Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Light Houses of the United States

By Charles Nordhoff

Light House at Cleveland, Ohio - Lake Erie
The first act of Congress relating to light-houses was passed August 7, 1789. It pro­vided that "all expenses which shall accrue from and after the 15th day of August, 1789, in the necessary support, maintenance, and repairs of all light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers, erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the Treasury of the United States."

Seven months later, March 26, 1790, the same words were re-enacted, but with a proviso that "none of the said expenses shall continue to be so defrayed by the United States after the expiration of one year from the day aforesaid, unless such light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers shall in the meantime be ceded to and vested in the United States by the State or States respectively in which the same lie, together with the lands and tenements thereunto belonging, and together with the jurisdiction of the same."

Bergen Point Light House, New Jersey
Before this the States which possessed sea-ports had controlled and supported each its own light­houses; by these two acts Congress prepared to assume the control of these aids to navigation and commerce, as the Constitution required; and ever since the Federal government has not only main­tained and supported the light-houses, but it has also owned them, and a sufficient space of ground about them for all necessary ends. And thus it was that in the first proclamation of Mr. Lincoln, in 1861, he announced his pur­pose to recover and maintain possession of all forts, light­houses, etc.

The Federal gov­ernment has not in any case erected a light-house until the State govern­ment had first ced­ed both the land on which it was to stand and the juris­diction over it.

In March, 1815, twenty-six years after the first act quoted above, the government main­tained eighty-four light-houses. In Septem­ber, 1872, it maintained 573 light-houses and twenty-two light-ships, besides thirty-three fog-signals worked by steam or hot-air engines, 354 beacons, and 2762 buoys. There are now 809 light-keepers.

Fire Island Light House, New York
In 1815 light-houses were placed on the coasts of only eleven States; and Massa­chusetts had twenty lights, New York and Connecticut five each, Virginia and North Carolina four, and so on.

The first light-house was ceded to the Federal government by the State of Vir­ginia, November 13, 1789. The cession in­cluded "two acres in the county of Prin­cess Ann, the headland of Cape Henry," with a "reservation of fishing rights, and the hauling of seines." The next act of ces­sion was in May, 1790, by Connecticut, of the "light-house at New London, and certain rocks and ledges off against the harbor of New London, called Race Rock, Black Ledge, and Goshen Reef; together with the buoys."

In June of the same year Massachusetts made a wholesale cession of eight pieces of real estate, with the light-houses on them or to be put on them; in November, 1790, New Jersey gave to the Federal govern­ment "a lot of about four acres at the point of Sandy Hook," in Mon­mouth County; and in 1792 New York ceded "Montauk Point, called Tur­tle Hill, in Suffolk County."

The history of our light-houses is really contained to a large extent in the laws of Congress relating to them. Thus in 1819 Con­gress appropriated $3027, in addition to other sums pre­viously given, to make up the sala­ries of light-keep­ers to $350 per an­num. In 1822 $8240 were appropriated to buy a patent light of David Melville, and place it in the light-houses. In 1825 it was enacted that  “if any person or persons shall hold out or show any false light or lights, or extinguish any true light, with the intention to bring any ship or vessel, boat or raft, being or sailing upon the sea, into dan­ger or distress or shipwreck, every such per­son so offending, his or her counselors, aid-ere, and abettors, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding four thou­sand dollars, and imprisonment and confinement to hard labor not exceeding ten years, according to the aggravation of the offense."

Light House at Alligator Reef, Florida
It is said that evil-minded persons on the Bahamas and elsewhere used systematically to hang out false lights to lure ships off their course and on to reefs, and that their rude method for imitating a revolving or flash light was to tie a lantern to a horse's tail and walk the animal around in a circle.

