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Introduction to Lights of the Coast:
Exploring Lighthouses


Though it is probable that the lighthouse aided navigation for almost as long as people have sailed the sea, the golden age of the lighthouse came within only the last couple of hundred years. With technology advancing by leaps and bounds in the 19th and 20th centuries, ways of improving these lights of the coast (ways such as better, more easily replenished fuels and brilliant lenses) added tremendously to the mariner's ability to safely sail the margin between land and the open sea. Lighthouses have had a significant impact on civilization in a multitude of ways, including:

The following are just a few of the many benefits provided by lighthouses:

  1. Guiding ships into port
  2. Warning mariners of navigational hazards
  3. Serving as identifying markers of a particular region

The primary components of a lighthouse are:

Light Source
the illuminating device or burning of fuel to create light
usually glass, used to focus and increase light intensity
the glass housing that contains both the light source and the lens
a narrow, circular balcony that helps to provide external access to the lantern or other parts of the tower
the main structure, usually tall and cylindrical, that holds the lantern and its components up high for increased visibility
prior to the common occurrence of lighthouse automation in the 20th century, the most important component of all, responsible for all the necessary duties associated with the operation and maintenance of lighthouses

Some of the world's most notable lighthouses include:

The Lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt) - One of the Seven Wonders of the World, erected on the island of Pharos. This lighthouse is believed to have guided sailors into Alexandria's harbor for over 1500 years before its final demise in the 14th century.
Cape Hatteras (U.S.A.) - The tallest lighthouse in the U.S., built to warn mariners of the dangerous Diamond Shoals off the coast of North Carolina.
St. George Reef Lighthouse (U.S.A.) - Situated on a rock six miles off the coast of California, this lighthouse took ten years to build and is considered the most expensive lighthouse ever built in the U.S.
Boston Lighthouse (U.S.A.) - The first lighthouse to be built in what was to eventually become the United States. Due to Boston's importance in early American commerce, this lighthouse played a key role in American history as a navigational aid. Boston Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in the U.S. still staffed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Heceta Head (U.S.A) - Located in Oregon, this picturesque lighthouse has earned the reputation of the most photographed in the U.S.
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse (Bermuda) - The oldest cast iron lighthouse in the world.
La Jument (France) - Located off the coast of Brittany, this lighthouse has become quite famous through the photography of Jean Guichard.
San Antonio Lighthouse (Brazil) - The first lighthouse built in the Americas, completed in 1698.

Throughout history, lighthouses have served as one of the most significant aids to navigation the mariner has ever known. Providing a guiding light through a multitude of means - from bonfires to complicated optical systems - these lights of the coast have saved many a ship from the perils of the sea.

®2002, Lights of the Coast

Saturday 11-Jan-2003 11:47 AM