Fun Facts





Here I have provided some interesting lighthouse facts that do not
necessarily pertain just to the Great Lakes Lighthouses of Michigan.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is a lighthouse, the famous Pharos of Alexandria, built about 280BC.  Those records tell us that it was the tallest light ever built -- 450 ft. (comparable to a 45-story skyscraper) and used an open fire at the top.  This fantastic structure survived for 1500 years until it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1302.  It took twenty long years to complete this structure which was completed using slave labor.  It was a three-part tower with a square base, a second story with eight sides and a narrow, taller, round third story.  At night they believe its lighted fire could be seen for thirty miles, whereas by day it produced a column of smoke for a daymark.

The oldest existing lighthouse in the world is considered to be La Coruna in Spain that dates from ca. 20BC.  Next, would be  a Roman lighthouse built on the Cliffs of Dover in Britain that was constructed in 40AD.

The first lighthouse in America was at Boston on Little Brewster Island (1716).  The original tower was destroyed by the British and eventually reconstructed in 1784.  Today, all of the lighthouses in the U.S. have been automated except this one.

The oldest existing (not ever rebuilt) lighthouse tower in America which is still in operation is Sandy Hook, NJ (1764).

In 1821 the French Physicist, Augustine Fresnel, developed a new lens that would capture and focus up to 85% of the light emitted from the illuminant.  He developed seven different sizes (that he called orders) and the sizes of the lenses & their effective range decrease as the order number increases.

There were 12 lighthouses when the United States declared its independence in 1776.

The Lighthouse Service was created August 7, 1789 by the *9th Act of the first Congress and operated under the Department of Revenue (until it was disbanded in 1820) and then under the Department of Treasury.  The Lighthouse Board was created in 1852 under the Department of Treasury who operated it until 1903 when the Lighthouse Board was transferred to  the Department of Commerce and Transportation.    In 1910 an act of Congress abolished the Lighthouse Board and created the Bureau of Lighthouses.  Then  on July 7, 1939 the United States Lighthouse Service is merged into the United States Coast Guard, marking the first time in history that a military branch took over another branch of the government.  The Coast Guard still oversees the management and operation of all Federal Lighthouse properties.
*This law was important because it was the first Public Works Act passed by Congress, and it passed ownership and responsibility of lighthouses to the Federal Government.

The Lighthouse Board  divided the country into Districts in 1852:  there were originally 8 and then eventually 19.  Today the Coast Guard only has 10 districts.

There were never more than 850 lighthouses in operation at once, although about 1,500 were constructed in the United States over the years.  The boom in construction was around 1910 when 220 lights were constructed on the shores of the Great Lakes.  Michigan had the most with around 90 followed by Maine with about 80.

There were many female lighthouse keepers (U.S. Lighthouse Society has records for 80), but most took over when their spouses or male relatives died or became unable to continue.

Lightships were employed where the water was too deep to construct a lighthouse or it was impractical. The first lightships were located in the lower Chesapeake Bay (1820). In 1915 there were 72 lightships manning 55 stations, the most at any time in our history. The extra ships were used for relief.  Lightships displayed lights at the tops of their mast(s) and in foggy areas sounded a bell or other fog signal such as a whistle, siren or horn.  In 1921 lightships began being equipped with radio beacons.  The last lightship was removed from the Nantucket Station in 1984.

Interesting Facts About United States Lighthouses

(1716) Little Brewster Island, Boston, MA --- First lighthouse (which remains the only manned lighthouse in the U.S.)

(1719) Little Brewster Island, Boston, MA --- First Fog Signal (it was a cannon)

(1792) Cape Henry, VA --- First light built completely by the Federal Government
Before that time, lighthouses were built by individual states or territories.

(1793) First lightship --- on the Delaware River

 (1818) First Great Lakes lighthouses --- both on Lake Erie at Buffalo, NY
and Presque Isle, PA

(1820) West Quoddy, ME --- First use of bells as a fog signal device

(1831) Barcelona, NY --- First lighthouse to operate using natural gas

(1837) First lightship on the Great Lakes --- Straits of Mackinaw

(1840) First Lighthouse Tender of the US Lighthouse Service was put into service.
Until now, other government and private vessels were used to supply lighthouses and maintain buoys.

(1841) Navesink, NJ --- Site of first Fresnel lens

(1850) Minot's Ledge, MA --- First iron lighthouse

(1854) Alcatraz, CA  --- First American-built West Coast Lighthouse

(1869) West Quoddy, MA & Cape Elizabeth, MA --- First steam-powered fog signals

(1877) First use of the US Lighthouse Service flag
It was a red, white, and blue pennant with a lighthouse.

(1877) Kerosene became the primary fuel source for lighthouses
Prior to that  whale oil, coiza oil, and lard oil were used.

  (1886) Statue of Liberty, NY --- First lighthouse to use electricity

(1882-1892) St. George Reef, CA  --- The most expensive lighthouse
It took ten years to construct and cost $715,000, but the Coast Guard abandoned it in 1972.

(1898) All seacoast lights were turned off for the first time in history during the Spanish-American War.

(1962) Charleston, SC --- Newest Shore side Lighthouse

(1983) Point Betsie, MI --- Last manned light on the Great Lakes

The tallest lighthouse --- Cape Hatteras, NC (196 ft.)

  Highest Lighthouse (above sea level) --- Cape Mendocino, CA (515 ft)

       Largest lens in the United States --- Makapu'u Point, Oahu, HI (Hyper-Radial, Fresnel)

One of the prettiest settings --- Split Rock, MN

Exemplary construction marvel --- Minots Ledge, MA (1860)
The first attempt to put a lighthouse on Minots Ledge in 1850 didn't fair well.  It was destroyed by a storm a little over one year after completion, killing two of its keepers.  The legs held secure to the ledge in which they had been embedded, but they broke off the tower.

The second Minots Ledge structure was completed in 1860 with a  good part of its foundation located underwater.  It took 3 years to finish prep work on the ledge before the first course of stones were laid.  The granite blocks are dove-tailed together and bonded vertically by bolts.  The first 40 feet of the tower is solid stone. This tower stands at 97 feet tall and has been completely covered by a wave at least twice.