Until 1852 the light-houses were under the superintendence of the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, who had other matters to at­tend to, was not himself chosen as an expert in light-house construction or maintenance, and had no authority to employ skilled as­sistants. There had been such constant and urgent complaints of the deficiencies of our light-house system that a commission of proper persons was at last sent to Europe to inquire into the management of light-houses there, and in consequence of their report the present Light-house Board was constituted by act of Congress in August, 1852. This act authorized and required the President to appoint immediately two officers of the navy of high rank, one officer of the Engi­neer Corps, one of the Topographical Engi­neers, and two civilians of high scientific attainments; also an officer of the navy and one of the engineers to be secretaries. These together were constituted the Light-house Board, and to it was given charge of the erec­tion, repair, and maintenance of all light­houses, light-ships, beacons, and buoys, with full powers. The Secretary of the Treasury was made ex officio president of the board.

Light House at Calcasieu,
Gulf Coast of Louisiana
The labors of this Light-house Board have placed our light service, which was once the worst in the world, at the head of all for the excellence of its different devices for reliev­ing navigation of risks, and making our har­bors easily accessible. All the most approved modern improvements in lenses, re­flectors, and lamps have been introduced; the many difficulties in building light-houses which are found on our long and varied coast­line have been overcome with engineering skill and ingenuity highly creditable to our officers; and Congress, dealing liberally with this branch of the service, has enabled the board to perfect their work in all respects.
The Light-house Board is at present com­posed of the Secretary of the Treasury as ex officio President; Professor Joseph Henry, LL.D., Secretary of the Smithsonian Insti­tution, Chairman; Brevet Major-General A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, U.S.A.; Brevet Major-General J. G. Barnard, Colonel of Engineers, U.S.A.; Professor Benjamin Peirce, LL.D., Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey; Captain John Lee Davis, U.S.N.; and Commodore Foxhall A. Parker, U.S.N.; with Rear-Admiral C. S. Boggs as Naval Secretary, and Major George H. Elliot, of the Engineers, as Engineer Sec­retary. The two secretaries are members of the board, and vote as such in its delib­erations. They and Professor Henry are the able and capable members of the board on duty in the office at Washington. Admiral Shubrick was the first chairman of the board.

Light House at Piedras Blancas, California
Besides the Congressional enactments punishing the destruction or disturbance of light-houses and buoys, many of the States impose penalties, either fine or imprison­ment, or both, for such offenses.
There are thirteen light-house districts, beginning in Maine, and ending on the Pa­cific coast, and competent officers are detail­ed in each district to superintend new struc­tures and repairs, and to see that supplies are constantly sent as needed.

A light-house keeper is required by the government to be over eighteen years old, to be able to read and write, and to be com­petent for his duties. "Women and serv­ants must not be employed in the manage­ment of the lights, except by the special authority of the department."

There are six orders of lights in our serv­ice, the first being established to give warn­ing of the approach to land, and the others being subsidiary, to mark headlands and points in bays, rivers, and lakes. There are white and red lights; fixed, revolving, and flash lights; and the revolving lights have different intervals, from a minute and a half to ten seconds. There are also fixed white lights showing a red flash at intervals; and in some cases two and even three fixed white lights mark a headland. Thus, on Cape Cod, Chatham has two lights, and Nan­sett three in a row. These differences are made to enable mariners the more readily and surely to distinguish lights apart, and thus to be certain what point or headland they are approaching at night. For the same reasons light-ships are numbered, and have their numbers painted on their sides. Buoys, too, are set in regular order for the better guidance of seamen. Thus, on enter­ing a bay or harbor, the ship leaves red buoys, with even numbers, on her starboard, and black buoys, with odd numbers, on her port side. Where a buoy marks an obstruction in mid-channel which may be passed on either side, it is painted with horizon­tal red and black stripes; but if the buoy is striped white and black perpendicularly, this de­notes that you must pass close to it to avoid danger. Perches with balls and cages on buoys denote that they are placed at turning-points in the channel. Thus it will be seen that, by various ingenious expedients, as little as possible is left to chance or guess-work; and the seaman who has his chart before him, and understands these simple regulations, can find his way into any of our ports.

Light House at Spectacle Reef, Lake Huron
All lights on the St. Lawrence, and on all our Northern lakes and their bays, are discontinued on the 1st of January, and relit only when the ice melts and navigation reopens.

