Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeigh’s suggestion of combining the Life Saving Service with the Revenue Cutter Service was sent to Congress in 1913. MacVeigh’s successor, William McAdoo, concurred with the proposal. The bill was passed on 20 January 1915 and President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law on 28 January 1915. On that date, the Revenue Cutter Service was disestablished, the Life Saving Service was abolished, and the United States Coast Guard was established. Captain-Commandant Ellsworth Bertholf remained in his position and Sumner Kimball became his assistant in charge of the Life Saving Branch.
The law established the Coast Guard as a military service that would generally serve under the Secretary of the Treasury. During time of war, or at the discretion of the President, it would serve under the Secretary of the Navy. So the Coast Guard became “that hard nucleus around which the Navy forms in time of war”.
Not everyone was happy. Several RCS officers resented the inclusion of LSS personnel, who had been civilians, into the organization. Some congressmen were not happy extending military retirement benefits to the former civilians. Further, the union was only at the top level. Surfmen would have been out of their element on a ship and there was no need for specialist petty officers at life saving stations. There was very little transfer of personnel between the two branches of the service and very little feeling of unity either.
Duties included coastal anti-smuggling patrols, derelict demolition, anchorage patrol, regatta safety, ice patrol, Bering Sea patrol, neutrality patrols, and search and rescue (SAR). Duties continued to accrue.
In 1915, USCGC Androscoggin, fitted as a small hospital ship, took Public Health Service doctors on board and began to minister to the vessels engaged in deep-sea fisheries.
Coast Guard cutters had white hulls with buff decks. The upper parts of stacks and masts that would be affected by stack smoke were painted black.
On 6 April 1917, a mission was actually removed from the Coast Guard. The requirement for neutrality reinforcement ended when the U.S. declared war on Germany. On that day, Coast Guard units received the cryptic message, “PLAN ONE ACKNOWLEDGE”. This signaled their transfer to the U.S. Navy. The Coast Guard went to war.
For a complete list of revenue cutters that became Coast Guard cutters go to this Link.
For a complete list of cutters in service from 1915 to 1940 go to this Link.