United States Lighthouse Board
The United States Lighthouse Board was the agency of the US Federal Government that was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of all lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

s in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Created in 1852, following complaints of the shipping industry of the previous administration of lighthouses under the Department of Treasury's Lighthouse Establishment.

The board membership was composed of naval officers, who were experienced and knowledgeable men. These men attracted others of similar quality to lighthouse duty, both on the board and in district offices. The country was organized into 12 lighthouse districts, each having an inspector (a naval officer) who was charged with building the lighthouses and seeing that they remained in good condition and that the lens was in operation. After a few years the inspectors became overloaded with work and an engineer (an army officer) was appointed to each district to tend to the construction and maintenance of lighthouses.

The Lighthouse Board moved quickly in applying new technology, particularly in purchasing and installing new Fresnel lens
Fresnel lens
A Fresnel lens is a type of lens originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses.The design allows the construction of lenses of large aperture and short focal length without the mass and volume of material that would be required by a lens of conventional design...

es and constructing screw-pile lighthouse
Screw-pile lighthouse
A screw-pile lighthouse is a lighthouse which stands on piles that are screwed into sandy or muddy sea or river bottoms. The first screw-pile lighthouse was built by blind Irish engineer Alexander Mitchell...

s. The Board also oversaw the construction of the first lighthouses on the west coast. By the time of the Civil War, all lighthouses had Fresnel lenses.

Previously, the local collectors of customs were in charge of the lighthouses and other aids to navigation. In time, all duties regarding aids to navigation were taken from them. The Board demanded that only those who could read were to be appointed as keepers in order that they be able to read their written instructions. These instructions were detailed and covered everything possible about the operation of lighthouses, leaving little discretion to the keeper. The Board struggled to eliminate politics from its activities, and slowly the organization became a professional career agency, helped greatly by the Civil Service Reform Acts of 1871 and 1883. Keepers became civil service employees in 1896. Most important, the Board was constantly mindful of advancing technology and took advantage of new types of lighthouses, buoys, or fog signals, as well as improvement in lighthouse optics. Over the next five decades several advances in lighthouse construction technology took place including the development of the exposed screwpile lighthouses, exoskeleton lighthouses, waveswept interlocking stone lighthouses, iron caisson lighthouses, and breakwater lighthouses.

In the 1850s the Board prescribed color schemes for the buoys, as well as range lights and day markers; and the buoy system was standardized. Classification systems were also developed to mark the nation's waterways. Iron buoys were introduced to replace the more expensive copper-clad wooden buoys. The Lighthouse Board also began printing changes made in aids to navigation as a Notice to Mariners
Notice to Mariners
A notice to mariners advises mariners of important matters affecting navigational safety, including new hydrographic information, changes in channels and aids to navigation, and other important data.Over 60 countries which produce nautical charts also...


Several advances in the technology of fog signals were made during the 1850s. In 1851, an experimental air fog whistle and reed horn was installed at Beavertail Lighthouse
Beavertail Lighthouse
Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1749, was and still is the premier lighthouse in Rhode Island, USA, especially for entrance into Narragansett Bay. The lighthouse lies on the southernmost point of Conanicut Island in the town of Jamestown, Rhode Island in Beavertail State Park. The light has been...

 at the entrance to Narragansett Bay
Narragansett Bay
Narragansett Bay is a bay and estuary on the north side of Rhode Island Sound. Covering 147 mi2 , the Bay forms New England's largest estuary, which functions as an expansive natural harbor, and includes a small archipelago...

, Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

. At first this sound signal was powered by a horse-operated treadmill and later by an internal combustion steam engine. Around 1851, mechanically-rung fog bells were introduced. The striking mechanism was governed by a weight attached to a flywheel, and later internally run by clockworks. The strokes of the fog signals were timed deliberately to afford each signal a unique sound characteristic. The bell signal was gradually replaced by three variations of that instrument. The first was an ordinary locomotive whistle, enlarged and modified and blown by steam from a high-pressured tubular boiler. The second was a reed-trumpet, and in 1866 the third variation, a siren-trumpet. Although the fog bell signal was still used for warning vessels over short distances, other fog signals started to supersede the smaller bell signal. Bells were also used on buoys; later whistling buoys were invented by J. M. Courtenay and were first in use in 1876. The first gas-lighted buoy was installed in 1882. The gong buoy was invented in 1923.

In 1886, a new technology was tested in the illumination of the Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886...

--electricity. The electrical lighting of the statue, under the Lighthouse Board's care from 1886 to 1902, marks the beginning of the "modern age" in lighthouse illumination. In 1900, the Lighthouse Board began converting lighthouses to electric service; however, because of the lack of direct access to power lines, the conversion came about slowly.

In 1910, the Board was disestablished in favor of a more civilian Lighthouse Service
United States Lighthouse Service
The United States Lighthouse Service, also known as the Bureau of Lighthouses, was the agency of the US Federal Government that was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of all lighthouses in the United States from the time of its creation in 1910 until 1939...

. The Lighthouse Service itself was merged in to the United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

in 1939.

Further reading

  • Bibliography on Michigan {and other} lighthouses.
  • Hyde, Charles K., and Ann and John Mahan. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0814325548 ISBN 9780814325544.
  • Noble, Dennis, Lighthouses & Keepers: U. S. Lighthouse Service and Its Legacy (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1997)
  • Oleszewski, Wes, Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998) ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
  • Penrod, John, Lighthouses of Michigan, (Berrien Center, Michigan: Penrod/Hiawatha, 1998) ISBN 9780942618785 ISBN 9781893624238.
  • Penrose, Laurie and Bill, A Traveler’s Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses (Petoskey, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1999). ISBN 0923756035 ISBN 9780923756031
  • Putnam, George R., Lighthouses and Lightships of the United States, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933).
  • United States Coast Guard, Aids to Navigation, (Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1945).
  • Wagner, John L., Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective, (East Lansing, Michigan: John L. Wagner, 1998) ISBN 1880311011 ISBN 9781880311011.
  • Weiss, George, The Lighthouse Service, Its History, Activities and Organization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1926)
  • Wright, Larry and Wright, Patricia, Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia Hardback (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006) ISBN 1550463993.

External links

This article contains information created by the US Federal Government and is in the public domain.
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