Antiquity Of Beacons -- Beacons Used By The Colonists -- First Lighthouse In America -- First Lighthouse On The Great Lakes -- Generous Appropriations By Congress -- Districts Are Organized -- Lighthouse Board Appointed -- First Apparatus Used -- Change In Apparatus -- Experiments With Illuminants -- Description Of Lights -- How Far Lights May Be Seen -- Fog Signals -- Number Of Lighthouses In The World -- Old Cleveland Lighthouse -- Modern Lighthouse, Etc. , At Cleveland -- Light On Spectacle Reef -- Stannard Rock Light -- Number Of Light Stations -- Lists Of United States Lighthouses -- Canadian Lighthouse System.
* * * * and then he took the shield,
Massive and broad, whose brightness streamed as far
As the moon's rays, and as at sea the light
Of beacon, placed in some lonely spot,
By night, upon a mountain summit shines
To mariners, whom the tempest's force has driven
Far from their friends across the fishy deep;
So from that glorious buckler of the son
Of Peleus, nobly wrought, a radiance streamed
Into the sky, *****
THE description above of a beacon light upon a mountain summit is so definite that it is impossible to believe that the father of poetry did not, in penning the original of these lines, have aids to navigation in his mind
It may, therefore, be set down as certain that the lighting of the seacoast is practically as old as the commerce of the world, and this fact is in strange and strong contrast with the establishment of life-saving stations and the invention of life-saving apparatus, which are scarcely more than a century old. Lighthouses are not only aids to commerce, but they are the inducers or breeders of commerce, for where they are there come ships. The guide-boards to commerce at the present time are lighthouses, bell-buoys, whistling buoys, fog signals, steam whistles, trumpets and sirens, many of which are of very recent origin. But the lighthouse was undoubtedly the first of the guides set up for the purposes for which all are designed.
It is claimed by some that the famous Colossus of Rhodes, erected three hundred years before Christ, held a signal lamp in its uplifted hands, but the famous lighthouse on the northeast point of Pharos, a rocky islet off the coast of Egypt, commenced by Ptolemy I, and finished about 280 B. C., was looked upon as one of the wonders of the world. It appears to have been about 400 feet high, and to have lasted 1,600 years. The fire constantly kept lighted on its summit was said to be visible for forty miles. This is the first light of undoubted record.
Beacons by the Colonists. -- The lighthouse system of this country is almost coeval with its commerce, and it is altogether likely that the early colonists established beacons on prominent headlands to guide boats returning from the dangers of the sea and liable to encounter the danger of the coast. The first authentic record of this having been done at the public expense is that of the general court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. On March 9, 1673, a petition was presented to this court from the citizens of Nantasket (now Hull), Massachusetts, for a diminution of their taxes because of the material and labor they had expended over and above their proper proportion, in the building of a beacon on Point Allerton, the most prominent headland near the entrance to Boston harbor. There is evidence also that bills were made out, and paid out of the public funds for making and furnishing "fier-bales of pitch and ocum for the beacon on Allerton Point," which "fier-bales" were burned in an iron grate or basket on top of the beacon, for the building of which Nantasket had contributed 400 boat-loads of stone.
First Lighthouse in America. -- The first lighthouse on the American continent was erected on Little Brewster island at the entrance to Boston harbor in 1715 -- 16, and cost ?2,385. It was supported by light-dues, of 1d. per ton on all outgoing and incoming vessels, except coasters. Other colonies followed the example of Massachusetts, and when the United States by the Act of August 7, 1789, accepted the title to the lighthouses on the coasts they were eight in number, and extended from Portsmouth harbor, N. H., to Charleston, S. C.
The First Lighthouse on the Great Lakes was built at Erie in 1818. By an Act passed April 2, 1811, "the occupancy and use of certain lands near Presqu'ile, not less than two or more than four acres are ceded to the United States, for the purpose of erecting a lighthouse." The "Presqu'ile" light was rebuilt in 1857.
