Coast Guard’s iconic emblem got its origin under Kennedy administration

After one-half century of use, the color and design scheme used to identify U.S. Coast Guard vessels is now considered an iconic emblem for the service.

This branding is instantly recognized by both commercial mariners as well as owners of pleasure boats, not to mention drug smugglers and other nefarious types wishing to use the nation’s high seas and Great Lakes to transport their illegal bootie.

Envisioned by then-president John F. Kennedy, the now-familiar half chevron of blue and red stripes alongside a Coast Guard vessel’s usual white hull (they are painted Navy gray during wartime) evolved following a rescue in October 1956 of a crashed trans-oceanic passenger aircraft.

After being picked up by a Coast Guard vessel, one of the survivors was heard to mistakenly exclaim “Thank goodness for the Navy!”

And I well recall a high school teacher who served aboard a Coast Guard vessel during World War II in the Pacific experiencing a bitterly similar incident. In that case, my teacher explained that his vessel had successfully participated in a battle with the Japanese, but a newspaper credited his ship as being with the Navy, not the Coast Guard.

Leave it to a Navy man to find a solution.

Aware of the confusion, it is said by the Coast Guard that President Kennedy looked to French-born industrial designer Raymond Loewy-Snaith for help. It is this same Loewy-Snaith who also cooked up the design pattern for Air Force One earlier in the Kennedy Administration in an effort to showcase the United States, the Coast Guard reports.

By 1965, says the Coast Guard, Loewy-Snaith representatives presented their findings to the  service.

During the development process, Loewy-Snaith selected a wide red bar to the upper right of a narrow blue bar canted at 64 degrees and running from right to lower left. The Loewy-Snaith team used its own stylized version of the traditional Coast Guard emblem for placement on the center of the red bar.

The overall design came to be known as the “Racing Stripe” or “Slash” emblem with the officialdom moniker being called the “Visual Identification System.”

On May 4, 1966, the service’s ad hoc committee for testing the Visual Identification System sent to the commandant a favorable report regarding service-wide use of the Racing Stripe.

Obviously, when dealing with a military service-type mindset, not every Coastie liked the new logo. However, on April 6, 1967, the Coast Guard’s Commandant, Edwin Roland, issued a general order in which the four years worth of study and experimentation ended with implementation of the service-wide (love this term) “Integrated Visual Identification System.”

In fact, it was so recognizable as an emblem of sea-faring assistance, patrol duty and the like, that various other governments around the world employ a similar vessel branding protocol. Among them is the People’s Republic of China’s Coast Guard as well as that of Japan and Great Britain.

“Thanks to a visionary president, talented industrial designers and Coast Guard leaders who saw the importance of a service brand identity, the assets of the Coast Guard are now easily identified by millions of individuals worldwide who share a connection to the sea,” Coast Guard historian William H. Thiesen said.

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