The building of a light-house often demands the utmost skill, ingenuity, and knowledge of the engineer; and the illustrations in this article show how varying is the problem presented. Some are built of stones fastened to­gether with heavy iron clamps; some, entirely of iron, look like a gigantic spider squatting on the water. Some, placed on low beaches or rocks, need to be tall towers. Others, like Point Reyes, in Cali­fornia, perched on high bluffs and cliffs, are only big enough to contain the lantern and its apparatus. In many cases light-houses are built complete at some foundry, and then transported to their proper place. In others men must work amidst the surf un­der such difficulties that in laying the foun­dations of Minot's Ledge Light-house, on the Massachusetts coast, one of the famous achievements in this branch of engineering, General Alexander, the distinguished officer who superintended the construction, was able to get but thirty hours of work done in the first year, and one hundred and fifty-seven hours in the second year.

Nor do ingenuity and care cease when the light-house is built and the keeper installed. Most of our light-houses are on barren, desolate, and exposed points of the coast. In some of them the keepers cannot communi­cate at all with the shore during the winter months, and in such cases supplies of all kinds for the lights and the keepers must be accumulated beforehand. In many fresh­ water for the keeper and his family has to be caught in cisterns ; and there is an of­ficial circular to light-keepers, telling them how to avoid the poisonous effect of the water dripping from the leads of the light­houses by putting powdered chalk into the cistern, and occasionally stirring it. In many places it has been found that cattle, attract­ed to the light at night, destroyed the strong-rooted grass which holds down sand dunes, and thus exposed the light-house itself to destruction ; and in such cases a considera­ble area of land must be fenced in to exclude these beasts. On stormy nights sea-fowl are apt to dash themselves against the lantern glasses, blinded probably by the glare of the lights, and all light-keepers are specially warned in their printed instructions to be on the watch for such an accident, and extra panes of glass, fixed in frames, are always in readiness in every light-house, to substitute for those which may thus be broken.

Light House at Thimble Shoals, Virginia
In fact, the Light-house Board carries on and provides for an infinite number of de­tails, many of them petty, but none unimportant. It must provide oil for the lamps, and oil butts must be ingeniously contrived so as to exclude air from their contents. It must keep a store of wicks, and of lamp scis­sors to trim the wicks; it must provide the most durable and economical paint for the iron of the lanterns; it has to send on sup­plies of food; and for the more complicated lights of the higher orders it has not only to provide expensive machinery, but must also keep on hand delicate yet simple tests by the help of which the light-keeper may be able daily to see that his lamp is set in the exact plane, and that his wicks are trimmed pre­cisely high enough. It must provide such seemingly trifling articles as dusting and feather brushes, linen aprons, rouge powder, prepared whiting, spirits of wine, buff or chamois skins, and linen cleaning cloths, and, what will appeal to the sensibilities of most country housekeepers, the Light-house Board must keep on hand at each light-house a sufficient supply of glass chimneys for the lamps. No doubt the board possesses the invaluable secret of making chimneys last a long time, and no doubt many an excel­lent housekeeper who reads this would like to ask Professor Henry what kind of lamp chimneys he has found to be the most lasting and the least liable to crack.

There is a printed book of one hundred and fifty-two pages specially devoted to "instructions and directions to light-keepers," and in this they receive explicit commands not only for their daily du­ties, but for all pos­sible or imaginable accidents and emergencies. The first ar­ticle of these instruc­tions announces the fundamental duty of the light-keeper: "The light-house and light-vessel lamps shall be light­ed, and the lights exhibited for the benefit of mariners, punctually at sunset daily. Light-house and light-vessel lights are to be kept burning brightly, free from smoke, and at their greatest at­tainable heights, during each entire night, from sunset to sun­rise;" and it is added that "the height of the flame must be frequently measured dur­ing each watch at night, by the scale grad­uated by inches and tenths of an inch, with which keepers are provided." Finally, "All light-house and light-vessel lights shall be extinguished punctually at sunrise, and ev­erything put in order for lighting in the evening by ten o'clock A.M. daily."

