Lightship # 116-538 CHESAPEAKE


                              GENERAL LIGHTSHIP HISTORY up to 1939

 All of the following are quoted from CHRONOLOGY OF AIDS TO NAVIGATION AND THE OLD LIGHTHOUSE SERVICE 1716 – 1939 by Truman R. Strobridge, U. S. Coast Guard Historian which was as published in Coast Guard Publication CG-458 in 1974.  A copy of the complete pub CG-458 can be viewed by clicking HERE (file size is 4GB).   A copy of the text below can be viewed by clicking HERE .


1789  (7 August) An Act of Congress (1 Stat. L., 53). only the ninth law passed by the newly created Congress of the United States and the first one to make any provisions for public work, created the Lighthouse Establishment as an administrative unit of the Federal Government, when it accepted title to, and joined jurisdiction over, the lighthouses then in existence, and provided that "the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, 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." (Weiss, p. 2). 

1789  Starting in this year, the jurisdiction over, and the maintenance of, lighthouses and other aids to navigation have been in the Federal Government, and these aids to navigation, supported by appropriations out of the general revenues, have been free to the vessels of all nations. (Weiss, p. 3).

 1792  The records mention three floating beacons in the Chesapeake Bay, on Willoughby Spit, the Horseshoe, and the Middle Ground. (Putnam, pp. 216-217).

 1793  President George Washington approved a contract for a floating beacon with two masts and cages for the Delaware River at a cost of $264.00. (Putnam, p. 216).

 1820  The first lightship in the Un i ted States was stationed in Chesapeake Bay, off Craney Island, at the entrance to the Elizabeth River, near Norfolk. (Putnam, pp. 201.202).

 1823  A lightship was stationed off Sandy Hook, thus- being the "first outside vessel placed off the coast of this country." (Putnam, p. 60).

 1837  The first lightship on the Great Lakes was stationed at the junction of Lakes Huron and Michigan. (Putnam, p. 153).

 1837  (3 March) An Act of Congress (5 Stat. L., 181, 185) laid down certain restrictions, by providing that the construction of the large number of new lighthouses, lightships, etc., for which this law was appropriating the necessary funds, would not be begun until the Board of Navy Commissioners had examined the various projects and had reported to Congress those cases where the "navigation is so inconsiderable as not to justify the proposed works." The Navy detailed 22 officers to this duty and, before the end of the year, their recommendations resulted in the deferment of the construction of 31 lighthouses already appropriated for. (Putnam, p. 42; Weiss, p. 7).

 1839  The first publication approaching what we know today as the Light List was Lighthouses, Beacons, + Floating Lights of United States issued by the Treasury. (Weiss, p. 91).

 1847  An "iron boat" of four hundred tons with one lamp was placed on Merrills Shell Bank, Louisiana, despite the fact that lightships up to about 1877 were normally built of wood. (Putnam, p. 203).

 1851  The records mention buoy boats, which probably were in use to some extent in exposed positions. These buoy boats were stoutly timbered boats about 20.feet long and 7-feet beam, with mast l2-feet high carrying some sort of day mark. (Putnam, p. 218).

 1858  A revised form of Lighthouses, Beacons, Floating Lights of United States was issued by the Lighthouse Board. (Weiss, p. 91).

 1861-1865  During the Civil War, the Lighthouse Establishment assisted the Union cause and its military forces in many ways, such as relighting as combat conditions permitted the more important light stations of the 164 that had become discontinued, placing special buoys, lights, and lightships to facilitate military operations, etc. (Weiss, p. 16).

 1866  By this date, most of the lights that had become discontinued during the Civil War had been repaired and re-lighted. (Weiss, p. 16).

 1867  The Lighthouse Board began numbering its lightships as a means of keeping better track of them. Subsequently, no matter how many times a lightship would be moved from station to station, it would still retain its number. At first, the lightship number had no relation to the vessel's age, for the Lighthouse Board simply began numbering from north to south. Over the years, however, chronological meaning became attached to the number of a lightship, because new vessels were given the next highest number not in use. (Holland, pp. 58-59).

 1868  (2 March) By Act of Congress (15 Stat. L., 249), the Lighthouse Board was "authorized, when in their judgment, it is deemed necessary, to place a light-vessel, or other suitable warning of danger, on or over any wreck or temporary obstruction to the entrance of any harbor, or in the channel or fairway of any bay or sound." (Weiss, p. 111).

 1869  From this date on, with but few exceptions, the Lighthouse Service published a Light List each year. (Weiss, p. 91).

 1869  The U. S. Lighthouse Service adopted a distinctive flag, which was triangular in shape, with a red border, and bore a blue lighthouse on a white field. The lighthouse tenders displayed this Service flag, in addition to the national ensign. (Putnam, p. 212).

