Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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KIMBALL, Sumner Increase, general superintendent of the United States life-saving service, born in Lebanon, York County, Maine, 2 September, 1834. He was graduated at Bowdoin in 18551 studied law with his father, was admitted to the bar in 1858, and began practice at North Berwick, Maine In 1859 he sat in the legislature, and, though the youngest member, took an active part in the proceedings, serving on the committee on the judiciary. In January, 1861, he became a clerk in the treasury department in Washington. He rose to be chief clerk in the second auditor's office, and in 1871 was placed in charge of the revenue marine service, which he reorganized and reformed, greatly reducing the expenses of maintenance, while increasing its efficiency more than fivefold. While retaining this post he acted during the secretaryship of Lot M. Morrill in 1876-'7 as chief clerk of the treasury department, after twice declining a regular appointment to that office. When Kimball was made chief of the revenue marine division, there were several buildings on the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island in which were stored surf-boats and simple appliances for the use of fishermen and wreckers in the rescue of shipwrecked persons. The keepers of these stations were scarcely more than mere custodians of the government property, and had generally been appointed on political grounds. During the winter of 1870-'1 there had occurred several fatal disasters on these coasts, and when Mr. Kimball assumed office he made a tour of inspection, and found that the stations were in dilapidated condition, the keepers negligent and incapable, and the whole service inefficient. Congress appropriated $200,000 for fitting out and manning the stations, and the service was reorganized by Mr. Kimball so thoroughly that during the following winter every person who was imperilled by shipwreck on those coasts was rescued. The number of stations was increased, life-saving crews and modern appliances were provided for all of them, the incapable keepers were supplanted by expert surfmen without regard to politics, and the patrol system for constantly watching the entire coast was introduced. The success of the life-saving service during the first year caused it to be extended in 1872 to Cape Cod, and afterward to other parts of the Atlantic coast. In 1878 the life-saving service was organized as a separate bureau, with Mr. Kimball at its head, and stations were established on the Pacific coast and on the Great Lakes.
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