Light House at Trinity Shoal,
Gulf of Mexico
It would be tedious, and take more space than we have to spare, to give even a bald list of all the tools and materials required in a first-class light-house. A glance over the index of the volume of directions shows that it contains instructions for cleaning, placing, removing, and preserving the lamp chimneys; for cleaning the lamps; for keep­ing the lantern free from ice and snow; for preserving the whiting, rouge powder, etc.; for using two or three dozen tools; for pre­serving and economically using the oil, fill­ing the lamp, using the damper; for precau­tions against fire; "how to trim the wicks;" and for dozens of other details of the light-keeper's daily duties.

The keeper is required to enter in a jour­nal (daily) all events of importance occur­ring in and near his tower, and also to keep a table of the expenditure of oil and other stores. Besides the officer who is district light-house inspector, and who may make his examinations at any time, there are ex­perts called "lampists," who pass from light to light, making needed repairs, and also taking care that the machinery of the light is in order, and that it is properly attended to by the keeper.

Operation of a siren (steam fog-horn) - sectional view
In the construction of light-houses many nice points have to be borne in mind. For instance, on the Atlantic coast it is found difficult very often to raise the towers high enough so as to let the lights be seen at a great distance. But on our Pacific coast the difficulty is often to get them low enough. The coast of California is mostly mountainous and precipitous: the fog hangs low on the mountain-sides; and if lights were placed too high, they would be ob­scured by the fog. Our Pacific coast, by-­the-way, is far more foggy than the Atlantic side; and fog-signals are of more importance between San Francisco and the mouth of the Colum­bia than along the whole shore-line from Calais to St. Augus­tine. The proper height for a sea-coast light is about one hundred and fifty feet above the sea-level; but on the California coast it is rarely that room can be got for a light­house so low down as this. The fine light at Point Reyes stands two hundred and ninety- six feet above the sea, and that of Point Loma, at the entrance of San Diego Bay, is nearly five hundred feet above the sea Point Reyes light can be seen at a dis­tance of twenty-four nautical miles when the weather is clear; when it is foggy, a steam fog - whistle warns the mariner to keep off a line of coast which is as dangerous to a ship as a shark's mouth would be to a man.

The light-ships, buoys, beacons, fog-signals, ma­chine-shops, and other property controlled by the Light-House Board, are worth between forty and fifty millions of dollars. The whole of this is a free gift of the Amer­ican people to the world. Other nation’s exact light-house dues which to a great ex­tent defray the expense of maintaining their lights, but our government has made all lights free to the mariners of all nations. The whole establishment is sustained by an­nual appropriations of Congress.

Point Reyes Light House, Pacific Coast
The present pay of light-house keepers varies according to the importance of the light and the responsibility put upon the keeper. The Congressional appropriation covers an average salary of six hundred dol­lars per annum. The keeper of Minot's Ledge, on the Massachusetts coast, receives $1000, while some keepers receive but $350.

The cost of light-houses varies as much as the salaries of the keepers. Some light­houses cost ten thousand dollars; Minot's Ledge light cost a quarter of a million; and the light-house on Spectacle Reef, on the coast of Lake Huron, cost $300,000. A picture of the last-named light-house is given, and the follow­ing account of the difficulties encoun­tered in preparing for its construction will give an idea of what natural ob­stacles have often to be overcome in this kind of build­ing. The account is taken from the official report:

The site of the tower being de­termined, and the proper soundings and surveys made, a crib ninety-two feet square was built, having a cen­tral opening forty-eight feet square to receive the coffer­dam which was to form the pier of protection, as well as the landing-place for materials. This huge crib was float­ed to its place.

In order to get accurate soundings to guide in shaping the bottom of the crib, and to fix with a degree of certainty the position of these sound­ings and that to be occupied by the crib, four temporary cribs, each fif­teen feet by twenty-five feet, of round timber, were placed in from eight to ten feet of water, in a line corresponding with the proposed eastern face of the pier of protection, and filled to the level of the water with ballast stone. These four cribs were then decked over and connected to­gether. Upon the pier thus formed about seventy cords of ballast stone were placed, ready at the proper time to be thrown into the crib forming the pier of protection.

