H.R. 3988 with the revealing comment that "I think the honorable Senator from California [Mr. Sargent] does not wish it to be further delayed, [though] he once signified a wish that it should not be considered."76 The bill having been read, Sen. John Brown Gordon rose to speak on behalf of the Commerce Committee's desire to amend the bill by adding a section that required all steamboats bearing passengers to carry up to six "life-saving dresses," depending on tonnage. Gordon, former lieutenant-general, C.S.A., had led Lee's last brave and successful charge at Appomattox; he would now lead the final assault against the life-saving bill. Concern gripped supporters of the bill who believed that there was not time enough for an amended bill to pass through the House in the closing days of the session. (Congress adjourned June 20.) A brief but nasty debate ensued with two senators, Gordon and Algernon Sidney Paddock, insisting that the amendment was "worth all the rest of the bill." In the end, Senator Gordon forced a formal vote on the proposed section, but it was defeated by a margin of two to one.77 The bill that knew neither sectional nor party prejudice had triumphed.78

On June 18, 1878, President Hayes signed the new act into law and immediately nominated Kimball to serve as the first General Superintendent of the U.S.L.S.S.79 The Senate just as rapidly confirmed him, and the president was able to execute the first, and only, commission for general superintendent that same day to the first and only such officer the service would bear witness to, 1878–1915: Sumner I. Kimball.80

Kimball's Life-Saving Service steadily expanded to include 285 stations by 1913.81 It developed under good management and the "insistence upon methods of selection and promotion that would insure special qualifications for the hazardous work to be performed."82 Its operating procedures changed little until the introduction and improvement of the motorboat at the turn of the century. Motorized lifeboats greatly extended the operating range of stations, improved response times, and facilitated the arrival of a fresh crew that no longer had to exhaust itself by a long pull of the oars. Innovations in communications, such as the telephone and later the radio, were likewise rapidly assimilated into life-saving operations.83

From the beginning, its primary goal had been to save lives and property from the ravages of sea and storm. Between 1871 and 1915, when the Life-Saving Service reioined the Revenue Cutter Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard,84 the service assisted 28,121 disasters and shipwrecks and preserved the lives of 174,682 persons and $288,871,237 worth of vessels and cargo.85 Although mere cold statistics to warm and complacent Americans today, such figures are indicative of a legacy of valor and skill the likes of which this country may never see again.86

See also this related article: The Wreck of the Metropolis

Dennis R. Means is on the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration.


The author expresses his appreciation for the assistance that has been rendered to him in researching and producing this article by his colleagues at the National Archives: Mary W. Livingston, William F. Sherman, Aloha South, NNFJ; Teresa Matchette, NNA; Stuart L. Butler (NNSC) and the NNIR staff; Milton O. Gustafson, NNFD; Bobbye C. West, Nancy J. Olds, NNPS; and staffs of NNIL, NNL, NNSP, NEPP, NEP, and NE.

1 "The Shipwrecked Coaster," in The Token (1833), pp. 17–32.

2 With the possible exception of Massachusetts, no state in the Union maintained a reasonably effective volunteer life-saving system prior to the development of the United States Life-Saving Service (hereafter cited as LSS). The New York Life-Saving Benevolent Association, however, began granting awards to deserving rescuers in 1849.

3 June 3, 1878, Congressional Record, 45th Cong., 2d sess., Appendix, 7: 243.

4 9 Stat. L. 176. See also Feb. 25, 1847, Congressional Globe, 29th Cong., 2d sess., 16: 510-511; Feb. 25, 1847, Cong. Globe, 29th Cong., 2d sess., Appendix, 16: 473–476.

5 U.S. House of Representatives, Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury transmitting a Report Relative to the Lighthouse System of the United States, 29th Cong., 1st sess., 1846, H. Doc. 222. See also C. J. Staniland, "Lifeboats and Lifeboat Men," The English Illustrated Magazine (Feb. 1886): 332–342, (March 1886): 394–403.

6 Senate Committee on Commerce, W.A. Newell. Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, Transmitting Report of the General Superintendent of the Life-Saving Service Relative to the Claims of W. A. Newell as the Originator of the System of the Life-Saving Service of the United States (hereafter cited as Newell Letter), 55th Cong., 2d sess., 1898, S. Doc. 270, pp. 9–12; Sumner I. Kimball, Organization and Methods of the U.S. Life-Saving Service (1890), p. 3. The Massachusetts Humane Society must be considered the originator of the first organized and increasingly effective system of saving lives from drowning in the modern era as well as the parent service of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. See, M. A. DeWolfe Howe, The Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: An Historical Review 1785–1916 (1918). In 1855 another $10,000 was appropriated for use by the Humane Society (10 Stat. L. 658), and in 1870 an additional $15,000 went directly to theHumane Society (16 Stat. L. 292).