From the time the General Government took possession of the lighthouses they have been, with the exception of a brief period, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury; but from 1820 to 1852 they were in immediate charge of the fifth Auditor of the Treasury, who was during all that time Stephen Pleasanton, and who was generally known as the general superintendent of lights. During his administration of the system, the establishment was increased from 55 lighthouses and a few buoys to 325; lighthouses, 35 light ships, numerous buoys, and monuments and other aids to navigation, most of which were on the Atlantic coast.
Generous Appropriations by Congress. -- It is somewhat remarkable that Congress, which for many years was exceedingly conservative in its appropriations for the benefit of many branches of the public service, should be so profuse in its support of this particular branch, so much so that it was seriously questioned whether the money appropriated could be wisely expended. In 1837 this question was raised in connection with the proposed erection of certain lighthouses, for which appropriations had been made. In the Act of March 3, that year, the proviso was introduced that the board of naval commissioners should cause an examination to be made in order to ascertain whether the safety of navigation required additional facilities. The report of these commissioners made to the next session of Congress was such that the erection of thirty-one of the proposed lighthouses for which $168,700 had been appropriated was postponed, the report concluding with the following language:
"When the great importance of the lighthouse system is considered in relation to the safety of human life and of the vast amount of property, to the facilities and rapidity of communication which is given between different parts of our Atlantic and Lake coasts, and to the cost of establishing and supporting it, the board would respectfully suggest whether some additional measures may not be desirable for obtaining the necessary information to secure the greatest public advantage for the expenditures which may hereafter be authorized for this purpose."
Considerable discussion was had as to the most economical methods of expending the moneys appropriated by Congress, the result being that in the Act of July 7, 1838, clauses were incorporated providing among other things that the Secretary of the Treasury should import two sets of lenticular apparatus and one set of reflector apparatus, all of the most improved kinds, and have them set up and their merits tested by careful experiment, and in order that Congress might have more accurate information than it was thought it had previously, and upon which it had been legislating, the President of the United States was required to divide the Atlantic and Lake coasts into districts, and to appoint a naval officer to examine each district and to report upon the condition of his district.
Districts Are Organized. -- Under this Act the President divided the Atlantic coast into six districts, and the Lake coasts into two districts, and in August, 1838, an officer was detailed to each, a revenue cutter or a hired vessel was assigned to each officer, and he was instructed by General Superintendent Pleasanton on August 4, 1838, to make his examination and report as soon as possible, in order that the result might be submitted to Congress. The reports made to the general superintendent showed that the administration of the lighthouse system could be greatly improved, and continued to be the subject of discussion in the department and in Congress until 1845, when Hon. Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury, sent Lieuts. Thornton A. Jenkins and Richard Bache abroad to procure information which might tend to improve the system. Lieuts. Jenkins and Bache spent the greater part of a year in Great Britain, and June 22, 1846, recommended the reorganization of the system by the appointment of an engineer and optician and a number of district superintendents to assist the general superintendent under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury. They also earnestly recommended the substitution of the French lenticular apparatus for the reflectors then in use.
Lighthouse Board Appointed. -- The Secretary of the Treasury submitted this report to Congress, and asked for authority to organize a board to consist of the fifth auditor of the Treasury, the superintendent of the coast survey, two naval officers, two engineers (one military, one topographical) and a secretary. On March 3, 1851, an Act of Congress was approved which authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to put the Fresnel illuminating apparatus into the lighthouses as rapidly as he thought best, and to appoint a board of proper persons to inquire into the condition of the establishment.
This board on January 30, 1852, made a full and exhaustive report of the condition and methods of the lighthouse system, and recommended that the lights be classified into orders; these orders running from 1 to 6, indicating the magnitude and intensity of the light, the first order being the largest, on the same principal as that used by astronomers in classifying the stars. It recommends the use of the Fresnel lenticular apparatus in place of the old system of Argand lamps and parabolic reflector. The plans and suggestions of this report were embodied in an Appropriation Bill which became a law August 31, 1852.
