Commodore Ellsworth Price Bertholf

[Bertholf Family Chart -- Click Here]

Ellsworth Price Bertholf, USRCS, USCG, was the first Commandant of the United States Coast Guard.

Bertholf was born on April 9th, 1866, in New York City, the son of John Jay Bertholf and Annie Francis PRICE. He joined the Revenue Cutter Service in 1885, and in the winter of 1897-1898, as a Second Lieutenant on the hazardous Bering Sea Patrol, Bertholf volunteered for an arctic rescue mission aboard the USRC Bear.

When the ice off the coast of Alaska became impassable, he joined First Lieutenant David H. Jarvis, and Dr. Samuel J. Call, on an overland expedition from Tanunak, Alaska, on the Bering Sea, to Point Barrow, the northernmost point in Alaska (a trip of over 1,600 miles along a route never before attempted, even under the best of conditions). Upon their successful arrival, in March of 1898, they rescued over 200 American whalers in danger of starvation, whose fleet of eight whaling vessels had become trapped and damaged in the Arctic ice.

This was so remarkable an achievement that Congress awarded him a special Gold Medal of Honor for his actions as part of the Point Barrow-Overland Relief Expedition.

In the winter of 1901, the Department of the Interior asked him to travel to Siberia to purchase larger and hardier reindeer for the natives of northern Alaska. Traveling alone from Petrograd to Irkutsk, and from there across northern Siberia by sledge, he found and purchased an appropriate herd, and brought them by ship to Alaska.

Upon being promoted to captain in 1907, he returned to the USRC Bear as its commander during its Arctic duties from 1908 to 1910.


Full many a sailor points with pride
To cruises o’er the ocean wide;
But they cannot compare with me,
For I have sailed the Bering Sea.
While though you’ve weathered fiercest gale
And every ocean, you have sailed;
You cannot a salty sailor be
Until you've sailed the Bering Sea.

In 1911, President Taft appointed him commandant of the US Revenue Cutter Service in recognition of his record of outstanding service. And when, on Jan. 28, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed a law consolidating the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life Saving Service, he accepted Bertholf's suggestion that:
"'Coast Guard' was the logical name for both the old Revenue Cutter Service as well as the new combination...", and, as the new commandant, he was invaluable in implementing the successful merger of the two services.

He retired in 1919, and became first vice-president of the American Bureau of Shipping in New York City. He was a member of the Order of the Midnight Sun, the Lotos Club, and the Explorers Club of New York, the Press Club of Washington, and the Army and Navy Club of San Francisco.

He died in New York City on November 11, 1921.

Learn More About
The Bear

Letter from the Secretary of Treasury on Bertholf's Career.

Letter Awarding Lt. Bertholf the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

New York Times Article on Lt. Bertholf's Siberian Reindeer Expedition.

MILITARY.COM Article on Bertholf's Career.

Bering Sea Patrol Veteran Association Website.

E. P. Bertholf's Article on the Point Barrow Expedition, Harpers Magazine, 1899.

Arlington National Cemetery writeup

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