 1876  Commencing in this year, libraries were introduced on all lightships and inaccessible off-shore stations with the Lighthouse Service.  (Weiss, p. 80).

 1877  Up to about this date, lightships in the United States were built of white oak and live-oak. (Putnam, p. 203).

 1881  The first lighted buoy used in the United States, an oil gas buoy, was established experimentally by its manufacturers near the Scotland Lightship, at the entrance to New York Bay; it was officially taken over by the Lighthouse Establishment in April 1884. (Conway, p. 56; Putnam, p. 219).

 1882  It was not until this date, beginning with Lightship No. 44, that United States lightships were regularly built of iron or steel. (Putnam, p. 203).

 1884  The Lighthouse Board introduced a uniform for male lighthouse keepers, as well as for masters, mates, and engineers of lightships and tenders, and made the wearing of both dress and fatigue uniforms mandatory. (Holland, p. 41).

 1885  The Lighthouse Board reported that It had "at last succeeded in clothing all the male light-keepers, and the officers and crews of the light-ships and the light-house tenders, in a neat, appropriate, and economical uniform, which the laborers employed as acting light-keepers are not allowed to wear. It is believed that uniforming the personnel of the service, some 1,600 in number, will aid in maintaining its discipline, increase its efficiency, raise its tone, and add to its esprit de corps." (LHB AR 1885, p. 12).

 1886  Commencing in this year, officers and crews of lightships and lighthouse tenders became entitled to free treatment and care by the Public Health Service on the application of their commanding officers, an arrangement that did not become a formal agreement until 1913. (Weiss, p. 78).

 1891  The first United States lightships with self-propelling power were constructed. (Putnam, p. 203).

 1892  Electric incandescent lamps were first applied to a United States lightship, on Lightship No. 51 stationed on Cornfield Point. (Putnam, p. 204).

 1892  The first lightship on the Pacific Coast, Lightship No. 50, which was a sailing vessel built in San Francisco, was placed off the Columbia River entrance. (Putnam, p. 142).

 1893  (23 August) "This was the first instance in the history of the United States Light-House Establishment in which a light-ship has foundered at her moorings," reported the Lighthouse Board, when Lightship No. 37 was lost in rough seas at her station at Five Fathom Bank off the entrance to Delaware Bay. (Holland, p. 64).

 1898  During the Spanish-American War, no seacoast lights were extinguished or lightships removed, but changes were made at a number of harbors in the lights and buoys, an action made necessary by the minefields that were planted there. (Putnam, p. 213).

 1899  (3 March) An Act of Congress (30 Stat. L., 1121, 1152) required that, whenever a vessel, raft, or other craft was wrecked and sunk in a navigable channel, it became the duty of the owner to immediately mark the sunken craft with a suitable buoy or beacon during the day and a lighted lantern ~ at night. Previously, the Lighthouse Establishment had been authorized by Congress to place, when considered necessary, a lightship or other suitable warning -of danger on any wreak or temporary obstruction to the entrance of any harbor or in the channel of any bay or sound. (Weiss, pp. 45-46).

 1901  Radio communication was experimentally established on the Nantucket Lightship. (Putnam, p. 207).

 1904  The Nantucket Lightship was permanently equipped with radio communication, thus making her the first United States one to have this capability. (Putnam, p. 207).

 1906  The U. S. Lighthouse Service first began employing submarine bells as fog signals. (Putnam, p. 234).

 1908  A fleet of six vessels assigned to lighthouse duty on the Pacific Coast, the tenders SEQUOIA, MANZANITA, and KUKUI, and Lightships Nos. 88, 92, and 93, made the voyage from New York to San Francisco in 124 days. (Putnam, p. 145).

 1911  During Fiscal Year 1911, sirens were tried in place of whistles for fog signals on lightships and, although not materially increasing the range, they were "considered superior because of the distinctive sound produced and the decreased consumption of steam." (USLHS AR 1911, p. 16).

 1913  (8-10 November~ The second instance of a lightship foundering on station occurred, when Lightship No. 82 was lost off her station on Lake Erie about 13 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York, with the lost of her entire crew of six men. (SECCOM AR 1914, p. 115).

 1913  The Bush Bluff Lightship (No. 97), Virginia, was fitted with a new system of electrical signal light. "It consists of one parabolic silvered reflector mounted upon a compound pendulum and revolved by an electric motor to show a flash every 10 seconds. The light is furnished by a concentrated tungsten filament incandescent lamp of 30 candlepower, fixed in the focus of the reflector, and gives a flash estimated at about 80,000 candlepower. The current for the operation of both the lamp and motor is furnished by storage batteries, which are sent ashore for recharging at convenient intervals. This is the first installation of a signal light of this character in the world." (USLHS AR 1913, p. 23).