This Act constituted the lighthouse board, as it exists to-day, and required the President to appoint two officers of the navy, of high rank, two engineer officers of the army, two civilians, an officer of the engineers of the navy, and an officer of the engineers of the army, who should be secretary, who should constitute the lighthouse board. On October 9, 1852, the board was organized by the election of Commodore Shubrick as chairman.
Upon investigation this board found that the lenticular apparatus could be managed by the average lighthouse keeper after instruction by an expert, and came to the conclusion that its use was more economical in oil than the reflector apparatus. They therefore pressed its substitution for the old apparatus with the result of a diminution in the cost of oil. Sperm oil had been used then for a long time, but when it became too expensive the board began to cast about for a substitute, and after much experiment adopted lard oil at a large saving of cost and without any diminution of light. Twenty years later it tested mineral oil and substituted this for lard oil, proper lamps having in the meantime been invented for its use. So far gas has not been found well adapted to use as a lighthouse illuminant. This board has also organized and built up by degrees a competent and intelligent corps of lighthouse keepers, whose tenure of office is practically during good behavior, and whose physical and mental welfare are carefully looked after, in order that they may feel some degree of contentment in their isolated situations.
The parabolic reflector was first used somewhere between 1763 and 1777, by Mr. Hutchinson, dockmaster of Liverpool, England. The object aimed at in the adoption of the parabolic reflector was to prevent the deviation of the rays of light above and below the horizontal plane by reflecting them downward and upward to the horizontal, and at the same time to permit them to diverge in all directions in azimuth. This object, however, could not be fully secured, because the flame of a lamp, whether the wick be flat or circular, is of magnitude, not a mere mathematical point. And even if the light were a mere point a cone of rays would still escape beyond the edges or lips of the reflector, and thus be lost to the mariner above or below his line of vision.
Changes in Apparatus. -- There have been many and important changes in the illuminating apparatus used in lighthouses. From the "fier-bales of pitch and ocum" used on Allerton point in 1673 to tallow candles used in the first lighthouse on the continent, the country went next to the spider lamp, and in 1812 the United States Government bought of Winslow Lewis the patent for his "magnifying and reflecting lantern," consisting of a lamp, a reflector and a magnifier. The lamp was constructed on the principle of the Argand fountain lamp, and burned from 30 to 40 gallons of oil per year. The principal merit of this lamp appears to have been its economy, as Mr. Lewis, who had fitted thirty-four lighthouses with his apparatus, contracted to maintain the lights for one-half of the oil previously consumed. This system, as improved, remained in use until 1852, when the lighthouse establishment was turned over to the lighthouse board, and then the reflectors were replaced by the lenticular apparatus of Fresnel, the adoption of which made it possible for a lighthouse keeper to keep a good light, and although the first cost of the lens was quite large the saving in oil was so great that the expenses of making the change was saved in a few years, and at the same time the light was greatly improved, the board reporting that at least four times as much light for the use of the navigator was obtained as the best system of reflector lights furnished that had ever been devised, and at the same time at the consumption of not more than one-fourth the quantity of oil.
The lenticular apparatus consists of a central powerful lamp emitting luminous beams in every direction, around which is placed an arrangement of glass so formed as to refract these beams into parallel rays in the required direction. A first order lenticular apparatus is a most beautiful object. It stands nearly twelve feet high, is six feet in diameter, and involves in its structure some of the highest principles of applied science. The cost of the lenses alone varies from $4,250 to $8,400.
Experiments with Illuminants. -- When the lighthouse board came into power, one of its first efforts was directed toward securing a more economical illuminant than sperm oil, the price of which had been gradually rising because of the yearly diminution of the catch of whales. The board called to their assistance certain noted scientists who made analyses, quantitive and qualitive, of sperm, whale, shark, fish, seal, colza, olive, lard and mineral oils. It was found that colza, the oil expressed from the seed of several plants, especially that of the wild cabbage, was largely used in France; and that it complied with all the required conditions, except that it was produced abroad. The board therefore stimulated the production of this plant in this country, and the manufacture of the oil from its seed at home. In 1861 the board purchased and used over 5,000 gallons of colza oil at $1.10 per gallon, and in 1862 it purchased 10,000 gallons at $1.10 per gallon, and 2,000 gallons at $1 per gallon, sperm oil at the same time selling at $1.64 ½ per gallon.