7 Maps depicting locations of the huts were freely distributed. Although mariners rarely knew precisely where their vessels had grounded during a storm, they would be encouraged that whichever way they walked along a desolate shore, they could come upon a house of refuge or, if not a hut, a local residence. See also George J. Hagar, "The United States Life-Saving Service: Its Origin, Progress, and Present Condition," Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly 5 (Feb. 1878): 170.

8 9 Stat. L. 322; Jan. 3, 1848, Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st sess., 17: 94; Aug. 3, 1848, Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st sess., Appendix, 17: 1087–1089. See also William A. Newell, "The U.S. Life Saving Service," Freehold Transcript, Mar. 29, 1901, in "USLSS Publications, 1851–1907," Vol. XIV, Records of the United States Coast Guard, Record Group 26, National Archives, Washington, DC (hereafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG __, NA); Hagar, "United States Life-Saving Service," pp. 166-168. For insights into activities along the New Jersey shore before and during the early years of government activity see Rebecca Harding Davis, "Life-Saving Stations," Lippincott's Magazine 17 (Mar. 1876): 301–310.

9 Senate Committee on Commerce, Newell Letter, 55th Cong., 2d sess., 1898, S. Doc. 270, pp. 11–12.

10 Ibid., p. 12. See also Mar. 1, 1887, Cong. Rec., 49th Cong., 2d sess., 18: 2496. For a discussion of the metallic life-boat and life-car, see Jacob Abbott, "Some Account of Francis's Life-Boats and Life-Cars," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 3 (July 1851): 161-171.

11 9 Stat. L. 381; Feb. 17, 1849, Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 2d sess., Appendix, 18: 133-135; Mar. 3, 1849, Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 2d sess., 18: 693. See also Department of the Treasury, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1849 (annual reports hereafter cited as Annual Report 18 __), pp. 828–832; Abbott, "Francis's Life-Boats and Life-Cars," p. 161.

12 Hager, "United States Life-Saving Service," p. 167; 9 Stat. L. 503, 533. See also July 24, 1850, Cong. Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., 19: 1442. For appropriations of $10,000 in 1852 and again in 1853 see 10 Stat. L. 118, 200.

13 10 Stat. L. 562-563. This act included an additional $20,000 to purchase "life-boats and other means of rendering assistance to shipwrecked mariners and others on the coast of the United States."

14 "Terrible Shipwrecks. Great Loss of Life," The New-York Daily Times, April 20–22, 1854, p. 1, col. 1. Loss of life may have been greater: see Department of the Treasury, Secretary of the Treasury, Annual Report 1875, p. 48; Hagar, "United States Life-Saving Service," pp. 167–168.

15 Senate Committee on Commerce, Newell Letter, 55th Cong., 2d sess., 1898, S. Doc. 270, pp. 13–14.

16 Department of the Treasury, Annual Report 1854, p. 17; "Terrible Shipwreck and Loss of Life! Wreck of the Ship New Era of Bremen," The New-York Daily Times, Nov. 14–16, 1854, p. 1.

17 10 Stat L. 597. Another section of this law gave lifesaving responsibilities to lighthouse keepers. This idea seems to have originated in a letter dated November 30, 1837, from E. and G. W. Blunt of New York, publishers of Blunt's Coast Pilot, to the secretary of the treasury, which reads in part, "In the appointment of lightkeepers it is often necessary that other qualifications besides the capacity to keep a light in good order should be considered, when the lighthouses are in situations remote from settlement. It frequently happens that the keeper can render assistance to those that are shipwrecked or to vessels in distress." U.S. Senate, Report from the Secretary of the Treasury . . . relative to the light-houses of the United States," 25th Cong., 2d sess., 1838, S. Doc. 138.

18 Speech of Hon. William F. Brown, of Ocean County, in the New Jersey House of Assembly, March 13, 1856, on Joint Resolutions to Congress in Relation to the New Jersey Coast (1856), pp. 3–4, 10.

19 11 Stat. L. 223; Congress appropriated $25,800 for salaries and contingencies in 1858, 11 Stat. L. 320.

