Lighthouses date back to ancient Egypt, where priests maintained the beacon fires. For about 1,500 years the lighthouse of Pharos, built in the 3d cent. B.C., guided ships into the Nile; it was lighted by a wood fire and showed smoke by day and a glow by night. The Romans built famous lighthouses in Ostia, Ravenna, and Messina and on both sides of the English Channel.
In the United States the tower for the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island was built in 1716; the first structure of the Brant Point Light, Nantucket, was built in 1746; and Beavertail Light on Conanicut Island, Narragansett Bay, was erected in 1749. In 1789 the U.S. government took over the care of lighthouses from their former private owners. The government set up (1852) the Lighthouse Board, which was eventually superseded by the Lighthouse Service, established (1910) to supervise lighthouses and lightships (see lightship). In 1939 this service was transferred from the Dept. of Commerce to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.