Sumner Increase Kimball, Sc.D. (1834 – 1923) grew up in Sanford, Maine. When he was 16 years old he left his hometown to attend Bowdoin College. He graduated in 1855, was admitted to the bar as a lawyer in 1858 and was elected to the Maine legislature the next year. He and his wife, Ellen Frothingham Fenno Kimball, had one son Edward Fenno Kimball.
He became a clerk in the United States Treasury Department in 1862, and was placed in charge of the Revenue Marine Bureau in 1871. When the U.S. Life-Saving Bureau was organized in 1878 he was appointed its head. Under his direction, the U.S. Life-Saving Service was extended to the Pacific Coast and the Great Lakes.
He served as General Superintendent of the USLSS for 37 years. The USLSS would later merge with other federal services to become what we know today as the U.S. Coast Guard.
Dr. Dennis Noble, a historian of the USLSS, wrote:
“Kimball was unquestionably the driving force behind the United States’ possessing a first-class lifesaving organization. Much of the present-day Coast Guard’s highly regarded reputation as a humanitarian organization is the result of his organizational skills and management abilities.”
REVENUE CUTTER SERVICE
In 1871 Secretary of the Treasury George S. Boutwell invited Kimball to become chief of the Revenue Cutter Service. At the time the Revenue Service was operating extremely inefficiently. The “Sketch of the life of Hon. S. I. Kimball” states that within a span of seven years, Kimball “raised the Revenue Cutter Service from a condition of disreputable inefficiency to one of very high repute.” As a cost-savings measure, Kimball cut the total number of enlisted men and reduced their pay. He cleaned house of incompetent Revenue Marine officers and saw to it that discipline was tightened. Kimball also put a stop to cutters being used as personal yachts by customs officials.
U.S. LIFE-SAVING SERVICE
In 1878, Kimball organized a growing network of life-saving stations into the U.S. Life-Saving Service and was chosen as its first General Superintendent. He convinced Congress to provide paid crews, construct new stations and equip them with the finest lifesaving tools. He extended the reach of the USLSS to the Great Lakes and Pacific Coast.
Kimball wrote a moving eulogy for another Legend-class NSC namesake, Joshua James, and authored “Organization and Methods of the United States Life-Saving Service” in 1889 and “Joshua James-Life Saver” in 1909. He also started a school of instruction that led to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Kimball (WMSL 756) is the third ship named in honor of Sumner I. Kimball. The first, Kimball (WSC/WMEC-143), was commissioned in 1927 and was homeported in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where it served as an active patrol boat until 1938. The ship was recommissioned for the U.S. Maritime Service for use in New York, Ohio and Alaska before being decommissioned in 1968.
The second ship to bear the name was SS Sumner I. Kimball (EC2-S-C1), a liberty ship built in 1943. Mass-produced on a record scale during World War II to carry cargo and munitions to Europe, the Liberty ship symbolizes U.S. wartime industrial output. Eighteen American shipyards built 2,710 Liberty ships between 1941 and 1945 – the largest number of ships produced to a single design. On return from its first trans-Atlantic voyage in 1944, EC2-S-C1 was torpedoed and sank by Nazi submarine U-960 with the loss of 64 American lives.