The lower two complete courses of the pier of protection having been fastened to­gether by screw-bolts, forming a raft, con­stituting a ground-plan of the pier of pro­tection, were then towed from the harbor where framed to the reef, and moored di­rectly over the position to be occupied by the finished pier. Its position was marked upon the temporary pier referred to above, and soundings taken at intervals of two feet along each timber in the raft, thus ob­taining accurate contours of the surface of the reef within the limits of these timbers. The raft was then towed back to the harbor, hauled out upon ways, and by means of wedges of timber the bottom was made to conform to the surface of the reef. The raft, now become the bottom of the pier of protection, was then launched, and additional courses of timber built upon it, until its draught of water was just sufficient to per­mit its being floated into position on the reef, at which time it was estimated that the top of the pier would be one foot out of water.

Thatcher's Island Light & Fog Signal, Cape Ann, Mass
The depth of water on the reef at the points to be occupied by the four corners of the pier of protection was found to be as follows: At northeast corner, ten feet six inches; at northwest corner, thirteen feet; at southwest corner, fourteen feet six inch­es; and at southeast corner, nine feet six inches - the position to be occupied by the pier of protection having been so chosen that the sides would correspond to the car­dinal points of the compass.
Meanwhile five barges at the harbor had been loaded with ballast stone, making, together with those on the temporary pier at the reef, 290 cords (about 1800 tons) at command, with which to load the pier of protection and se cure it to the reef as soon as it should be placed in position.

On the evening of the 18th of July, 1871, everything being in readiness, and the wind, which had been blowing freshly from the northwest for three days previously, having somewhat moderated, at 8 P.M. the tugs Champion (screw-propeller) and Magnet (side wheel) took hold of the immense crib and started to tow it to the reef, fifteen miles distant, followed by the Warrington (screw­propeller), having in tow the schooner Belle, the two having on board a working force of 140 men, the tug Stranger (screw-propeller), with barges Ritchie and Emerald, and the tug Hand, with two scows of the Light-house Establishment. The barge Table Rock, with fifty cords of stone on board, was left in re­serve at the harbor. The construction scow, with tools, etc., on board, was towed with the crib. At 2 A.M. next morning, six hours after starting, the fleet hove to off the reef, awaiting daylight and the abatement of the wind, which had again freshened up. At 6 ½ A.M., it having moderated, the pier, with considerable difficulty, was placed in posi­tion, and after being secured to the tempo­rary pier and the moorings previously set for the purpose, all hands went to work throwing the ballast stone into the compartments, and by 4 P.M. succeeded in getting into it about 200 cords, or 1200 tons. By this time the wind was blowing freshly, and the sea running so high as to make it necessary to stop work for the time, but early next morn­ing all the reserve stone was put into the compartments.

After the pier was in position the schoon­er Belle was moored on the reef to serve as quarters for the working force, which proceeded to build up the pier to the required height above water (twelve feet). On the 12th of September the pier had been built up to its full height, and by the 20th of Sep­tember quarters for the workmen had been completed upon it, which were at once occu­pied, and the Belle returned to the harbor.

By means of a submarine diver the bed­rock within the opening of the pier was then cleared off, and the work of constructing the coffer-dam was taken in hand. The coffer­dam itself consisted of a hollow cylinder, forty-one feet in diameter, composed of wood­en staves, each four inches by six, and fifteen feet long. The cylinder was braced and trussed internally, and hooped with iron ex­ternally, so as to give it the requisite strength. It was put together at the surface of the wa­ter, and when complete was lowered into position on the bed-rock by means of iron screws.

