USS Bear (1874)

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USS Bear
The USS Bear
Career (United States of America) Old Glory
Name: USCGC Bear
Builder: Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd. Greenock, Scotland
Laid down: 1848
Launched: 1874
Commissioned: USRC Bear, USCGC Bear, USS Bear, Bear of Oakland (1926), Arctic Bear (1948)
Decommissioned: 1948
In service: 1884-1926, 1939-1943
Out of service: 1948-1963 (abandoned then sunk)
Fate: Sunk in the Atlantic, 19 March 1963, while being towed
General characteristics
Class and type: Barkentine 1 funnel, 3 masts
Displacement: 703 tons
Length: 198.5 ft (60.5 m)
Beam: 30 ft (9.1 m)
Draft: 18.8 ft (5.7 m)
Propulsion: Compound Steam Engine 300 ihp, 1 screw
Range: Limited by water and provisions
Complement: 51
Aircraft carried: Carried Barkley-Grow seaplane on Byrd Expedition III

The Bear was a dual steam-powered and sailing ship built with six inch (15.2 cm) thick sides which had a long life in various cold-water and ice-filled environs. She was a forerunner of modern icebreakers and had an exceptionally diverse service life. According to an official website, the Bear is described as "probably the most famous ship in the history of the [United States] Coast Guard." [1]

Built in Scotland in 1874, she was originally commissioned for sealing, In the mid-1880s, she took part in the search for the Greely Expedition. Captained by the legendary Michael Healy of the United States Revenue Cutter Service (later part of the US Coast Guard), she worked the 20,000 mile coastline of Alaska. She later assisted with relief efforts after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Her services also included the second expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd to Antarctica, and again to the southernmost continent in 1941 to evacuate Americans at the beginning of World War II. She later served in patrol duty off the coast of Greenland for the U.S. Navy. Between some of these missions, she was a museum ship in Oakland, California and starred in the 1930 film version of Jack London's The Sea-Wolf.

After World War II, the Bear was returned to use again as a sealing vessel. Finally, in 1963, 89 years after she had been built, while being towed to a stationary assignment as a floating restaurant in Philadelphia, Bear foundered and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean about 250 miles off the coast of New York. The figurehead from the Bear is on display at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Construction, early use

The Bear was built in 1874 as a sealer at Dundee, Scotland shipyards. It was heavy built with six inch (15.2 cm) thick sides

In 1884, she was sold to the US government and took part in the search for the Greely Expedition, whose seven survivors were found at Cape Sabine.

US Revenue Cutter Service

From 1885 to 1926, Bear served as a U.S. Revenue Cutter Service cutter stationed in Alaska, where she looked out for seal poachers, shipwrecked whalers, and illicit trade with Alaska Natives, ferried reindeer from Siberia to Alaska, and served as a floating courthouse. By order of the Department of the Treasury the Bear was given free run to arrest and seize possessions of poachers, smugglers and illegal traders, as well as take census of people and ships, record geological/astronomical information, take note of tides, and escort whaling ships. One captain of the Bear, Michael "Hell Roaring Mike" Healy, was considered a savior to many of the whalers and native Eskimos, as he bought Siberian reindeer at his own expense for the starving natives to use as the foundation for a new herd in Alaska. During one of its yearly trips back to San Francisco, the Bear assisted in rescue operations for the 1906 earthquake catastrophe.

The Revenue Cutter Service became part of the US Coast Guard in 1915 and the ship was renamed the USCGC Bear.

Bear of Oakland

Laid up at Oakland in 1926 and transferred to the city for use as a museum ship, Bear starred as the sealer Macedonia in the 1930 film version of Jack London's The Sea-Wolf.

The "Bear of Oakland" was used in the second Byrd Expedition alongside the USMS North Star. After the expedition, Admiral Richard E. Byrd leased the large barkentine style ship to the Navy for one dollar a year.

During the 1939-1940 Antarctic voyage, the renamed USS Bear carried a Barkley-Grow seaplane on board.[2] Lieutenant Commander Richard H. Cruzen was captain of Bear for this mission.

The USS Bear assisted in the 1941 evacuation of Antarctica, as international tensions rose in the months that led up to America's entrance into World War II. Bear arrived at the Mikkelsen Islands, just north of the Antarctic Circle, on 16 March 1941, and its crew helped to build an adequate airstrip to evacuate personnel and equipment from the United States Antarctic Service Expedition base in the area.

World War II and after

From 1941 to 1944, USS Bear served in the Northeast Atlantic "Greenland" Patrol. The rigging was cut down to two masts to became a fully motorized ship with auxiliary wind power. Bear made the first capture of a vessel by the US in World War II when it found the German ship Busko setting up a U-boat radio transceiver. When up-to-date ships were available to replace her, Bear was laid up in Boston until the end of the war.

Purchased for the sealing trade in 1948 by Frank M. Shaw of Montreal for $5199 and renamed Arctic Bear, her refit proved too costly; she was laid up in Halifax and abandoned in the mud banks.


In 1963, while in tow to Philadelphia for use as a floating restaurant, she foundered about 250 miles (400 km) east of New York at 42°40N, 65°11W. She went down early in the morning of 19 March 1963, 250 miles (400 km) east of Boston after a gale struck and severed the tow line. The mast collapsed and punctured the hull causing the fateful sinking.


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