President George Washington signed the Tariff Act of 1789. The bill was a way to get money for the U.S. Treasury, as there was no income tax or other taxes.
Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton sought the means to collect the tariffs; and in August 1790, Congress passed his proposal as the Act Providing for More Effective Collection of Duties. This included provisions to build 10 ships, called cutters, to enforce the tariffs and trade laws and to fight smugglers.
The result was a fleet known as the Cutter Service, also known as the Revenue Marine. Until 1798, when the U.S. Navy was created, this was the U.S. government’s only marine presence. Aug. 7, 1790, is considered the birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Massachusetts was the first cutter commissioned in 1791. The program’s success influenced Congress to add 10 more cutters in 1794. Under this law, responsibility for lighthouses, beacons, buoys and piers were placed under Cutter Service control.
During the Quasi-War in 1798, Congress authorized the U.S. Navy and incorporation of the Cutter Service to their command in times of war. In times of peace, the Cutter Service was under the Treasury Department until 1967, when it transferred to the new Department of Transportation. In 2003, the Coast Guard was assigned to the new Department of Homeland Security.
In 1871, Congress authorized a life-saving service under the Treasury Department.
In 1838, Congress attempted to create the Steamboat Inspection Service in response to the dangers of exploding steam engines by regulating the industry. The Steamboat Act in 1852 formally established the service and transferred it out of the U.S. District Court appointed engineers to the Treasury Department.
In 1903, the inspections were under the new Commerce Department. Under the Commerce Department, the inspection duty was combined with the Bureau of Navigation (created by Congress in 1884) to form the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection. Renamed the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation in 1936, the duties were temporally transferred to the Coast Guard in February 1942. In 1946, the office was disbanded, and the duties permanently transferred to the Coast Guard.
In 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The disaster, in part due to lack of lifeboats, sparked an international movement for reforms in marine safety. Implementing provisions from the International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea, Congress passed the Seamen’s Act in 1915. The Seamen’s Act combined the Life-Saving Service and Revenue Cutter Service to form the now named U.S. Coast Guard.
State Coast Guard operationsWest Virginia does not have an Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine base in the state. However, far away from the coast, the Coast Guard maintains three bases in West Virginia.
The Marine Safety Unit Huntington in Barboursville is responsible for 857 miles of navigable waterways throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Their operations include port security, marine safety, and search and rescue. As needed, they respond to environmental and disaster assistance operations.
The National Maritime Center was established in Arlington, Virginia, in 1997 to manage the Coast Guard’s Merchant Mariner licensing program. In 2008, the National Maritime Center moved to Martinsburg, combining the Mariner License Document and the Merchant Marine Credentialing programs.
The National Vessel Documentation Center in Falling Waters issues Certificates of Documentation required for vessels engaged in commercial trade.