Boston Yacht Club in 1912
|History of the United States Power Squadrons®
The USPS has been shaped by its history. Therefore, to understand our present more fully,
we must first look back into our past.
|The Beginning of the Power Squadron...
Seldom does the complete story of an organization's founding survive the passage of time.
So we grope today for much of the story of our beginnings. This much is certain: in the list
of founding fathers the name of Roger Upton of Boston and Marblehead, Massachusetts stands pre-eminent.
The power squadron spirit was the reflection of his enthusiasm and early growth was the fruition of his labors.
Recreational yachting in the early 1900's was largely confined to sailing craft and
large steam yachts manned by professional crews. Gasoline-driven craft were
coming into their own by 1909 but there was little enthusiasm on the part of out-and-out sailors.
Yacht clubs taught and promoted the sport of sailing, and as motor yachts joined the fleet
there were few activities for them.
Roger Upton was a sailing member of the Boston Yacht Club in 1909 but,
unlike so many other sailors, the newfangled powerboats captivated him.
In the summer of 1911 he approached his colleagues at the Boston Yacht Club for a club-within-a-club,
a select group of "gasoliners" who would develop forms of cruising and racing for powerboats.
To quote, "To my mind the organization can be of use to yachtsmen for three major reasons:
first, improvement in navigating ability of power-boat owners; second, promotion
of acquaintance and social intercourse by the power-boat owners; third, the fitting
of power-boat owners to be of possible use to the Navy in time of war so that they might
be received as volunteers should they so desire."
However, there was a need for education at the time. The laws of the United States
governing navigation applied only to steam vessels, and they were governed by a board
of steamboat inspectors who were old, crusty, sea-going men. Their fondest hope was
to have the gas-powered boats supervised by the same stringent rules which governed ocean liners and
steam-powered vessels. Upton and other USPS founders set out to protect power yachts from these steamboat inspectors.
During the summer of 1912, twenty Power Boat Division vessels were invited to go with forty
windjammers on the annual Boston Yacht Club cruise to Portland, Maine. During the cruise a screeching nor'wester blew up.
Many of the sailing yachts were dismasted or otherwise disabled. The power yachts under Upton's
command went to their rescue, towing disabled craft to port. No losses were reported. To quote the
September 1912 issue of Motor Boating Magazine, "The fellows of the Powerboat Division provided
meritorious service and emerged from the ordeal crowned with glory."
At the annual meeting of the Boston Yacht Club in January 1913, the name was changed to "Power Squadron"
and the club-within-a- club was officially recognized.
Assisted by a three-page story in Yachting Magazine,
news of the Boston outfit's activities spread and other clubs began to plan along the same lines.
Yacht clubs around the metropolitan New York area and elsewhere started talking squadron ideas and selecting men for membership.
The motorboat was gaining in popularity, and for the next two years squadrons grew both in number and in size.
USPS was incorporated on February 19, 1915 and had 477 members in twenty squadrons by January 1917.
|The Outbreak of World War I...
As World War I threatened to engage our nation, all Americans became very active in the preparedness movement.
The United States declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917; and with the coming of hostilities, the
USPS officers sent a letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy,
volunteering the entire USPS instructional program for the training of men for naval coastal defense.
Secretary Roosevelt accepted the proposal with gratitude.
In New York City, four free nautical schools were established. Similar schools were organized by
local squadrons in Boston; Detroit; Newburgh, New York; New Haven and Washington, D.C. Over 5,000
men who attended these classes entered the armed services and, based in significant part on the quality
of their USPS training, many were appointed officers.
However, by 1919 the USPS had developed problems. With the coming of peace, interest
waned in all things military, and squadron activities and membership declined dramatically. That year,
the USPS had no money in the treasury and was $450 in debt. The Governing Board was encouraged to
chip in, pay the bill, and disband the organization. Vice commander Adolphus B. Bennett opposed
dissolution and proposed four changes in the bylaws, which he predicted would revitalize the organization:
(1) That a member of USPS should a member of a local squadron; (2) that all boat drills and maneuvers be eliminated;
(3) that invitation to membership should no longer be restricted to yacht club members but be based on a man's
proficiency in boating and compatibility with other USPS members; and (4) that USPS should
encourage all its members to take advantage of the educational opportunities developed within the organization.
