The U.S. Coast Guard Museum, Seattle, Washington

Alki Point Light - US Coast Guard Museum - SeattleThe original Alki Point Aid to Navigation Lantern from 1877,  on display at the U.S. Coast Guard Museum, located on the Coast Guard Base at Pier 36, just south of downtown Seattle near Safeco Field.

The Lantern was lit and hung from a Post to help keep vessels safe. The Lantern’s fuel tank holds enough fuel to burn for 8 days, this meant that it only needed to be serviced once a week. The Lantern was used from 1877 until 1913 when the present Alki Point Lighthouse was put into service. This was one of 33 similar lanterns in Puget Sound. The Post Lantern was purchased in 1877 for $ 12.37.  The lantern is about 27 inches tall overall (including hanger) and 15 inches in diameter.

Sometime after the Lantern was taken out of service it disappeared, it was recovered some years later and is now in the U.S. Coast Guard Museum in Seattle.

Revenue Cutter Bear - US Coast Guard Museum - SeattleModel of the Revenue Cutter Bear. The model was built about 1975. The Bear entered service in 1885 for the Revenue Cutter Service which was one of the forerunners of the modern US Coast Guard. The Bear patrolled the Alaska and Arctic waters from 1886 through 1927. Much of the time the Bear was the law along the coast of Alaska. The Bear participated in many legendary rescues, including the Overland Relief Expedition, a daring rescue in the fall of 1897 – 98 when three members of the Bear’s crew, assisted by Native Alaskan’s, traveled overland 1,500 miles while purchasing and herding 448 reindeer to save 273 whalers on eight ships that had became trapped in the ice near Point Barrow and were facing starvation.

The legendary Captain “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy (CG Bio & reference linksSecond Bio) assumed command of the Cutter Bear in 1886. Healy was born in the South in 1839, the son of an African American Slave mother and Irish father. Captain Mike Healy was the first African American to command a US government ship. His racial heritage was not openly known at the time. The story of how his father facilitated the escape of Mike and his siblings to the North as well as having them inherit his estate when slaves could not inherit, is worthy of a John Grisham or James Bond novel, this was at a time when one drop of slave blood labeled a person a slave. Mike ran away to sea when he was 15 and worked his way up “the hawse pipe” to command a Revenue Service Cutter.

The US Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy is named in honor of Captain Mike Healy.

Surfman Check - US Coast Guard Museum - SeattleThe U.S. Lifesaving Service (1878 – 1915) established a series of Lifesaving Stations along the coast. The stations served to both save lives of the crew of vessels that were shipwrecked as well as to warn ships off dangerous shores. The people that patrolled the beaches had the title “Surfman.” Midway between the stations was a hut of some sort where a Surfman could get out of the weather and exchange a Surfman Check with a Surfman from the next Lifesaving Station. The exchange of the Checks was proof that each Surfman had patrolled their assigned area. The Surfman returned to their respective stations with the exchanged Checks from the other station to prove they had met up with the patrol from the other Lifesaving Station. At the end of the shift the Checks were returned to the original station and the process of exchanging the Surfman Checks started over.

The Seattle Coast Guard Museum

The U.S. Coast Guard Museum in Seattle opened on August 4, 1976, Coast Guard Day. The museum has over 15,000 photographs dating back to the mid 1800’s. There are several large scale finely crafted models of Revenue Cutter Service, Coast Guard Cutters and Icebreakers. The museum has over 3,000 books and periodicals covering the Coast Guard and Northwest History and over 2,500 historical documents including vessel plans and clippings. The museum has been credited as a source in 31 books.

The Seattle Coast Guard Museum also provides help to the general public and Coast Guard personnel on a wide range of subjects, from how many cooks on the maiden voyage of the USS Constitution? (two), research on Coast Guard Lore and customs, drawings and photographs of people, vessels, Coast Guard stations, and information on past Coast Guard members.

