Lighthouse Facts | US Lighthouse Society (2023)

The first known lighthouse was the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy I and his son Ptolemy II constructed it between 300 and 280 B.C. It stood about 450 feet high. This lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was destroyed in stages by invaders and earthquakes, being destroyed in the 1300s.

The oldest existing lighthouse in the world is considered to be La Coruna in Spain that dates from ca. 20 B.C. A Roman lighthouse is located on the Cliffs of Dover in the UK that was constructed in 40 A.D.

The first lighthouse in America was at Boston on Little Brewster Island (1716). The first keeper was George Worthylake who was drowned, along with his wife and daughter, when returning to the island in 1718. The original tower was destroyed by the British and eventually reconstructed in 1784.

The oldest existing lighthouse in America(never rebuilt) is Sandy Hook, NJ (1764), which is still in operation. Part of the building of the lighthouse was paid for by the sale of lottery tickets and shipping interest in New York City paid for the rest.

First lighthouse built completely by the Federal Government was Montauk Point, NY in 1797.

Newest shoreside Lighthouse is Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, SC, 1962.

The first Great Lakes lighthouse were Buffalo (Main) and Erie, PA (1818)

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First Lighthouse actually built by the Government of the United States - Cape Henry Light, Virginia, completed in 1792.

The only Triangular-shaped lighthouse tower is Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, SC.

The only lighthouse equipped with an elevator is Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, SC.

The number of lighthouses when we became a nation in 1776 was 12.

The tallest lighthouse is Cape Hatteras, NC (196 ft. built in 1872).

First American-built west coast lighthouse was Alcatraz Island, 1854.

The oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes is the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse (1808) located on the Toronto Islands, Toronto, Canada.

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First lighthouse completed under the Government of the United States of America - Portland Head Light, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine was completed in 1791, making it the first lighthouse completed by the new federal government. However, construction of the lighthouse had been started by the State of Massachusetts under the orders of Gov. John Hancock. At that time, Maine was part of Massachusetts.

How was the Country Divided? After 1852 the country was divided into districts; originally eight, they eventually numbered 19. Today the Coast Guard only has ten districts. The U.S. Light-House Establishment had a district inspector (naval officer) in charge of operations. He ran the district in tandem with an army officer who was in charge of engineering projects. In 1910 civilians started replacing the military officers.

What was the total number of lighthouses in America? There were never more than about 850 lighthouses in operation at once, although about 1,500 were constructed in this country over the years -- the hey-day being about 1910. There were 267 constructed on the U. S. shores of the Great Lakes. Michigan had the most with about 140, followed by Maine with about 80.

State with the most lighthouses - Michigan with 124. (Depending on definitions, the number may be about 130.)

Where were Lightships used? Lightships were employed where the water was too deep to construct a lighthouse or it was impracticable. The first lightships were located in the lower Chesapeake Bay (1820) and the most stations were in 1915 when there were 72 lightships manning 55 stations. 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.

Did the keepers wear uniforms?Uniforms were not introduced into the service until 1884.

What is a Daymark?Towers are given special (painted) patterns -- diamond shapes, spirals, stripes, etc. -- or colors to distinguish them from each other. These patterns were known as daymarks.

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Did women serve in Lighthouses?Lighthouse keeping was one of the first U.S. government jobs available to women in the 19th century.

The most expensive lighthouse built in America is St. George Reef, off Crescent City, CA. It took ten years to construct (1882 - 1892) and cost $715,000.00. The Coast Guard abandoned it in 1972.

The Lighthouse Service was created in 1789 by the 9th Act of the first Congress. Over the years, lighthouses were placed under the direction of the Department of Revenue (this department was disbanded in 1820), Treasury (until 1903), Commerce, and Transportation. The Lighthouse Board (of the U. S. Lighthouse Establishment) held sway from 1852 to July 1, 1910 when Commerce created the Bureau of Lighthouses. The Coast Guard took over on July 7, 1939. 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.