A thousand letters were written to those on the mailing list, telling them of the new
bylaws and asking them to pay $1 dues. One hundred forty-two signed on, and USPS began
a new lease on life. By 1924 there were 388 members, over $1,000 in the treasury, and no debt.
USPS grew slowly during those formative years and by April 1931 the organization reported
a total membership of only 840 in twelve squadrons. If the quantity of members was disappointing
in the early thirties, the quality of instruction taught by members was not.
With the introduction of Advanced Piloting in 1932, our Advanced Grades program was established.
By the end of 1938, USPS had upwards of 5,000 members, and on January 14th 1939, the organization
celebrated its 25th anniversary. In honor of the occasion, President Roosevelt sent a letter of
congratulations and later that same year, the President accepted honorary membership in USPS.
|World War II and its aftermath...
On December 8, 1941, less than 24 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, USPS officers sent a
telegram to President Roosevelt and the Secretary of the Navy offering USPS support for America's
war effort. For the second time in 24 years, President Roosevelt accepted this support with appreciation.
Once again, USPS night courses mushroomed, and our instructors taught navigation and allied subjects
in squadron classes. Thousands of members served with the Red Cross, Merchant Marine and
other war-related services, contributing significant assistance to our nation.
With the encouragement of USPS, more than 25 squadrons actively assisted the Coast Guard Auxiliary
during this period. Friendly cooperation between the two organizations has been traditional ever since.
Our organization grew significantly during the forties and fifties, and in May 1959,
the national secretary reported 45,000 members in 268 Squadrons. Recreational boating was booming as
USPS entered the sixties. A Marine Electronics course was published in 1961 and by 1966 our
organization had recorded a membership of over 60,000 in 348 Squadrons.
|The Seventies and Eighties...
By 1974, our 60th anniversary, USPS had succeeded beyond our founders' fondest dreams.
Membership exceeded 70,000 in 425 squadrons and a new headquarters building had been constructed in
Montvale, New Jersey. In September 1975, the USPS Governing Board move the USPS national headquarters to
Raleigh, North Carolina and construction was begun on a modern office and warehouse facility.
During the early 80's,
membership dipped to the low 50,000's, in 454 squadrons and 33 districts.
In 1982, a special meeting of delegates approved changes in the constitution and bylaws
eliminating a male-only membership rule, thereby permitting women to become active members.
Although many women had long held a "woman's certificate", entitling them to enroll in all USPS courses,
it was apparent that boating had become a family-oriented endeavor. The first female active
and family members were accepted in November 1982.
Squadrons engage in two of the best-known forms of public service by their teaching of the Boating Course
to the general public and the updating of nautical charts and geodetic marks. The former program
is of value to thousands of boaters every year, and NOAA estimated that squadrons in the cooperative
charting program saved the taxpayers as much as fifteen million dollars in 1990 alone.
|The Nineties to the present...
As the squadrons entered the 1990's, their long-standing relationship with Coast Guard Auxiliary
flotillas was further strengthened by acceptance of each other's educational courses as meeting educational
requirements for membership.
Started as a club-within-a-club in the early 1900's, USPS today is a private, self-supporting, non-profit,
fraternal boating organization with an incomparable record of achievement.
No other enterprise can boast of more dedicated or more productive members— people who have given
generously of their time and resources to educate each other in all aspects of boating,
and to promoting the cause of safe boating through public courses and other civic services. A roster of seven
squadrons in 1914 has now grown to well over 450 units operating in the continental
United States, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Japan. A parallel organization, Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons,
with which we maintain close cooperation, flourishes in Canada.
Recreational boating has traveled a long course since 1912, and USPS has come an equally long way.
The ideas and accomplishments of our predecessors have prepared us well for the challenges and
opportunities which lie ahead.
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