The U.S. Light-House Board: progress through process

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  • This article begins by providing background on the establishment of the United States Light House Board 1852. The board's work, says the author, which included extensive research on the more advanced French and British light house systems, resulted in the dramatic improvement of American light houses by 1870.
  • Joseph Henry was one of two civilian scientists appointed at the time of Light House Board's founding, and was assigned to chair its Committee on Experiments. In this capacity, and later as the board's chair, he spent much of the next 25 years testing various oils and lighting apparatus, investigating signaling methods, and attempting to increase the ventilation and durability of light houses. Although Henry was not paid for his service on the Light House Board, he looked forward to spending summer vacations on the coast testing oils and fog signals. The author notes that the American light house establishment greatly benefited from Henry's personal interest in conducting these experiments.
  • The final section of this article discusses the Light House Board's preparation for and exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Its display included a full-sized light house with flashing lights and fog sirens erected outside the building. Inside stood a large Fresnel lens along with various apparatus and printed information. The author also briefly describes light house exhibits by the French government and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and discusses what happened to the Light House Board's exhibit after the Centennial.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • United States Light House Board
  • United States Army Corps of Engineers
  • Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)


Smithsonian History Bibliography

Contained within

The American Neptune: a quarterly journal of maritime history 47 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Signals and signaling
  • Lighthouses
  • United States Government Exhibit
  • Light sources

Physical description

Number of pages: 19; Page numbers: 174-192

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