On this day back in 1789, Congress approved an Act for the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers. In honor of National Lighthouse Day, we’ve decided to take a walk back in history to find out when lighthouses were invented, why they were needed and a few other interesting facts. After reading the below, we encourage you to go out and visit a local lighthouse to admire a staple in American history.
When Were Lighthouses Invented?
The first modern lighthouse was erected on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor back in 1716. Why were lighthouses created in the first place? They served as a visible warning sign against shipping hazards such as rocks or reefs so that ships could reach ports safely. But it goes well beyond that - they protected our coasts and guided our sailors and for that reason, they should be appreciated and remembered.
One of the earliest attempts at a lighthouse consisted of an octagonal wooden structure anchored by 12 iron stanchions. It didn’t last very long as it was swept away during the Great Storm of 1703. It wasn’t until John Smeaton rebuilt the lighthouse from 1756-59, constructing a more stable tower, that marked a major step forward in the design of lighthouses.
Early lighthouses generally consisted of wood pyres of burning coal as the main source of illumination. This however, was expensive so candles or oil lamps quickly replaced coal. It wasn’t until 1862 at Dungeness, Kent that a lighthouse was illuminated electrically but they switched back to oil lamps rather quickly. South Foreland Lighthouse was the first to successfully use an electric light in 1875 where carbon arc lamps were powered by a steam-driven magneto. We’ve come a long way since then!
We suggest taking a trip over to Turtle Rock, Schuylkill River or Eagle Point in Philadelphia to check out some pieces of local history. And remember, when you need a friendly neighborhood electrician, you can always count on the experts at GEN3 Electric!