20 Ibid. See also Department of the Treasury, Annual Report 1857–58, pp. 21, 367–371.

21 14 Stat. L. 312; July 14, 1866, Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st sess., Appendix, 36: 261-262.

22 16 Stat. L. 292; June 21, 1870, Cong. Globe, 41st Cong., 2d sess., 42: 4679–4680; ibid., July 12, 1870, p. 5496.

23 Department of the Treasury, Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report of the Chief of the Revenue Marine Bureau for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1872, appendix insert. For the years before official wreck reporting from vessel agents to collectors of customs was required by law in 1874, the primary source for marine intelligence remains local newspapers. See 18 Stat. L. 128.

24 Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1872, p. 27.

25 Ibid., p. 26; Department of the Treasury, LSS, Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1876, p. 48.

26 17 Stat. L. 12, 90; Mar. 23, 1871, Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st sess., 44: 231; Dec. 14, 1871, Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 2d sess., 45: 121; ibid., Jan. 16, 1872, 45: 413–414; ibid., Mar. 19, 1872, 45: 1788; ibid., Mar. 22, 1872, 45: 1883; ibid., Mar. 25, 1872, 45: 1942.

27 Rep. O. D. Conger (R-MI) used these words to describe Sumner Kimball in a speech on the floor of the House. See June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4057.

28 "Personnel Folders of Notable Treasury Employees, 1822-1940/Sumner Kimball," ms. note, 1869, General Records of the Department of the Treasury, RG 56, NA.

29 "Secretary Carlisle's Fleet of Fast Sailing Cutters," Leader, [Cleveland?], Oct. 5, 1893, scrapbook copy, p. 182, Library Collection, U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

30 Captain Faunce had superintended "the refitting of the old and erection of the new Life Boat Stations on the Coasts of Long Island and New Jersey" in 1855. See Secretary of the Treasury James Guthrie to Capt. John Faunce, Revenue-Cutter Service, Apr. 14, 1855, Miscellaneous Box 1, 1849–75, RG 26, NA. See also Hagar, "United States Life-Saving Service," pp. 168–169.

31 lbid.; Senate Committee on Commerce, Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury Communicating . . . the present condition of the life-saying stations on the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island, 42d Cong., 2d sess., 1872, S. Ex. Doc. 22. See also "Synopsis of Report of Capt. John Faunce on Inspection of Life-Saving Stations on Coasts of Long Island and New Jersey, August, 1871," "Summary of Expenditures Required for New and Old Life-Saving Stations. Coasts of Long Island and New Jersey, September 1871," and "Estimate for Coast of New Jersey, 12 October 1871, John Faunce Capt. and Inspector," Misc. Box 1, 1849–75, RG 26, NA.

32 17 Stat. L. 90; LSS, Annual Report 1876, pp 49.

33 Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1872, pp. 2728; 17 Stat. L. 347, 410; Dec. 6, 1871, Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 2d sess., 45: 29. See also Wick York, "The Architecture of the U.S. Life-Saving Service Stations," The Log of Mystic Seaport 34 (Spring 1982): 3–20.

34 Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1872, pp. 24–33 and appendix. See also J. H. Merryman, "The United States Life-Saving Service," Scribner's Monthly 19 (Jan. 1880): 331–332.

35 17 Stat. L. 511; cf Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1872, p. 33. See also Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1873, p. 22; Hagar, "United States Life-Saving Service," p. 170.

36 Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1873, pp. 18-19, 22, 32-45; LSS, Annual Report 1876, pp. 52–55.

37 Revenue Marine Bureau, Annual Report 1873, pp. 32–74.

38 17 Stat. L. 510-511, 619; Dec. 9, 1872, Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 3d sess., 46: 82.

39 17 Stat. L. 619; House Committee on Commerce, Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury in relation to the act . . . to provide for the establishment of life-Saving stations on the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina, 43d Cong., 1st sess., 1874, H. Ex. Doc. 103.

40 18 Stat. L. 125–128.

41 Department of the Treasury, Annual Report 1875, pp. 47–48, 60–63.

42 In 1877–78 their efforts would be blessed by the invention and refinement of a gun designed by Lt. David Lyle of the Ordnance Corps. This cannon was vastly superior to the various rockets and mortars that it supplanted; it would be in virtual world-wide service by the turn of the century and continue in general production until 1952. See J. P. Barnett, The Lifesaving Guns of David Lyle (1976), p. 2.

43 19 Stat. L. 106-107.

