Maritime History: The Founding of the United States Coast Guard Academy
Large white sail boat with three masts next to a dock. It is labeled "US Coast Guard" on the side.

USCG Barque Eagle, New London, CT - John Phelan, Wikimedia Commons

By Natalie Curtis

Though neighboring states such as Massachusetts may be better known for their historic ties to overseas trade and immigration, Connecticut has certainly made its own contributions to the maritime history of the East Coast. Specifically, the state has been home to the United States Coast Guard Academy since the early 1900s.

Over the years, the Coast Guard Academy has undergone many changes, from title to location to jurisdiction and naval power. It deals in domestic affairs as well as international exchange programs, owns and maintains ships with undeniable historic significance, and grants Bachelor of Science degrees. Additionally, it is the only branch of the United States armed services that operates under the Department of Homeland Security (rather than the Department of Defense). Since its founding, the United States Coast Guard has become one of the largest and most powerful organizations of its kind in the world, even rivaling the size of some countries’ navies—but it did not begin that way.

The Revenue Marine and Subsequent Titles

Front of a large brick building with a clock tower and columns in front of the door. There is snow on the ground.

US Coast Guard Academy – US Coast Guard Academy, Wikimedia Commons

The US Congress established the precursor to the modern Coast Guard Academy in 1790, when the first Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton suggested the formation of an oceanic branch of the military—intended to handle operations such as collecting tariffs, enforcing navigation laws, overseeing trade, and much more. Congress initially named the institution the “Revenue Cutter School of Instruction” and, rather than existing on land, it operated aboard a schooner known as the Dobbin. After some time, the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction moved to shore and established its first coastal base in Curtis Bay, Maryland in 1900. A decade later, the school moved its main base of operations to Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut. After consolidating several maritime organizations, in 1915, Congress renamed the school—the United States Coast Guard Academy. In 1932, the academy moved for the final time after New London citizens donated land further up the Thames River.

The Barque Eagle and Other US Coast Guard Vessels

Since 1946, the Coast Guard has used the barque Eagle as a training vessel for their recruits. Initially, Germany built the ship for their navy in the mid-1930s under Adolf Hitler’s direction. The German navy originally named their flagship sailing vessel Horst Wessel and used it mainly for training. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States claimed the vessel as a war reparation and brought it to Connecticut where it remains in use today.

In addition to the barque Eagle, the entire United States Coast Guard fleet comprises a wide range of ships and aircraft, each specialized for various Coast Guard duties and operations. According to the Coast Guard website, there are currently over 250 total US Coast Guard Cutters (any US Coast Guard vessel 65 feet or longer), 200 US Coast Guard Aircraft, and 1,600 US Coast Guard Boats (any US Coast Guard vessel less than 65 feet in length) in use. The Coast Guard employs these vessels for coastline buoy monitoring, standard patrols, search and rescue missions, and even ice breaking.

The Modern Coast Guard Academy

Today, the United States Coast Guard Academy is divided into a total of six departments: engineering, humanities, management, mathematics, science, and health and physical education. Each of the Coast Guard Academy’s departments offers cadets the tools and resources necessary to graduate and begin their subsequent five years of active duty as Coast Guard ensigns. As per their mission statement, the academy strives “to graduate young men and women with sound bodies, stout hearts and alert minds, with a liking for the sea and its lore, and with that high sense of honor, loyalty and obedience which goes with trained initiative and leadership; well-grounded in seamanship, the sciences and amenities, and strong in the resolve to be worthy of the traditions of commissioned officers in the United States Coast Guard in the service of their country and humanity.”

Natalie Curtis is a recent UConn graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media & Design as well as a minor in Art History, and currently works as a freelance writer.

Learn More


United States Coast Guard Academy. “Coast Guard Academy History,” n.d. Link.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Coast Guard Operational Assets.” United States Coast Guard, n.d. Link.
World War II Database. “Horst Wessel,” n.d. Link
Haciski, E.C., and N.T. Tsai. “Stability Assessment of USCG Barque Eagle.” The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 1986. Link.

Sign Up For Email Updates

Oops! We could not locate your form.