In the meantime the board was experimenting with lard oil, and found that it gave equally as good light, was more certain in quantity and more economical in price. From 1867 to 1881, inclusive, the board purchased from 44,000 gallons in 1881 to 113,000 gallons in 1875, or during the fifteen years 1,269,000 gallons. The cost per gallon varied from an average price of 52.646 cents in 1879 to $1.871 in 1880, the highest price being $2.27 per gallon, and the lowest 48 ½ cents per gallon.
The great danger attending the use of mineral oils has been known ever since they have been used, and hence their use as an illuminant for lighthouses has been adopted only in recent times, and with great caution. In 1864 the keeper of a lighthouse on Lake Michigan substituted a lamp burning kerosene oil for one burning lard oil. Soon after commencing its use he attempted to extinguish the light by blowing down the chimney; an explosion occurred, and set his clothing on fire. He had scarcely reached the bottom of the stairs when another explosion took place which blew the entire lantern from the tower and destroyed the lenticular apparatus. But as mineral oil had been successfully used in Europe for a number of years the board set about the solution of the problems connected with its use and transportation, and after some years of experiment and litigation over a certain patent, succeeded in obtaining or producing a mineral oil lamp, which consumed all of its carbon. This lamp was introduced into the lighthouses. In 1881 mineral oil was used throughout the lighthouse establishments with the exception of seventy-three lighthouses of the highest powers, in which this mineral does not burn to so great an advantage as lard oil. It was claimed at that time by the board that five gallons of mineral oil was equal in light giving quality to four gallons of lard oil, while lard oil cost 75 cents per gallon and mineral oil only 14 cents per gallon.
"There is a class of lights shown on the heads of long piers built out into lakes and sounds to make harbors," observes Arnold Burgess Johnson in his "Modern Lighthouse Service," "the outer ends of which piers are difficult and dangerous to reach in heavy weather, especially as they are often swept by waves as well as winds. Hence it has been found necessary to build elevated walks on trestles, often at a cost far exceeding the cost of the lighthouses themselves. This is now no longer done, as a burner has been invented on the constant-level principle, which will keep a light burning four, six, and even eight days and nights, so that the light need only be visited in safe weather. Still the lighthouse board requires that its keepers shall visit these lights daily, when possible, that they may keep them clean and bright, and that they may put the automatic machinery in thorough working order. These burners are used at some twenty places on the east and west coasts and on the lakes. The combination gas machine is used to furnish light at some of the stations on the northwestern lakes, among others that at the Maumee range lights, Lake Erie, Ohio; at the Marquette breakwater pierhead, Lake Superior, Michigan, and at the St. Louis river pierhead, Lake Superior, Minnesota. This combination gas-machine works automatically, making the gas from gasoline and furnishing a light which can burn, according to the size of the machine, from thirty to ninety days without attention."
Description of Lights. -- A first order lenticular apparatus stands nearly twelve feet high, is six feet in diameter, and, as already stated, involves in its structure some of the highest principles of applied science. A second order light apparatus is four feet, seven inches in diameter, the lens costing from $2,760 to $5, 530. A third order light apparatus is three feet, three and three-eighth inches in diameter, and costs for lenses alone from $1,475 to $3,650. A fourth order, or harbor light apparatus, is nineteen and five-eighth inches in diameter, and costs from $350 to $1,230 for the lenses alone. A fifth order harbor light is fourteen and one-half inches in diameter, and costs for lenses alone $230 to $840. A sixth order, or the smallest size in use, is eleven and three-fourths inches in diameter, and costs for lenses alone, $190 to $315.
The distances of visibility given in the above table are those from which an object may be seen by an observer whose eye is at the lake level; in practice, therefore, it is necessary to add to these a distance of visibility corresponding to the height of the observer's eye above lake level.
