At the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, twelve colonial lighthouses served as navigational aids along the eastern seaboard. Originally manned and managed locally, The First Congress of the United States recognized the need for centralization of the lighthouses and enacted of The Lighthouses Act of 1789, which federalized all navigational aids.
Administered by the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the legislation provided for the regulation of all navigational aids, as well as, the funding for the construction of future lighthouses, beacons, and buoys. Secretary Hamilton reviewed the appointments and contracts of the keepers, submitting the final documents to President George Washington for his signature.
Maritime traffic increased dramatically at the turn of the 19th century, as settlers, pioneers, and those seeking religious and political asylum, arrived on the shores of the emerging new nation. The federal government responded to the increase in travel by water and heightened the number of lighthouses and light vessels. In 1822, there were 70 lighthouses; within 20 years the total number of lighthouses rose to 256. Nine years before the Civil War began, 331 lighthouses and 42 lightships were guiding ships through American waters.
But as numerous as lighthouses were the implementation of scientific improvements under Treasury Auditor Stephen Pleasonton’s tenure were slow at best. In response to complaints made by keepers, ships’ captains, and merchants, a thorough review of lighthouse management was initiated in 1847, resulting in Pleasonton’s discharge. A “blue ribbon panel” was formed and re-organization began in earnest soon after. By an act of Congress in 1852, the U.S. Light-House Board assumed all managerial responsibilities of all navigational aids. One of the most significant improvements to the lighthouses was the implementation of the Fresnel lens, an ingenious method of illumination. When the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, all lighthouses had been fit with the Fresnel lens.
In 1910, an Act of Congress officially changed the name of the U.S. Lighthouse Board to the Bureau of Lighthouse Service or Lighthouse Service. The Lighthouse Service was eventually transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, on the eve of World War II. Although the reassignment of the U.S. Coast Guard was not amenable to all members of the service, 241,093 personnel valiantly served during World War II. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard serves under the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime; however, under declaration of war, the U.S. Coast Guard is commanded by the Department of the Navy.
The U.S. Coast Guard is divided into 12 districts, two of which cover the Great Lakes. Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron are one district; Ontario and Erie are the second district. The station at Two Rivers, Wisconsin is one of three teams that operate within the Great Lakes 9th District, Lake Michigan Sector. The team at the Two Rivers Station is responsible for the 12 lighthouses located north of Kenosha, around Door County, and across to Escanaba, Michigan. Each navigational aid is inspected every six months to three years, based on its type of power–solar with batteries or commercial—and its flash characteristics. (The faster and longer the light flashes, the faster the lamps burn out.)
The U.S. Coast Guard is this nation’s oldest maritime agency, an amalgamation of five Federal agencies: the Revenue Cutter Service, Lighthouse Service, Steamboat Inspection Service, Bureau of Navigation, and Lifesaving Service. Throughout its history, the men and women of the U.S.C.G, in its many forms, have served in nearly every military conflict since the Revolutionary War through the most recent conflict in Iraq.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s official website, “with nearly 42,000 men and women on active duty, this is a unique force that carries out an array of civil and military responsibilities touching almost every facet of the U.S. maritime environment.”
The Mission of the U.S. Coast Guard: “To administer the various bridge statutes, environmental laws of the United States, pertinent regulations and policies in a timely, courteous, responsive and professional manner. Semper Paratus, be prepared!”