The source of light is called the "optic" (be it electric or fueled by oil); the magnification of the light is caused by the "lens." This is located in the "lantern" of the tower and the glazings (windows) are called storm panes.

The first fog signal in this country was at the Boston Lighthouse, and it was a cannon. Other fog signals have been whistles, sirens, reed trumpets, bells, diaphone (BEEEEooooh) horns and diaphragm (brrrrrrrrr) horns.

The first American lighthouse to use electricity was the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

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The most powerfull lighthouse in the Western Hemisphere is the Sullivan Island Light in Charleston, SC. It originally had 28 million candelas (candlepower) butthe light was actually too dazzling and the power was lowered to 1.2 million candelas. It could stillbe seen over 26 nautical miles (48 km; 30 mi)

What are lighthouses made from?Lighthouses are constructed of wood, granite, brick, sandstone, steel, cast iron and reinforced concrete. One has an outer skin of aluminum.

Lighthouse depots were built around the country to service lighthouses. All supplies were shipped to the lighthouse depots from where the supplies were shipped to the various lighthouses. The largest lighthouse depot was on Staten Island, New York. The Staten Island location also had manufacturing plants where many items were manufactured for lighthouses such as oil cans, crates, windows, household items, and just about anything else that could be manufactured cheaper than it could be purchased. Also, experiments were made on new types of lighting apparatus and building materials for the towers.

What arelighthouse characteristics?The reflector system and the Fresnel system used either fixed (steady light) or revolving (flashing) systems. The type of signal is called the characteristic. Other characteristics are occulting, group flashing, quick flashing, and equal interval. Some lighthouses display a green or red light and some a white light with a green or red sector created by substituting a colored "window" for a clear one.

How many keepers were there in a lighthouse?One to five keepers manned the light stations.

Were there female keepers?There were many female lighthouse keepers (the Society has files on 80), but most obtained their position when their husband died or became incapacitated.

What did keepers receive for pay?Keepers were paid a lower middle class wage. George Worthylake, our first, received 50£ ($250) a year. By today's standards that would be the equivalent of $16,000. During the 19th century, the head keepers' pay ranged from $250 to $600; others were paid less. The exception to this was in the west, where keepers were paid $1,000 during the Gold Rush.

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What is the range of the lighthouse light?The most powerful optic produces a light seen 25 miles at sea, although aircraft have reported "picking up" a light at 40 or 50 miles due to reflections offclouds.

What is the only manned lighthouse in America?All lighthouses in the United States are automated, but because Boston Light is the oldest station in the United States, Congress has declared that this lighthouse always be a staffed station. Boston Light is the only official lighthouse with a keeper. However, there are many other light stations around the United States that have people living at them, although they are not keepers. They are either Coast Guard families living in the old keepers' houses or caretakers who live there to maintain the property and protect against vandalism.

FAQs

What is America's oldest lighthouse in the United States? ›

The oldest existing lighthouse in America is Sandy Hook, NJ (1764), which is still in operation. There were 12 lighthouses when we became a nation in 1776. The tallest lighthouse is Cape Hatteras, NC (196 ft. built in 1872).

What is the oldest lighthouse still in use today? ›

Hook Lighthouse, Co Wexford

Hook Lighthouse is claimed to be the oldest still-operational lighthouse in the world. This iconic and unique monument was constructed by the powerful medieval magnate William Marshall in the early thirteenth century, thought to be some time between 1210–1230.

How many lighthouses are still in use in the US? ›

U.S. has 700 lighthouses; many available for visiting.

What are 2 types of lighthouses? ›

There are two types of lighthouses: ones that are located on land, and ones that are offshore. Offshore Lighthouses are lighthouses that are not close to land. There can be a number of reasons for these lighthouses to be built. There can be a shoal, reef or submerged island several miles from land.

