This is a basic history of the Lighthouse
How it came about and its purpose.
When people think of Lighthouses today they typically think of a tower-like structure with a light of some sort at the top to help guide ships along the coastline and to warn of points that extend farther out into the water or submerged reefs that can do extensive damage to a ship.
In ancient days dating back to B.C. you would not see tower-like structures. Ships that are entering places like the Nile River in Egypt, would see huge bonfires along the shoreline to help guide them into the mouth of the river. These bonfires would typically be made from wood and people aboard the ship would see the glow from the fires by night and smoke rising up during the daylight hours.
As the history of lighthouses unfolded down through the years and lighthouses became more popular. The tower-like lighthouse began to be developed and the early ones were simple structures based on a form that is known as “fustrum of a cone.” They were round towers with thick masonry walls and would have fire at the top.
One of the greatest revolutionary development that changed lighthouses down through history came by the way of a Frenchman born on May 10, 1788 by the name of Augustin-Jean Fresnel (pronounced fray-nell), he only lived a short time but before his death on July 14, 1827 by tuberculosis at the age of 39 he helped to change the way we see light.
Augustin-Jean Fresnel was a French physicist who contributed significantly to the establishment of the theory of wave optics. Fresnel studied the behavior of light both theoretically and experimentally. In 1819 he was nominated a commissioner of lighthouses, for which he was the first to construct a special type of lens, now called a Fresnel lens, as substitutes for mirrors.
He did studies on much of the work of Thomas Young, a Englishman who has accomplished knowledge in many areas, he contributed to the scientific understanding of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy only to name a few. One of Young’s most important achievements was to establish the wave theory of light. Much of Young's work was reproduced and then extended by Augustin-Jean Fresnel.
The Fresnel lens has changed the way light is seen in the lighthouses and by this revolutionary development. The Fresnel lens would turn and bend the light and intensify the beam so that a continually glowing light by fire inside the lighthouse, which would give the appearance out on the water that, the light was flashing. This gave the ability to better identify which lighthouse it was by its own unique flashing signature.
However, because the lighthouses were not equipped with electricity, this would require the full time presents of a Lighthouse Keeper and in many cases assistant keepers and their families to keep the fire burning inside the lighthouse, and keep the glass both of the Fresnel lens and the windows of the lantern room clean. In addition most of the Fresnel lenses had huge counterweights much like a grandfather clock that required winding by pulling the counterweights up which hung from a long chain in order to keep the lens turning. Due to the great expense of maintaining the lighthouse; as electricity was introduced which would eliminate the need to keep oil or coal burning, by installing large watt globes and by automating the lighthouses. By either automatic beacons that would either turn or flash, and in some cases electric motors to turn the lens. Live-in Lighthouse Keepers became non-essential and were let go.
The first lighthouses in America were in Boston Massachusetts in 1716 and 1746; Beavertail, Rhode Island in 1749; New London Harbor, Connecticut in 1760; Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1764; Cape Henlopen, Delaware in 1765; Morris Island, South Carolina in 1767; Plymouth, Maine in 1769; Cape Ann, Massachusetts in 1771; Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire in 1771; Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1784; and Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1788.
On August 7, 1789 the Lighthouse Services were established under the Treasury Department and was bounced around for a number of years, then in 1939 the lighthouse service was transferred to the U. S. Coast Guard.
Today, the U. S. Coast Guard still has the responsibility of the lighthouse services in America. Some of the historic lighthouses have been turned over from the Coast Guard to non-prophet organizations with the responsibility of restoring and preserving the history of the lighthouse.