As soon as it rested on the rock (which was quite irregular in contour), each stave was driven down so as to fit as closely as it would admit, and a diver filled all openings between its Iowa' end and the rock with Portland cement. A loosely twisted rope of oakum was then pressed close down into the exterior angle between the coffer-dam and rock, and outside of this a larger rope made of hay. The pumping machinery hav­ing meanwhile been placed in readiness, the coffer-dam was pumped dry, and on the same day (14th October) a force of stone-cutters descended to the bottom and commenced the work of leveling off the bed-rock, and pre­paring it to receive the first course of ma­sonry.

The bed-rock was found to consist of dol­omitic limestone, confirming the previous examinations, highest on the western side, toward the deepest water, and sloping gradually toward the eastern. In order to make a level bed for the first course of ma­sonry it was necessary to cut down about two feet on the highest side, involving a large amount of hard labor, rendered more difficult by the water forcing its way up through seams in, the rock. But the work was finally accomplished, the bed being as carefully cut and leveled as any of the courses of masonry.

The first course of masonry was then set, completing it on the 27th of October. While setting this course much trouble was caused by the water, already referred to as forcing its way up through seams in the rock, which attacked the mortar-bed. For this reason water was let into the dam every evening, and pumped out next morning, to give the mortar time to harden during the night. This mortar was composed of equal parts of Portland cement and screened siliceous sand. Specimens of it obtained the following spring, after being in place under water for seven months, were quite as hard or harder than either the bed-rock or the stone used in building the tower.

The weather having now become very boisterous, with frequent snow-squalls, oft­en interrupting the work, and the setting of any additional stone requiring the removal of a portion of the most important of the, in­terior braces of the coffer-dam, it was deem­ed prudent to close the work for the season. This, too, would give ample time for the hardening of the mortar used in bedding the stone, and the concrete used for filling cavities in the bed-rock, as well as the space between the outside of the first course and the coffer-dam, which was solidly filled with concrete to the top of the first course. Therefore the coffer-dam was allowed to fill with water the process being hastened by boring holes through it to admit the water, and it was secured to prevent its being lift­ed by the ice during the winter.

The machinery was laid up, and on the last of October all the working force, except two men, was removed. These two men were left to attend to the fourth-order light which had been established on the top of the men's quarters, and the fog-signal, con­sisting of a whistle attached to one of the steam-boilers. At the close of navigation they were taken off the pier by the light­house tender Haze.

The degree of suc­cess of this novel coffer-dam may be inferred from the fact that although prepared with pumps of an aggregate ca­pacity of five thou­sand gallons per minute, not more than a capacity of seven hundred gallons was used, except when emptying the coffer-dam, and then only to expe­dite the work. Once emptied, a small pro­portion of this ca­pacity was ample to keep the coffer-dam free from water; and this at a depth of twelve feet of wa­ter, on rock, at a dis­tance of nearly eleven miles from the nearest land. Every person connected with the work may well feel a just pride in its success. All the stone which had been delivered at the harbor, consisting of the first five courses (each course two feet thick), having been cut by this time, the work there was also closed.

The season opened a month later in 1872 than in 1871, consequently work was not re­sumed at the harbor until the 3d of May, and upon the reef until the 20th of the same month. On the 13th of May the ice in the coffer-dam was still a compact mass, of some feet in thickness. Masses of ice still lay on top of the pier itself. As soon as anything could be done, the ice still remaining was cleared out of the coffer-dam, the machinery put in order, the braces removed from the interior of the coffer-dam, and then the work of setting additional courses began.

The work upon the tower was carried on at such a rate that one entire course of ma­sonry was set, drilled, and bolted complete every three days.

The Spectacle Reef tower was founded upon a rock the highest part of which was ten feet under water. The rock on which the Minot's Ledge light-tower stands had its highest part on a level with the water at extreme low tide and in very smooth weather. The work on Minot's Ledge, however, was more difficult, because of the ocean swell which there rolls in.

