1st Lighthouse

1st Lighthouse

When were the first lighthouses built in the U.S.?

In colonial times, before we became an independent nation, men realized the need for lighthouses at the major ports to help guide ships into the harbors, to prevent them from crashing, and thereby losing their precious cargoes. So, the first lighthouses were built by the colonies (which were called states after 1776).

First Boston Light

In those days the ship owners had to pay a fee (toll) for the use of the lights which helped cover the costs of their construction and maintenance. Each ship that passed by a lighthouse on its way into or out of a port paid a tax based on the weight of the cargo it was carrying. They paid a penny for each ton of goods on board ship. (You have to remember that in those days a penny was worth a lot more than it is today.) Once we gained our independence from Great Britain and the federal government took charge in 1789, this fee was eliminated.

Most lighthouses were named for their location, but several were named after ships that wrecked themselves nearby before a lighthouse was built. For example: Carysfort, Fowey, Alligator Reefs, Pigeon Point and Ship John Shoal. Others were named because of events which occurred there: Cattle Point, Dead Man?s Rock, Cape Disappointment, Destruction Island, and Execution Rocks.
The U.S. Lighthouse Society originally designed this packet to furnish teachers with basic information about lighthouses, their purpose, history, operation and technology in a form presentable to young students. with the society's permission the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office is posting this modified version with additional photographs and information.

The U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office would like to thank Mr. Wayne Wheeler and the other members of The U.S. Lighthouse Society who produced and distributed the original version of this curriculum.

For more information on lighthouses, teachers and students should contact The U.S. Lighthouse Society, 244 Kearny Street, San Francisco, Ca 94108 or consult the lighthouse web pages on The U.S. Coast Guard Historian's web site.