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Saturday, March 23, 2019

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Sumner Increase Kimball

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on September 19, 2014

General Superintendent of the Life-Saving Service

Sumner Increase Kimball (1834-1923) was a Maine man, born and bred.  Born in Lebanon, Maine, he was raised in nearby Sanford, graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, admitted to the Maine Bar, and elected to the Maine Legislature.  In 1862, though, he moved to Washington, DC and took a job in the Treasury Department.  After serving in various positions, he was appointed in 1871 as Chief of the Revenue Cutter Service.  He quickly set about reorganizing the service, introducing promotion based on merit, curtailing use of cutters as personal yachts of the local Customs Collectors, and founding the School of Instruction for training of prospective junior officers.  Soon thereafter, he was also placed in charge of the disorganized volunteer life-saving stations that had been established along the Atlantic coast.  Kimball convinced Congress to convert these into paid professionals and to increase the number of stations.  In 1878, when the Life-Saving Service was formally separated from the Revenue Cutter Service, Kimball was offered the job of serving as the head of that new agency.  He thus became the first and only General Superintendent in the thirty-seven year life of that service.  He promulgated regulations establishing performance standards, facility and equipment maintenance, and regular life-saving drills.  He expanded the stations to encompass the Great Lakes, the Pacific coast, Alaska, and eventually Hawaii.  Realizing the power of the pen, he hired a professional author to write the annual Reports to Congress, filling them with details of stirring rescues and tragic deaths.  He also convinced newspapers and magazines to regularly include articles concerning the Life-Saving Service.  Kimball ensured that the stations were equipped with the best equipment available.  In 1915, when the Life-Saving Service was combined with the Revenue Cutter Service to create the modern United States Coast Guard, Kimball could see both of his “children” combined to work together.  He had significantly enhanced both during his tenures.  Kimball retired at that time, died in 1923, and is buried in his home state of Maine.