Why is it called lighthouse? ›

Lighthouse is a combination of the words 'light', from the Proto-Indo-European root 'leuk' meaning 'brightness', and 'house', from the Proto-Germanic 'husan' meaning 'dwelling'. As it refers to a structure built on rock near the sea used in ship navigation, the word lighthouse in English dates back to the 1620s.

What US state has the most lighthouses? ›

With more than 115 lighthouses along the Great Lakes, Michigan boasts the most lighthouses of any U.S. state.

What color are most lighthouses? ›

So, a lighthouse that is built of stone on a rocky island would most likely be painted white; a lighthouse near a town with numerous white buildings would probably be painted red. However, problems can occur in areas such as the central/southern Atlantic coast of the United States.

When was the last lighthouse built? ›

August 07, 2012. Charleston Light, the last major lighthouse built in the United States, is seen on Sullivans Island, S.C. The National Park Service is considering alternatives in a draft management plan to refurbish the lighthouse and provide public access.

Who made the first lighthouse? ›

The first lighthouse in recorded history was Egypt's Pharos of Alexandria. Built around 280 BC, the source of light was a huge open fire at its summit. As well as being the world's first, it was also the tallest one ever built, standing a colossal 450 feet high.

What is the most photographed lighthouse in the United States? ›

Adjacent to Fort Williams Park, The Portland Head Light is the most photographed lighthouse in America, and also the oldest in Maine.

What is the brightest lighthouse in the world? ›

Which lighthouse is the brightest in the world? A. Two lighthouses share this distinction. The Phare du Créac'h, on the island of Ouessant, in France and the "new" Cape Point Lighthouse in South Africa are both visible for 60km, or about 37 miles.

Where is the tallest lighthouse in the United States? ›

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse ~ America's Lighthouse
  • The Cape Hatteras lighthouse in North Carolina is the tallest in America, at 210 ft. tall.
  • It was designed to assist sailors navigating the treacherous Diamond Shoals.
  • There are 269 steps to climb.
  • The lighthouse was moved in 1999 to avoid erosion.

What is the main purpose of a lighthouse? ›

They serve to warn mariners of dangerous shallows and perilous rocky coasts, and they help guide vessels safely into and out of harbors. The messages of these long-trusted aids to navigation are simple: either STAY AWAY, DANGER, BEWARE! or COME THIS WAY!

How far can a lighthouse be seen? ›

Assuming a light at a height of 100 feet (30.5 metres), the range to an observer at 15 feet above the horizon will be about 16 nautical miles (29.6 km). This is known as the geographic range of the light.

What is a lighthouse worker called? ›

A lighthouse keeper or lightkeeper is a person responsible for tending and caring for a lighthouse, particularly the light and lens in the days when oil lamps and clockwork mechanisms were used. Lighthouse keepers were sometimes referred to as "wickies" because of their job trimming the wicks.

What is the top of a lighthouse called? ›

All lighthouses have a beacon (light) at the top. The beacon is houses in a room with large windows all the war around called a lantern room that is topped with a domed roof called a cupola.

What is the walkway to a lighthouse called? ›

Catwalk: A narrow elevated walkway, allowing the keeper access to light towers built out in the water.

What are lighthouses made of? ›

Lighthouses were made from a variety of materials including wood, stone, brick, reinforced concrete, iron, steel, and even aluminum and fiberglass. Lighthouses were built on land, in the water, on islands, on top of ledges and cliffs, on breakwaters and piers, on caissons, and at least five are on fort walls.

Did people live in lighthouses? ›

Many keepers were able to have their families with them at the lighthouse. They lived in the quarters that were connected to a lighthouse or a house nearby.

How many lighthouses are still in use? ›

D'Entremont estimated 60 to 70 percent of the country's 800 or so lighthouses are still active today (numbers are hard to nail down because lighthouses are divided among private owners, nonprofits, and the government).

