Who Controls

Who Controls?

What part of the government controlled lighthouses?

One of the first acts of the federal government provided for aids to navigation. On 7 August 1789 the First Congress federalized the colonial lighthouses. This was the beginning of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Congress also appropriated funds for lighthouses, beacons, and buoys. For the first five decades, however, there was little bureaucratic support for the service. Worse, there were no tenders to re-supply the keepers. Only the lone keepers? sense of duty kept the lights burning.

The men and women of the Lighthouse Service were among the most dedicated civil servants, often performing in extreme hardship. Abbie Burgess, while also caring for her family, served 38 years at the Matinicus Rock and White Head Light Stations in Maine. Keepers also saved lives. Ida Lewis rescued 18 people during her 39 years at the Lime Rock Lighthouse and Marcus Hanna, the keeper of the Cape Elizabeth Light, is the only man to have won the Medal of Honor and the Gold Lifesaving Medal. Other keepers died on duty. A 1906 hurricane, for instance, destroyed twenty-three lights along the Gulf Coast and killed the keepers at Horn Island and Sand Island. In 1946 a tsunami destroyed the Scotch Cap (Alaska) light and killed the entire crew.

Lighthouse administration bounced between the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department until President Franklin Roosevelt combined the Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard in 1939. Since that time increased mechanization and improved technology have made keepers unnecessary. Lighthouses are now fully automated and many have automatic bulb changers to ensure that the lights do not go out. The only remaining station with a keeper is that in Boston Harbor. Despite the fact that Coast Guard people are no longer stationed at most of the lights, the legacy of the keepers and the U.S. Lighthouse Service remain a vital part of the U.S. Coast Guard?s heritage.
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.