The lenses used to enforce, concentrate, and direct the higher grades of lights cost various prices, up to eleven or twelve thou­sand dollars. The lamp of a first-order sea­coast light-house has four concentric wicks, the outer one being four inches in diameter. The oil is pumped up by clock-work or other machinery so as to feed these wicks con­stantly to their utmost that they may give out as much light as possible. The Fresnel lens now comes in to save all the rays of light which have thus carefully been created, and to concentrate them and send them forth in that direction only in which they are re­quired. Briefly described, the invention of Fresnel consists in surrounding the lamp by a series of prismatic rings of glass, each dif­ferent from the others in its angles, but all cut mathematically to such angles that the rays which go above the proper plane and those which fall below shall be bent by re­fraction and reflection so as to become par­allel with the lateral rays. Thus all the rays are saved and sent out in one sheet over the ocean. The construction of lenses for light-houses was described in an article in Harper's Magazine for February, 1869, and we will not, therefore, repeat it here. It is necessary, however, to say that one of the most important duties of the keeper of a light is to see daily that the light and the lens are upon the exact and proper level. A deviation of only a fraction of an inch might throw the beam of light toward the sky or down toward the base of the light-tower, and thus make it useless to the mar­iner.

Formerly the best sperm-oil was used in light-house lamps. Colza or rape-seed oil was next introduced in Europe, and is still used there, as it is an excellent oil. It is, however, difficult in this country to get a sufficient quantity of the best kind, and our Light-House Board now, uses the best qual­ity of lard-oil, made on purpose for the es­tablishment. Kerosene and other mineral oils have been used in the British Provinces and in Europe to some extent, but there are certain obvious risks attending them which prevent their use with us.

There are at this time half a dozen electric lights in Europe, but their number is not in­creasing. They have proved extremely expensive in the maintenance, requiring the use of steam-engines for generating the elec­tricity. It is said that this light, which is, no doubt, more powerful than any other in clear weather, does not penetrate fog so well as the oil light.

Experience has shown our Light-house Board that the best light-keepers are old sailors and soldiers, and it is its desire, we have been told, that the maimed of those who served in the war for the Union should, where they are physically and mentally com­petent, receive these places. It is to be hoped that civil service reform will make its way also into this department of the gov­ernment service, for the petty though im­portant place of light-keeper has too often been made a political prize, and thus the service, which requires permanence, has been injured. The politicians of the baser sort have not seldom defeated the best inten­tions and desires of the board, and ousted a good man to put in one "useful at the polls." A merchant might as reasonably change his book-keeper for political reasons as the government change its light-keepers for this cause. In England the light-keeper holds his office for life or good behavior. When he enters the service he is rigidly ex­amined as to his duties, and must produce the best evidence of good character and sound health. He begins at a less impor­tant light, on a low salary, and is promoted for skill and attention to his duties. To this, it is hoped, we shall presently come.

Fog-signals, many of which are required at different points on the Atlantic and Pa­cific coasts, are of several kinds. Some are steam-whistles, the sound of which is made deeper or louder by being sent through a trumpet; but the most effective is probably the siren. This ingenious machine consists of a long trumpet and a steam-boiler. The sound is produced by the rapid revolution past each other of two fiat disks pierced with a great number of small holes; a jet of steam under high pressure is projected against the disks, which revolve past each other more than a thousand times a minute; as the rows of small holes in the two disks come opposite each other, th8 steam vehe­mently rushes through and makes the sin­gular and piercing noise which a Siren gives out. One of these machines, of which a drawing is given on page 476, costs about $3500 complete, with its trumpet, boiler, etc.

Daboll's trumpet is worked by an Ericsson engine, and requires no water for steam.

Congress rightly has great confidence in the scientific skill and integrity of the Light­house Board. At the last session, besides the usual appropriation for the mainte­nance of the light-house system, it gave the money needed to build forty new light­houses and ten steam fog-signals. If we ever have a merchant marine of our own again, our seamen will find the stormy and rock-bound coasts of their country well lighted for them.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.  March 1874.

If you enjoy reading Digital History Project - Consider making a donation today. Every dollar donated will help us publish more articles and illustrations.

With your help we can turn this site into a real look at History - Past, Present, and Future.

All donations over $100 will be acknowledged on our Donor Thank-you page, unless we are specifically notified not to list you.

Donation Amount

No comments:

Post a Comment