How fast does a lighthouse rotate? ›

Rotation Systems

Revolving lights produce flashes that occur at regular intervals. When flashing lenses were first invented, friction caused by their great weight, plus the weak power of their clockwork-driven rotation machinery delivered extremely slow rotation speeds of about one revolution in eight minutes.

What is interesting about a lighthouse? ›

Lighthouses are painted differently to help mariners identify them during the day. For example, a lighthouse may be painted all white if its surroundings/background is dark. The red and white stripes help the mariner identify the lighthouse if it's up against a white background, such as cliffs or rocks.

Why are lighthouses so tall? ›

The height of a lighthouse takes into account the curvature of the earth, so the higher light above MHW (mean high water), the further away it can be seen at sea.

Why do lighthouses flash red? ›

The colors that are used, are conform to the IALA Maritime Buoyage system that is designed by the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities: white - this sector is in the middle of the safe channel. red - indicates the port edge of the channel for vessels approaching the light source.

Why do lighthouses flash? ›

Most lighthouses rhythmically flash or eclipse their lights to provide an identification signal. The particular pattern of flashes or eclipses is known as the character of the light, and the interval at which it repeats itself is called the period.

How tall is a lighthouse? ›

Most lighthouses range in height from 10 m (33 ft) to 63 m (208 ft). Lighthouses are built from wood, stone, brick, reinforced concrete, iron, steel, or aluminum.

Do lighthouses have names? ›

So, the first lighthouses were built by the colonies (which were called states after 1776). Most lighthouses were named for their location, but several were named after ships that wrecked themselves nearby before a lighthouse was built. For example: Alligator Reefs, Pigeon Point, and Ship John Shoal.

How many lighthouse keepers are there? ›

“There can't be more than about 200 left in the world,” said Ian Duff, president of the international Association of Lighthouse Keepers, who himself kept the light shining at Skerryvore, Duncansby Head and Tiree Island in Scotland for nearly two decades before being made redundant in 1992.

What kind of light is in a lighthouse? ›

Answer. A lighthouse light is a concentrated beam, focused by special lenses. Because of its highly increased intensity, this beam of light can travel a very long distance. Interior view of Fresnel lens in lantern of Split Rock Lighthouse, Lake County, MN.

Are lighthouses still used? ›

Despite the existence of newer forms of navigation technology, more than a few lighthouses are still being used to help ships sail through narrow channels and around rocky reefs.

How long have we been using lighthouses? ›

The first lighthouse

The first lights that resembled lighthouses were constructed in 1635. A distinguished soldier, Sir John Meldrum, arranged for the construction of two iron braziers which held an open fire, and from that time onwards we have always had two Lighthouses at South Foreland.

What is the newest lighthouse in the United States? ›

The newest lighthouse in the U.S. is the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1962 and sits at the entrance of Charleston Harbor on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.

Where is the most photographed lighthouse in the world? ›

Portland, Maine has beautiful scenery and this beautiful lighthouse. What is the most photographed lighthouse in the world you ask? Portland Head Light is! It is located on the shores of Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine right outside of Portland.

How often do lighthouses flash? ›

lighthouse regulations

This is known as a flashing light. Alternatively, it may exhibit groups of two, three, or four flashes, with a short eclipse between individual flashes and a long eclipse of several seconds between successive groups. The whole pattern is repeated at regular intervals of 10 or 20 seconds.

How many black lighthouses are there in the world? ›

The Queenscliff High Light, also variously known as the Black Lighthouse, Fort Queenscliff Lighthouse or Shortland Bluff Light, stands in the grounds of Fort Queenscliff in Queenscliff, Victoria, Australia. It is one of three black lighthouses in the world, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.

What is interesting about a lighthouse? ›

Lighthouses are painted differently to help mariners identify them during the day. For example, a lighthouse may be painted all white if its surroundings/background is dark. The red and white stripes help the mariner identify the lighthouse if it's up against a white background, such as cliffs or rocks.

