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First Name: Ellsworth

Last Name: Bertholf

Birthplace: New York City, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Coast Guard (1790 - present)


Middle Name: Price

Date of Birth: 07 April 1866

Date of Death: 11 November 1921

Rank or Rate: Commodore

Years Served: 1887-1919
Ellsworth Price Bertholf

Graduate, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Class of 1887

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)


Ellsworth Price Bertholf
Commodore, U.S. Coast Guard
Commandant (1911-1919)

Ellsworth Price Bertholf was born on 7 April 1866 in New York City to John J. Bertholf, an accountant, and Annie Frances Price Bertholf. When he was four, his family moved to Hackensack, NJ, where he received his primary and secondary education.

When he was sixteen, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy but was court-martialed and dismissed for allegedly participating in a hazing incident at the beginning of his second year. A year after his expulsion from the Naval Academy, he was appointed as a cadet at the Revenue Cutter Service School of Instruction at New Bedford, MA. He graduated from the School of Instruction on 18 October 1887 and was assigned to the USRCĀ Levi Woodbury. He was commissioned as a Third Lieutenant while serving on the Woodbury on 12 June 1889. In 1895 he became the first Revenue Cutter Service officer to graduate from the Naval War College in Newport, RI.

World War I and the U.S. Navy

With the U.S. entry into World War I in April 1917, the operational control of the new Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of the Navy. Bertholf's responsibilities were to advise the Chief of Naval Operations about Coast Guard matters and he had administrative control of Department of the Treasury functions within the Coast Guard.

An immediate problem he faced was the one-year enlistment period that enlisted personnel served under. Many of the sailors were foreign-born and either deserted or were discharged at the end of their enlistment when the war broke out. Others chose to enlist in another armed service where the chances of promotion were better. In 1918 the enlistments were changed to the duration of the war but no longer than three years. The pay and rank differences between Navy and Coast Guard personnel were also a continuing problem for Bertholf during this time and were not completely solved during his tenure as Captain-Commandant. Projects that he had a direct supervision over during the war included setting up land communications between shore installations on the Eastern seaboard; enforcement of the Espionage Act of 1917; port security and establishment of a Coast Guard aviation branch. On 1 July 1918 he was promoted to Commodore, USCG, making him the first Coast Guard officer to achieve flag rank.

After the war concluded, the Navy found itself losing thousands of experienced officers and men to civilian life and it did not have enough officers to fill its authorized billets. The Navy proposed to absorb the Coast Guard and its assets to solve this problem. It was noted by the Navy's Bureau of Operations that there was no source to replace officers except the Naval Academy and the Coast Guard. Since the officers of the two services had worked well together during the war, the Navy saw the opportunity to solve their manpower problems by absorbing the Coast Guard and its personnel leaving to the Treasury Department only the vessels necessary for customs duties and enforcement of navigation laws.

Many Coast Guard officers supported the Navy's move to integrate the two services because they faced demotion from temporary ranks awarded by the Navy during the war as the Coast Guard returned to a normal operating tempo. On 14 December 1918, Representative Guy E. Campbell of Pennsylvania introduced a bill to permanently transfer the Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department. During hearings before the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee in January 1919 two Coast Guard and two Navy officers testified in favor of the bill. Other testified about efficiencies gained by the transfer. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was in favor of the transfer because he realized that it was the best opportunity for the Navy to absorb the Coast Guard while it was still operating as a part of the Navy and he testified for the passage of the bill.

During a second round of hearings before the committee held in February 1919, Bertholf finally got a chance to testify.

His opening remarks during Congressional Hearing, 6 February 1919:

"Again the country is in a state of war and again the Coast Guard is serving under the Navy, but this time it seems the Navy does not want to turn us loose, does not want us to return to the Treasury Department and resume our normal functions and to that end this bill proposes that the Navy absorb the Coast Guard. The officers and men are to be distributed among the several grades and ratings in the Navy; the seagoing ships are to be turned over to the Navy, and the Coast Guard, thus having been swallowed, will cease to exist."

Bertholf's testimony before the committee then systematically rebutted every argument of those in favor of the bill and helped persuade some members to hold the bill in committee. With the bill stalled in committee, Bertholf retired from the Coast Guard on 30 June 1919.

The question of whether the Navy would absorb the Coast Guard was settled when President Wilson issued Executive Order 3160 on 28 August 1919, thereby transferring the Coast Guard back to the Treasury Department.


Following his retirement from the Coast Guard in June 1919, Bertholf moved to New York City and took a position as a vice president at the American Bureau of Shipping, becoming an influential figure at the institution.

Since he had more leisure time after retirement, he developed an interest in genealogy and he researched and compiled a family history.


Bertholf's contributions to the Coast Guard include preventing the dissolution of the service in 1911; his guidance in the merger of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Lighthouse Service into the U. S. Coast Guard in 1915; and in 1919, he was instrumental in successfully preventing a takeover by the U.S. Navy.


The Coast Guard named the first cutter of the Legend-class cutters the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750) in honor of their former Commandant. The cutter is the first ship to be constructed as part of the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and was launched in 2006. The Bertholf was commissioned on Coast Guard Day, 4 August 2008, and is currently homeported in Alameda, CA.

Death and Burial

Commodore Ellsworth Price Bertholf died of a heart attack at his residence at the Bretton Hall Hotel in New York City on 11 November 1921. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 874   Created by: MHOH




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