One of the questions I often get asked is how I became interested in lighthouses. I explain that I grew up near the ocean and have always had a love for things nautical. I add that my first job included traveling around the world on oceanographic ships. I have fond memories of the welcoming beam of a lighthouse as our vessel approached land after a long voyage. In recent years I learned that my love of lighthouses may also be "in my blood." My great-great-grandfather was a lighthouse keeper on the north coast of Spain from 1863 to 1904.
Rugen Island, Germany's largest island, lies at the country's northeast corner surrounded by the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea and stunning seascapes that are part of the western reach of the Polish-German "Pomeranian Coast." The sunny isle is named for an old Slavic tribe known as the Ranen, which possibly means "The Reds," for the color of their hair. Their land eventually became known as the Rugard. But modern-day Germans simply call it "The Baltic Gibraltar."
Dr. Jonathan Pitney, who would one day be called the Father of Atlantic City, was acutely aware of the danger to mariners which existed along the beaches he regarded as otherwise beneficent. In 1820 this former scountry physician arrived in the Absecon area. He encouraged his patients and friends to take vacations in the area. By 1830 he had witnessed enough ship wrecks to realize a lighthouse was needed to assist the mariner. He began to petition for the beacon, and for the next 20 years his letters to the government fell on deaf ears.
In conformity with the Notice to Mariners of 10th November last, notice is hereby given that the Tower and keeper's dwelling at Absecum, N.J., are now completed, and a light will be exhibited therefrom, for the first time, at sunset on the 15th of January, 1857, and every night thereafter from sunset to sunrise. The tower is of brick, unpainted, and is surmounted by an iron lantern painted black. The illuminating apparatus is catadioptric of the first order of Fresnel, showing a fixed white light.
The Admiralty Head Lighthouse was lit in 1861 to guide sailing ships through Washington's Admiralty Inlet. It stood on a bluff on Whidbey Island at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. When the sailing ship era came to a close, the light, then shining from the second Admiralty Head Lighthouse, was extinguished in 1922.
The newly-invented airplane proved its utility during World War I. When the war was over, the War Department continued to develop aviation for military purposes. The Post Office Department started the first air mail routes. And entrepreneurs began to examine the possible commercial uses ofthe airplane. Very few people today, however, remember that the federal agency charged by Congress in 1926 with overseeing the birth pangs of civil aviation was the Lighthouse Bureau in the Department of Commerce. The Bureau and its predecessors had a century and a half of experience in lighting seaways.
In 1927 the Airways Division issued the following Specification For Airway Flood Lights: General Description - Each floodlight unit shall consist of a drum type housing mounted on a rigid pedestal, this drum to be fitted with a 14" or 16" commercial precision parabolic glass mirror, mogul screw socket, a spread light lens, and suitable provision for mounting a color screen.
Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, backed by Holland's East India Company, was the first European to see the mountainous and mysterious "Southern Continent." But as he sailed along along the coast near present-day Golden Bay in December 1642, an encounter with the native Maori proved fatal for several members of his crew. Tasman left, never to return. Later voyages by his countrymen confirmed his discovery and named it Nieuw Zeeland, after a large province in Holland and its powerful Dutch East India Company directors.
GOLD! was the cry shouted at Sutter's Mill in 1849 and hundreds of sailing ships were pressed into service to transport the 49'ers from the east coast to California. Many, far too many, of those ships came to grief on the rocks of the dark and fog shrouded coast. The U.S. Lighthouse Service successfully petitioned Congress to construct lighthouses along the west coast. When the contract was awarded it called for seven lighthouses to be built including Alcatraz.
Most people, even most lighthouse enthusiasts, do not know that Fresnel lenses were made in America. The following story will tell how an American glass-maker, a disgruntled Frenchman, the need for an astronomical telescope in Japan, $11.95 of erroneous import duty, and our government's strong desire for 'Made in America' led to the manufacture of American Fresnel lenses.