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Evanston Life Saving Station (U.S.)



In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries large sections of the United States’ eastern seaboard were sparsely populated. The crew of any ship running aground could expect very little, if any, help. As maritime trade increased, so did the demand for assistance for those wrecked near the shore. The concept of assistance to shipwrecked mariners from shore based stations began with volunteer lifesaving services, spearheaded by the Massachusetts Humane Society. It was recognized that only small boats stood a chance in assisting those close to the beach. A sailing ship trying to help near to the shore stood a good chance of also running aground, especially if there were heavy onshore winds.

In 1878 the growing network of lifesaving stations was finally organized as a separate agency of the Treasury Department and named the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Lifeboat stations were located at or near port cities. Here, deep water, combined with piers and other waterfront structures, allowed the launching of heavy lifeboats directly into the water by marine railways on inclined ramps. In general, lifeboat stations were located on the Great Lakes, but some lifesaving stations were situated in the more isolated areas of the lakes. The active season on the Great Lakes stretched from April to December.

Superintendents of the Life-Saving Districts were responsible for the selection of the keepers, who, in turn, were responsible for selecting the crews. Both keepers and crews were examined by a board of inspectors made up of an officer of the Revenue Marine Service, a surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service (later called the U.S. Public Health Service), and an expert surfman to determine their health, character, and skill. Keepers were required to be able bodied, of good character and habits, able to read and write and be under forty-five years of age and a master at handling boats, especially in rough weather. In 1889, the Service became uniformed. The idea grew from stations on the Great Lakes which had adopted a naval uniform. Initially, this did not result in an esprit de corps but instead resulted in a shout of outrage. The surfmen were expected to pay for the uniforms out of their meager salaries.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

United States Life-Saving Service, Evanston Station, Photograph Album

Identifier: 75/0/3

Photographic portraits of many individuals, both surfmen and keepers, associated with the Evanston (Illinois) Station of the United States Life-Saving Service, are found in this volume. The portraits, mainly in standard cabinet format and dimensions, were made by a number of photographers, several (Aikin, Root, Charles Smith, and Fowler) with studios in Evanston. Dated photographs cover the years from 1888 to 1893. Most photographs, however, are undated.

Dates: 1888-1893