Fog Signals. -- In addition to lights the lighthouse board has from time to time introduced different kinds of fog signals, as sound will penetrate a dense fog or blinding snowstorm when a light cannot be seen. The principal fog signals are the trumpet, the steam whistle, the automatic whistling buoys, the bell buoys, the bell boat and the siren, and bells run by machinery impelled by clock work. The trumpet was for a number of years preferred to any other form of fog signal; but now the siren is used to a greater extent than formerly, and would be to a still greater extent than it is but for the cost. A first-class steam siren can be heard under ordinary circumstances to a distance of 20 miles, and when the air is quite still to a distance of 30 miles.
A siren of the first-class consists of a huge trumpet with a wide mouth and narrow throat, and is sounded by driving compressed air or steam through a disk placed in its throat. In this disk are twelve radial slits; back of the fixed disk is a revolving plate containing as many similar openings. The plate is rotated 2,400 times a minute, and each revolution causes the escape and interruption of twelve jets of air or steam through the openings in the disk or revolving plate. In this way 28,800 vibrations are given during each minute that the machine is operated; and, as the vibrations are taken up by the trumpet, an intense beam of sound is projected from it. It is made of various sizes and classes, the number of slits in the disk in its throat diminishing with its size. The dimensions above given are of the largest size. "Its density, quality, pitch and penetration render it dominant over such other noises after all other signal sounds have succumbed."
The steam whistle comes next to the siren, and is largely used with satisfactory results where great intensity of sound is not needed. The trumpet comes next to the steam whistle. The machine that makes the most noise consumes the most fuel.
One of the most curious and useful signals known to this branch of the public service is Courtenay's automatic whistling buoy. It was invented by J. M. Courtenay, of New York, was first used in the United States, and afterward generally adopted in Great Britain. It consists of an iron pear-shaped bulb, about 12 feet in diameter, with a tube 20 inches in diameter and 40 feet long, extending through the bottom. The water in this tube acts by its inertia as a piston to draw in air through an orifice supplied with a retaining valve, and to expel it through a ten-inch whistle in the top of the buoy. It is not now made so large as at first, and serves every purpose equally as well. Its action depends on the undulations of the water at the surface, and it is necessarily moored in deep water. On July 1, 1880, the board had 25 of these buoys in position, and they were found satisfactory in some places where a lighthouse would otherwise have to be erected.
Number of Lighthouses in the World. -- The whole number of lighthouses in the world is somewhat more than 6,000, of which Europe has about 3,400, North America about 1,400, Asia about 500, and the rest of the world about 1,000. The United States has a little more than one-eighth of the whole number.
The old Cleveland lighthouse was established in 1829. The brick tower was rebuilt in 1872. Its height from the stone foundation was 83 feet, but as it stood on high ground the light was 157 feet above the level of Lake Erie. The fixed white light shone out for a distance of about 21 miles over the lake, but it was discontinued in 1892 as being no longer needed. The cost of establishing this station was $55,775; it consumed 301 gallons of mineral oil per annum, and it had two keepers, one of whom received $560 per year, the other $450. The tower and house connected with it stood on the corner of Water and Main streets.
The modern lighthouse at Cleveland was erected on the east end of the breakwater in accordance with a contract made in 1884, the building up of the foundation being deferred, however, until July 1, 1885, in order to allow time for the crib to settle. When the station was ready, the iron tower at Genesee station, N. Y., was removed to Cleveland.
Congress, by Act of March 3, 1889, appropriated $5,200 for establishing a steam fog signal at this point, placing it on the breakwater. Later it became necessary to build in the rear of the signal a reflector in order that the citizens of Cleveland would not be annoyed by the sounding of this signal, the reflector tending to throw the most of the volume of sound lakeward, where it was a welcome one to mariners.
On Spectacle Reef. -- One of the most famous lighthouses in the United States, and there are many of them, is on Spectacle reef, which stands on a limestone reef at the northern end of Lake Huron, near the Straits of Mackinaw, the work for which was prepared at Scammon's harbor, sixteen miles distant. There is an open stretch of water to the southeastward of 170 miles, but the ice fields, which are here moved by a current and which are many thousands of acres in extent and often two feet thick, had to be specially provided against, their momentum being overcome by a structure, against which the ice is crushed; its motion is so impeded by this structure that it grounds on the shoal, on which there is but seven feet of water, and there it forms a barrier against on-coming ice fields.