What is special about lighthouses? ›

They serve to warn mariners of dangerous shallows and perilous rocky coasts, and they help guide vessels safely into and out of harbors. The messages of these long-trusted aids to navigation are simple: either STAY AWAY, DANGER, BEWARE! or COME THIS WAY!

How many lighthouses are there in the world? ›

According to Lighthouse Directory, there are more than 18,600 lighthouses worldwide.

What are lighthouses used for kids? ›

A lighthouse is a tall building with a bright light near the top, and it protects ships from crashing into shore by sending a flashing light out towards the sea. Ships rely on lighthouses to guide them to land or a harbor. Modern lighthouses are operated by remote control or automatically.

What does a lighthouse symbolize? ›

A symbol of hope and security

Lighthouses have traditionally been viewed as symbols of hope and security. As beacons of light, they provide guidance for safe passage to sailors and protect not only their lives but the land nearby.

Who built the first lighthouse? ›

The first lighthouse in recorded history was Egypt's Pharos of Alexandria. Built around 280 BC, the source of light was a huge open fire at its summit. As well as being the world's first, it was also the tallest one ever built, standing a colossal 450 feet high.

Which US state has the most lighthouses? ›

With more than 115 lighthouses along the Great Lakes, Michigan boasts the most lighthouses of any U.S. state.

What is the top of a lighthouse called? ›

All lighthouses have a beacon (light) at the top. The beacon is houses in a room with large windows all the war around called a lantern room that is topped with a domed roof called a cupola.

How many lighthouses are still in use? ›

D'Entremont estimated 60 to 70 percent of the country's 800 or so lighthouses are still active today (numbers are hard to nail down because lighthouses are divided among private owners, nonprofits, and the government).

What is a lighthouse made of? ›

Lighthouses were made from a variety of materials including wood, stone, brick, reinforced concrete, iron, steel, and even aluminum and fiberglass. Lighthouses were built on land, in the water, on islands, on top of ledges and cliffs, on breakwaters and piers, on caissons, and at least five are on fort walls.

What is the most powerful lighthouse? ›

An engineering feat, Phare du Creach is one of the most powerful lighthouses in the world. Situated in the pretty French coastal town of Ushant, the black and white striped construction has been in operation since 1863. Every ten seconds, the lighthouse sends out two flashes which can be seen up to thirty miles away.

What color are most lighthouses? ›

So, a lighthouse that is built of stone on a rocky island would most likely be painted white; a lighthouse near a town with numerous white buildings would probably be painted red. However, problems can occur in areas such as the central/southern Atlantic coast of the United States.

Why do lighthouses flash? ›

Most lighthouses rhythmically flash or eclipse their lights to provide an identification signal. The particular pattern of flashes or eclipses is known as the character of the light, and the interval at which it repeats itself is called the period.

How did old lighthouses work? ›

The earliest lighthouses were controlled fires on hilltops that warned vessels that they were approaching land. Over time, these signals were powered by burning coal or oil lamps backed by mirrors, which could reach navigators further out to sea.

Are lighthouses still used? ›

Despite the existence of newer forms of navigation technology, more than a few lighthouses are still being used to help ships sail through narrow channels and around rocky reefs.

Videos

1. Why Did So Many Lighthouse Keepers "Go Mad"?
(Kaz Rowe)
2. Light Hearted podcast episode 143 – Gerald Butler, Irish lighthouse keeper part 2 of 3
(U.S. Lighthouse Society)
3. U.S. Lighthouse Society PSA, 1985
(Hugo Faces)
4. Get off the grid and become a lighthouse keeper
(Chronicle 5 WCVB)
5. Water Ways (S1E6) - North Channel by Day Boat
(Water Ways)
6. USLHS Historian Video #15 - Early Lighthouses part 4: Cordouan Lighthouse, France
(U.S. Lighthouse Society)
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