 1913  The Lighthouse Service adopted an improved marking of the lightships, thereby lessening the danger of an approaching vessel mistaking one lightship for another. Hereafter, the names of the lightships were to be simplified, thus permitting the distinguishing word for the vessel to be painted in very much larger letters, which could be read at a much greater distance. (USLHS AR 1913, pp. 6-7).

 1914  A first-class, tall-type nun buoy, weighing 4,200 pounds and painted red, white, and blue and decorated with stars on a blue field, was placed in Baltimore Harbor on the spot where the British man-of-war MINDEN rode at anchor when Frances Scott Key wrote the song that became the national anthem. (Adamson, p. 165).

 1915  The Lighthouse Service made a test of a new method of signaling under water by means of a patented device known as an oscillator at a lightship during Fiscal Year 1915. (USLHS AR 1915, p. 15).

 1916  (29 August) A naval appropriations act (39 Stat. L., 556, 602) provided for the first time the mobilization of the Lighthouse Service in time of war by authorizing the President, "whenever in his judgment a sufficient national emergency exists, to transfer to the service and jurisdiction of the Navy Department, or of the War Department, such vessels, equipment, stations and personnel of the Lighthouse Service as he may deem to the best interest of the country." (Weiss, p. 25).

 1917  (11 April) With the outbreak of World War I, the President issued an executive order transferring 30 lighthouse tenders to the War Department, all subsequently being assigned to the Navy Department, and 15 lighthouse tenders, four lightships, and 21 light stations to the Navy Department. One more tender was transferred on 31 January 1918, making a total of 50 vessels and 1,132 persons. The War Department used those assigned to it in mine-placing operations, while the Navy Department used those assigned to it in laying submarine defense nets during the war and in removing these defenses after the war. Other duties performed by these vessels were placing practice targets, buoys to mark wrecks of torpedoed vessels and other marks for military purposes, as well as being employed on patrols and special duty assignments. (Weiss, p. 26).

 1917  The first experimental radiobeacon was set up, thus paving the way for the later widespread use of radio in ship direction-finding. (Adamson, p. 130).

 1918  (6 August) The first American lightship to be sunk by an enemy submarine, Lightship No. 71, was lost on her Diamond Shoals station, her crew taking to their boats and reaching shore without injury. (USLHS AR 1918, p. 8).

 1918  For the first time, an Act of Congress provided retirement benefits for persons in the field service of the U. S. Lighthouse Service, including light keepers and lightship personnel. (Putnam, p. 239).

 1919  During Fiscal Year 1919, the Lighthouse Service installed radio equipment on 32 lightships and 16 lighthouse tenders, bringing the number of such vessels so equipped to 40 and 23, .respectively. (USLHS AR 1919, p. 16).

 1921  (1 May) The first radio fog signals in the United States were placed in commission at Ambrose Channel Lightship, New Jersey; Fire Island Lightship, New York; and Sea Girt Light Station, New Jersey. (Weiss, p. 38).

 1921  (1 July) A system of longevity increase of pay, after six months' service for the unappointed members of the crews of Lighthouse Service vessels, was introduced for the first time as a means of maintaining "a more efficient personnel on these vessels." (USLHS AR 1921, p. 11).

 1922  A special type of lighted and bell buoy, having an automatic striking mechanism operated by compressed carbon dioxide, and weighing 18 tons when fully equipped wit h illuminating and fog-bell apparatus, was designed to relieve Tail of the Horseshoe Lightship in the 5th Lighthouse District. (USLHS AR 1922, p. 15).

 1922  During Fiscal Year 1922, a readjustment was made of pay scales on vessels of the Lighthouse Service on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Great Lakes and a system of longevity pay for all officers was introduced. (USLHS AR 1922, PP. 12-13).

 1923  A submarine oscillator was placed on the Nantucket Shoals Lightship. (Putnam, p. 234).

 1924  (23 April) A tube transmitter for radio fog-signal stations, developed to take the place of the spark transmitters in use, was placed in service on the Ambrose Channel Lightship and proved successful. (USLHS AR 1924, p. 1).

 1924  (1 July) An adjustment of the compensation of vessel officers in the Lighthouse Service was made effective in order to bring the pay of these positions more nearly on a level with that of similar positions in the U. S. Shipping Board, the Lake Carriers Association, and other shipping interests. (USLHS AR 1924, p. 6).

 1925  (4 March) An Act of Congress (43 Stat. L., 1261), for the first time, provided for disability retirement within/ the Lighthouse Service. (Weiss, p. 77).

 1925  (12 June) The Lake Huron Lightship radio fog signal was placed in commission, being the first signal of this kind on the Great Lakes. (USLHS AR 1925, p. 1).