44 LSS, Annual Report 1876, p. 66.

45 The number of keepers dropped to 150; thus, the salary allocation dropped by $400. The total amount for surfmen's compensation, however, rose by $1,000 over the previous year's allotment. See 19 Stat. L. 106-107, 344–345.

46 LSS, Annual Report 1877, p. 29.

47 LSS, Annual Report 1878, pp. 44–47, 215–376 (Report of Lt. D. A. Lyle); LSS, Annual Report 1877, pp. 36–37.

48 Ibid., pp. 33–35.

49 Ibid., pp. 58–64; LSS, Annual Report 1876, pp. 67–69, 70.

50 lbid., p. 52; Annual Report 1877, p. 65.

51 LSS, Annual Report 1877, p. 66.

52 "The Wrecked Metropolis," New York Daily Tribune, Feb. 6, 1878, Scrap Book of Life-Saving Service, 1874–78, Vol. 2, p. 135, RG 26, NA.

53 "The Life-Saving Service," New York Daily Tribune, Feb. 4, 1878, Scrap Book, Vol. 2, p. 123, RG 26, NA.

54 The Post [DC], Feb. 5, 1878, Scrap Book, Vol. 2, p. 127, RG 26, NA. This article continues, "The promptness with which the Huron dead were rifled and the alacrity with which the mails of the Metropolis were robbed, stimulates the belief that the Eastern coast of North Carolina is not altogether averse to having a vessel come ashore occasionally."

55 The charge of "inexcusable neglect" came from Capt. J. H. Merryman who had been dispatched to the wreck site by Superintendent Kimball. House Committee on Commerce, Letter firm the Secretary of the Treasury, Transmitting Report of Life-Saving Service in reference to the loss of the steamer Metropolis, 45th Cong., 2d sess., 1878, H. Ex. Doc. 58, pp. 4–5; LSS, Annual Report 1878, pp. 79–98.

56 This dog effectively joined the service shortly afterward and maintained a vigilant patrol each evening thereafter; see Merryman, "United States Life-Saving Service," pp. 333–334. For similar work by another noble Newfoundland off Green Hill, Hull, Mass., see "Along the South Shore," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 57 (June 1878): 12–13.

57 Feb. 19, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 2:1156.

58 Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, Letter From the Secretary of the Navy, transmitting a copy of the record of the court of inquiry in relation to the wreck of the United States steamer Huron, 45th Cong., 2d sess., 1878, S. Ex. Doc. 26; LSS, Annual Report 1878, pp. 19–20.

59 Senate Committee on Commerce, Letter From the Secretary of the Treasury Communicating . . . the present condition and state of efficiency of the life-saving service on the coast of North Carolina 45th Cong., 2d sess., 1878, S. Ex. Doc. 31.

60 The LSS applauded Chappell's character and ability save for this "dangerous defect." See LSS, Annual Report 1878, pp. 26–27.

61 House Committee on Commerce, Letter . . . in reference to the loss of the steamer Metropolis, 45th Cong., 2d sess., H. Ex. Doc. 58, pp. 9–10.

62 Dec. 7, 1877, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 68. Congressman Cox became a staunch friend of life-saving interests during the winter of 1868 when the steamer that was transporting him to England narrowly escaped shipwreck. See June 4, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4094. See also S. S. Cox, "The Life-Saving Service," North American Review 132 (May 1881): 482–490.

63 "Life-Saving Service Again," New York Daily Tribune, June 7, 1878, Scrap Book, Vol. 2, p. 190, RG 26, NA. See also [Mrs. Lamb], The American Life-Saving Service," Harper' s New Monthly Magazine 64 (Feb. 1882): 359–360.

64 U.S. Senate, Letter From Surfmen of Life-Saving Stations Nos. 1 and 2, Coast of Delaware . . . Remonstrating Against the transfer of the Life-Saving Service from the Treasury Department to that of the Navy, 45th Cong., 2d sess., 1878, S. Misc. Doc. 40. In fact, among the records of the House and Senate in the National Archives are a number of original memorials remonstrating against the transfer of the Life-Saving Service in 1878 from the Treasury Department to the Department of the Navy. Copies of several additional remonstrances can be found in the records of the U.S. Coast Guard that are also preserved in the National Archives. These sixty revealing documents contain nearly 9,000 signatures of individuals living along the shores of the Great Lakes, the coasts of New York and New Jersey, and New England. ("Correspondence: Kimball Papers," 1878–1914, RG 26, NA; Sen. 45A-J7, Records of the United States Senate, RG 46, NA; HF45A7.8 and HF45A-H6.11, Records of the United States House of Representatives, RG 233, NA.) Only three letters could be found in favor of the transfer, none accompanied by a list of petitioners. (Letters of J. Proctor Knott, Mar. 14, 1878; Ship Owners Association of the State of New York, Mar. 13, 1878; and The Maritime Association of the Port of New York, Mar. 11, 1878, all in HF45A-H6.11, RG 233, NA.)

