History & Facts

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A lighthouse is a structure from which light is projected at night, or which serves as a marker by day, to guide ships sailing in coastal waters. Lighthouses are constructed at important points on a coastline, at entrances to harbors and estuaries, on rocky ledges or reefs, on islands, and even in the water. Lighthouses help identify a ship’s location, warn ships of potential hazards, and notify them that land is near. Lighthouses differ from smaller beacons in that a lighthouse includes living quarters for a lighthouse keeper. Today, however, most lighthouses use automatic electric lights that do not require a full-time resident operator.  -James Hyland, President and founder, The Lighthouse Preservation Society


First lighthouse – Boston, MA (1716)

Oldest original lighthouse in service – Sandy Hook, NJ (1764)

Newest shoreside lighthouse – Charleston, SC (1962)

Only triangular-shaped lighthouse tower – Charleston, SC (1962)

Only lighthouse equipped with an elevator – Charleston, SC (1962)

Tallest lighthouse – Cape Hatteras, NC (191 ft)

First American-built West Coast lighthouse – Alcatraz Lighthouse (1854)

First lighthouse to use electricity – Statue of Liberty (1886)

First Great Lakes lighthouses – Buffalo, NY & Erie, PA (1818)

Most expensive lighthouse (adjusted cost) – St. George’s Reef, CA (1891)

First lighthouse built completely by the Federal Government – Montauk Point, NY (1797)

Founding of the U.S. Lighthouse Service – 7 August 1789

U.S. Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard – 7 July 1939

Second most powerful lighthouse in the world (and most powerful in the Western Hemisphere) – Charleston, SC (1962)

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