United States Lighthouse Board

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 lighthouses in the United States. 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 lenses and constructing screwpile lighthouses. 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.

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 at the entrance to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. 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--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. The Lighthouse Service itself was merged in to the United States Coast Guard in 1939.


* [http://www.cr.nps.gov/maritime/light/admin.htm National Park Service site]

Further reading

* [http://www.michiganlighthouse.org/bibliography.html 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).
* [http://www.uscg.mil/History/weblighthouses/h_lhbib.asp United States Coast Guard, "Aids to Navigation Historical Bibliography".]
* 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

* [http://www.terrypepper.com/lights/lists/chronology.htm U.S. Lighthouse chronology, Terry Pepper, Seeing the Light.]

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