The tower of this lighthouse is 32 feet in diameter at the base and 18 feet at the spring of the cornice, 80 feet above the base. The focal plane is 86 feet, 3 inches above the water. The work on this lighthouse was begun in May, 1870, and the light was first exhibited from the finished tower in June, 1874. When the keeper returned to this tower on May 15, 1875, he found the ice piled against it to a height of thirty feet, or seven feet above the doorway, and had to cut his way through this iceberg in order to effect an entrance to the tower. The cost of this fine structure, including the steamer and apparatus, was $375,000.
Stannard Rock Light. -- In 1877 the lighthouse board began the construction of a lighthouse on Stannard rock, similar to the one on Spectacle reef. Stannard's rock is in Lake Superior, 23 miles southeast of Manitou island lighthouse. Here the rock rises from two and one-half to three feet above the surface of the water, and is 15 or 20 feet in diameter. For many years its exact locality was known only to a few of the navigators of the lakes, and it was the most dreaded obstacle, the existence of which was known to them. From 1866 down to the erection of this lighthouse they were in constant dread of running on to it in the night or in foggy weather. In 1867 Congress made an appropriation of $10,000 for the erection of a day beacon upon the rock, and in 1877 an appropriation of $50,000, with which to begin the work of erecting the lighthouse. In 1882 the lighthouse was completed, and the light shone out over the wide expanse of waters for the first time on July 4, 1882.
Eleventh District: Lighthouses and beacon lights, including 18 post lights, 165; lightships in position, 3; day or unlighted beacons, 1; fog signals operated by steam, 24; fog signals operated by clock work, 4; bell buoys in position, 2; other buoys in position, 322.
A few additions and changes are being made to these aids to navigate each year. On the Great Lakes a multiplicity of lights is necessary to their safe navigation, for the reason that there is but little sea room, in case of a storm, there are numerous islands and straits in and connected with them, and the compass cannot be relied upon as it can upon the ocean. In many places its variations are considerable, while in all places its variation is constantly changing, and the changes it undergoes depend not only upon the regular law of changes, which may be quickly learned, but also upon the proximity of masses of ore, particularly on Lake Superior, on which lake the compass varies according to the quantity of ore in the vicinity of which it may be, but also according to the distance from the ore the vessel may be, which is constantly changing when the vessel is in motion, the only time when the compass is of use. So that a thorough lighting of the shores of the lakes, of their straits, rivers, islands and reefs, is of vital necessity to their commerce. Storms are of frequent occurrence at certain seasons of the year, and fogs prevail to such an extent as to greatly endanger the lives and property that may be on board of vessels. Then, too, the depth of water is so nearly uniform that a vessel may, while in several fathoms of water, suddenly and without the least warning, encounter steep and rocky cliffs, and in other places the bottom of the lake may be so irregular that the sounding line is entirely useless. Every appliance, therefore, and aid to navigation that has been devised is not only a necessity, but is also an economy, for the unnecessary loss of a modern freighter, to say nothing of one of the passenger boats, would be as expensive as the establishment of many lights, sirens,, steam whistles and whistling buoys.
The lighthouse service of the Province of Ontario, Canada, in 1897, included 184 light stations, 235 lights, 177 keepers, 3 light ships, 2 fog whistles, 11 fog horns, 3 fog bells, 5 bell-buoys and 2 gas buoys. Most of the lights in the Province are located on the Great Lakes. The progress that has been made in Canada in lighthouse improvement is shown by the fact that in 1868 the number of lights in the entire Dominion was 198; in 1897 it had increased to 635. During the same period the number of lighthouses in Canada increased from 227 to 783. Mention of individual Canadian lighthouses on the Great Lakes is made in. the chapter on Harbors.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.