The Director, Captain Gene Davis, USCG Retired, joined the Museum in 1978 after a 30 year career in the Coast Guard. He is assisted by Darrell Vanness Jr. of the USCG Auxiliary, Larry Dubia and Dan Tish.

The Museum is located on the Coast Guard Base at Pier 36, just south of downtown Seattle near Safeco Field. Base access is restricted but the public can visit the Museum, if you don’t have base access you will need to contact the Museum and make arrangements for an escort from the gate to the Museum and you will need to be escorted at all times, groups and school classes are welcome. See below for days & hours of operation and contact information.  If you are in the area, show up at the Main Gate Base Entrance during the hours of operation (a bit south of the museum) and ask the one of the guards to call the museum for an escort to come meet you at the gate (as of this writing they are open 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, please allow time for the tour if it is getting late in the day as while the museum is small the people in it are very knowledgeable and love to share their knowledge)

Coast Guard Museum Northwest – contact information and hours of operation.

Coast Guard Museum Northwest Homepage

Donating items to the Museum

The Coast Guard Museum is always on the lookout for items from the past to add to their collection, everyday items are always of interest, personal pictures, letters, diaries, post cards, ration cards, pay records, boat specific clothing items, jersey’s and related, these items are often found in a box that has been long forgotten after a loved one as passed away, what better way to honor the memory of a loved one than to pass their memories on to be preserved for others.  Almost every week a box of memories just shows up at the museum to live on for future generations.

Send to:

Coast Guard Museum
(attn:  Capt. Davis)
1519 Alaskan Way South
Seattle WA 98134-1102

U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard has been through many changes since it’s beginning on August 4, 1790 when President George Washington signed the Tariff Act that authorized the construction of 10 Cutters to patrol the coast to prevent smuggling and enforce Federal trade and tariff laws. The Revenue Cutters evolved and grew as the United States grew and the needs of a growing nation changed. The Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. Government, tracing it’s roots back to 1790. Over the years the Coast Guard’s mission has expanded to include the security of our ports, anti-terrorism, Aids to Navigation including Lighthouses, Environmental Protection, Search and Rescue, Merchant Marine Licensing, vessel inspection and safety, Boating Safety Education and “other duties as assigned by the President, Congress and the Commandant”.

After Hurricane Katrina the Coast Guard rescued over 33,500 people from rooftops and other flooded areas, many of the Coast Guard personnel performed the rescue operations with no place to go home to as their homes had been destroyed by Katrina. The Coast Guard has served in every one of our nations conflicts, including delivering troops to the beach on D-Day and returning injured troops on Medical Ships to the U.S.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary was established as a volunteer civilian service within the Coast Guard in 1939 originally to help provide coastal security. Today the Auxiliary works with the Coast Guard in many non Law Enforcement missions from Search and Rescue, Port Security, inspecting Private Aids to Navigation to Boating Safety with it’s Public Education Program.

Office of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian

I want to extend a special thanks to Gene and the Museum  staff for their patience and help with this article and for letting me take pictures in the Museum for this article.

– c/m –

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5 Responses to The U.S. Coast Guard Museum, Seattle, Washington

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting. I have lived here for five years and did NOT know there was a USCG Museum here. I will visit soon. CAH

  2. timethief says:

    One day my hubby and I will visit the Museum. It’s bound to be a fascinating visit.
    P.S. I love the collage.

    • captnmike says:

      The people at the museum love what they do and like history – I have seen them give tours and answer questions several times when I was working on the article and their knowledge and love of history and the museum really shows

      Glad you liked the collage – The collage is part of the new stuff in the stock make a Gallery thing – it was the only way I could show several pictures without having a big ugly box in the Post and having the big black box load all the pictures at once. I tried every display setting at least twice – wanted to not show the captions in the initial view and loading of the Post

  3. Green City says:

    Cool to read about this

  4. Pingback: A Luncheon Cruise & Tour on the Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy | Boating Safety Tips, Tricks & Thoughts from Captnmike

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