 1926  (22 May) An Act of Congress extended the benefits of the Public Health Service to apply to light keepers located at isolated points, who previously had been unable to avail themselves of such benefits, and made provisions for medical supplies and hospital services for the crews of the vessels of the Lighthouse Service, including the detail of medical officers. (USLHS AR 1926, p. 5).

 1927   (1 March) A system of broadcasting weather reports by radio on four lightships on the Pacific coast was put into effect. (USLHS AR 1927, p. 3).

 1930  (24 June) An Act of Congress provided "that light keepers and vessel officers and crews, who during their active service were entitled to medical relief at hospitals and other stations of the Public Health Service, may be given such relief after retirement as is now applicable to retired officers and men in other branches of the Government service, under joint regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Commerce." (USLHS AR 1930, p. 7).

 1930  During Fiscal Year 1930, the Lighthouse Service "tested a new type of die-lock chain for lightship moorings with satisfactory results. (USLHS AR 1930, p. 6)."

 1931  Since the Service tests had proved satisfactory, the Lighthouse Service put in use on several lightships the new type of die-lock chain for mooring. (USLHS AR 1931, p. 5).

 1934  (15 May) Lightship No. 117, occupying the Nantucket Shoals Station, in a dense fog, was struck by the steamship OLYMPIC and sank on station with the loss of seven crewmembers. (USLHS AR 1934, p. 107).

 1934  The Lighthouse Service equipped a lightship for remote control by radio of all facilities, including light, fog signal, and radiobeacon, for use as an unwatched aid. (USLHS AR 1934, p. 104).

 1936  During Fiscal Year 1936, "Lighthouse Service radio engineers have designed and constructed improved radiobeacon equipment, including new types of transmitters and transmitter exciters for modernizing older type radiobeacons." (SECCOM AR 1936, p. 113).

 1936  By this date, "simplified signal timers, to replace the older synchronizers and signal controllers at a considerable saving in costs, have been designed and are in successful operation at several stations. These timers are clock-controlled and are self-connecting.  They control the timing of the main light, the fog signal, and the radiobeacon, and provide for the synchronization of the radiobeacon and the sound-in-air signals for distance-finding purposes." (SECCOM  AR 1936, p. 113).

 1937  During Fiscal Year 1937, a Lighthouse Service officer at the Lazaretto Depot in Baltimore, Maryland, conducted a series of tests, seeking an improved type of minor light structure suitable to the bottom condition found in the Chesapeake Bay area and at the same time resistant to the overturning action of heavy ice. (SECCOM AR 1936, p. 112).

 1937  During Fiscal Year 1937, a 375 millimeter duplex lantern was designed for use on a single masted lightship. (SECCOM AR 1937, p. 111).

 1938  The Lighthouse Service Radio Laboratory completed during Fiscal Year 1938 the developmental work on a high-power radiobeacon amplifier, on ultrahigh frequency radiophone equipment, and on a calling unit to increase the efficiency and reliability of radiophone circuits. (SECCOM  AR 1938, p. 128).

 1938  (1 February) The Lighthouse Service Radio Laboratory was moved from the shops of the lighthouse depot in Detroit, Michigan, "to the Lazaretto Lighthouse Depot in Baltimore, Md., where a building had been constructed providing more adequately for this important branch of the work of the Service." (SECCOM AR 1939, p. 120).

 1939  (30 June) "Lightships were maintained on 30 stations during the year. At the close of the year, the total number of lightships was 43, which included 9 relief ships and 4 ships out of commission.”  (SECCOM AR 1939, p. 124).

 1939  (1 July) Under the President's Reorganization Plan No. 11, made effective this date by Public Resolution No. 20, approved 7 June 1939, it was provided "that the Bureau of Lighthouses in the Department of Commerce and its functions be transferred to and consolidated with and administered as a part of the Coast Guard.  This consolidation, made in the interest of efficiency and economy, will result in the transfer to and consolidation with the Coast Guard of the system of approximately 30,000 aids to navigation (including light vessels and lighthouses) maintained by the Lighthouse Service on the sea and lake coasts of the United 5tates, on the rivers of the United States, and on the coasts of all other territory under the jurisdiction of the United States with the exception of the Philippine Islands and Panama Canal proper."  Plans were put into effect, "providing for a complete integration with the Coast Guard of the personnel of the Lighthouse Service numbering about 5,200, together with the auxiliary organization of 64 buoy tenders, 30 depots, and 17 district offices." (SECTREAS AR 1939, p. 107).

 1939  (7 August) "Suitable observance of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Lighthouse Service was called for by a joint resolution of Congress, signed by the President on May 15, which was known as Public Resolution No. 16.  By this resolution the week of August 7, 1939, was designated lighthouse week." (SECCOM AR 1939, p. 121).