65 I think that justice cannot be done to the cogent and dramatic speeches referred to below. They cite little-known sources frequently, are generally well-informed and wonderfully detailed—occasionally poetic. They present worthy analyses and histories of life-saving activities worldwide. And our finest literary pens in this century do not match their eloquence.

66 Mar. 11, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess, 7: 1664–1667.

67 H.R. 1920 was the Cox bill, H.R. 3442 the Sargent, or Navy, bill. Mar. 21, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7:1948. See House Committee on Commerce, The Life-Saving Service, 45th Cong., 2d sess., 1878, H. Report 426.

68 June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4050; LSS, Annual Report 1878, pp. 53–61.

69 June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4049–4055.

70 Ibid., p. 4054; Department of the Treasury, Annual Report 1876, pp. xxxiv–xxxvi.

71 June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4055.

72 June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., Appendix, 7: 243-246; June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4055–4056; June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., Appendix, 7: 252–253; June 3, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4056–4058.

73 June 3, 1878, .Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., Appendix, 7:425-426. Note, LSS, Annual Report 1877, p. 59.

74 June 4, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4085–4086.

75 lbid., pp. 4086–4094. In an earlier political battle, Cox had successfully thwarted Whitthorne's efforts to have his bill, which favored a transfer of the service to the navy, referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs. Instead it went on to the Committee on Commerce. See Feb. 25, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 1307–1308.

76 June 17, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7:4698. Speaking for the Committee on Commerce, Senator Conkling had previously reported the bill without amendment: Cong. Rec. 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4471.

77 June 17, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4698–4700.

78 June 17, 1878, Cong. Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4728, 4761.

79 20 Stat. L. 163-165; June 19, 1878, Cong., Rec., 45th Cong., 2d sess., 7: 4876.

80 W. D. O'Connor, "United States Life-Saving Service," Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1878 (1879), p. 755; [Lamb], "United States Life-Saving Service," p. 364; "Personnel Folders of Notable Treasury Employees, 1822–1940/Sumner I. Kimball," RG 56, NA. It is unusual to discover private papers, such as Kimball's original commission, among records in the National Archives. In this case, the papers appear to have been given to the Archives by Charles Schnaitmann.

81 LSS, Annual Report 1913, p. 6; LSS, Annual Report 1914, p. 6.

82 Darrell H. Smith and Fred W. Powell, The Coast Guard. Its History, Activities and Organization (1929), p. 36.

83 Ibid., pp. 34–35.

84 38 Stat. L. 800-802.

85 LSS, Annual Report 1899, p. 18; LSS, Annual Reports 1900–14, pp. 11-15; U.S. Coast Guard, Annual Report 1915, p. 3. There are no figures from fiscal year 1915, when statistics for the combined services report assistance rendered to 1,504 vessels, carrying 10,952 persons (1,507 who were determined to have been rescued from peril), valued along with cargo at $11,088,730. Beginning in 1895 the LSS published a "disclaimer" concerning its statistical tabulations that read:

It should not be understood that the entire amount represented by these figures was saved by the Service. A considerable portion was saved by salvage companies, wrecking tugs, and other instrumentalities, often working in conjunction with the surfmen. It is manifestly impossible to apportion the relative results accomplished. It is equally impossible to give even an approximate estimate of the number of lives saved by the station crews. It would be preposterous to assume that all those on board vessels suffering disaster who escape would have been lost but for the aid of the life-savers; yet the number of persons taken ashore by the life boats and other appliances by no means indicates the sum total saved by the Service. In many instances where vessels are released from stranding or other perilous predicaments by the lifesaving crews, both the vessels and those on board are saved, although the people are not actually taken ashore, and frequently the vessels and crews, escaping disaster entirely, are undoubtedly saved by the warning signals of the patrolmen, while in numerous cases, either where vessels suffer actual disaster or where they are only warned from danger, no loss of life would have ensued if no aid had been rendered.

86 See also Michael Parfit, "They Learn to Work Calmly While Instinct Warns They're About to Die," Smithsonian 18 (May 1987): 98–111.


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