Lesson #31: Lighthouses

Secretly, I want to marry a lighthouse keeper and spend the rest of my days hanging out on a cliff by the ocean, reading books, listening to classical music and brewing beer.* I like lighthouses; I find them soothing for some reason. Like fish…I could watch an aquarium for hours.**

I’m just going to assume that you all know the purpose of lighthouses (and if you don’t, you should really consider either opening a book every once in a while or using your logic skills) and move straight onto a few interesting facts I came across today.

1. The oldest existing working lighthouse is Torre de Herculos in A Coruna, Spain, which dates back to 20 BC.***

2. In the US, the Lighthouse Service was created in 1910 to oversee maintenance and staffing of the country’s 11,000+ lighthouses. The United States Lighthouse Service (or Bureau of Lighthouses) operated until 1939 when it was merged with the US Coast Guard. All lighthouses in the US are now under the care of the Coast Guard.****

3. Lightships operated from 1820 (Chesapeake Bay) until 1984 (Nantucket) where the water was too deep or the coast too inhospitable to build a lighthouse tower.

4. Lighthouse lamps used whale oil, then, briefly, colza oil (which is made from pressed Swedish turnips) before being switched to lard, kerosene and finally electric light.

5. Though there were female lighthouse keepers (about 80 total in the US), most of them came into the position when their husbands died or became otherwise incapacitated.*****

A random piece of knowledge I just know from my own personal history: the lenses used to throw light from lighthouse towers are called fresnel lenses (after the French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel); the same lenses are used to throw light in theatrical stage lighting.

*I choose to pretend that lighthouses aren’t automated these days and that they’re still being built in favour of beacon buoys.

**It actually suddenly occurs to me that this may be the reason why I spent an hour and a half just sitting staring at the giant metal waterfall sculpture outside the Millenium Centre in Cardiff.

***Which is not to be confused with the first lighthouse, which was the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

****A very interesting history of the administrative history of lighthouses in the US can be read here.

*****All of this information can be found here and here.

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