Did you know that the Lighthouse can change its own lightbulb? Well, it can and has been doing so for many years now. In 1936, electricity was first brought to the Lighthouse. This meant significant changes for the Lighthouse keepers since they no longer had to carry buckets of kerosene to the top of the lighthouse to burn in the lamp to create the light. Now light bulbs did the work of producing the light! But the keepers still had to stay up all night to make certain that the light bulb didn’t burn out, and that if it did, they were there to replace it.
Years later, an innovative company in Cincinnati, Ohio came up with an answer to help make life easier for lighthouse keepers – a lamp changer for lighthouses! The Carlisle & Finch Company, the “Global Leader in Spotlight Technology,” specializes in the production of high quality optical products for a range of maritime uses, including within the United States Coast Guard and Navy.
Our lamp changer holds two, 1000-watt bulbs. The one in the center, or primary position (the large bulb on the left), is the operational bulb. The one to the right is in the backup position. If the primary bulb burns out, the electrical circuit is broken, releasing a switch. A spring at the base of the bulb’s housing piece then rotates the backup bulb to the primary position, where it snaps into place and completes the circuit. The backup bulb comes on automatically.
Did you notice that the bulbs look very different? The larger bulb is an historic 1000-watt GE bulb that is no longer made. The smaller bulb is the replacement that GE came out with a few years ago; it is also a 1000-watt bulb. The smaller bulb sits upon a ceramic block that serves two purposes: it dissipates heat so that the bulb lasts longer, and it places the filament at the same height as the older bulbs so that the focal plane of the light shines correctly through the lens. The old bulbs are so old (some dating to WWII) that we don’t know how long they will last, so we always put a new bulb in the backup position. If we used two old bulbs, they might both burn out on the same night, which as St. Augustine’s navigation beacon, would become a crisis situation. We only have a certain number of the old bulbs left, and once they are gone, it will be the end of an era. Our Lighthouse will then have two of the new bulbs in place, and thankfully, if the bulb changer ever wears out, the Carlisle & Finch Company is still in business to help us replace it.
Contributed by Director of Museum Services Rick Cain, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes
Welcome to our newest blog series where we will examine the technological innovations that improved lighthouses and made coastlines around the world safer. Each installment of the blog series will cover an invention or technological application introduced at the St. Augustine Lighthouse in its history. This first installment will focus on the powerhouse of the lighthouse – the first order Fresnel lens.
The first lighthouses, as we recognize them now, were simply bonfires set atop high ground to improve their visibility. Eventually, people placed these fires on elevated platforms to extend their range. Technological advances replaced these fires with oil lanterns that provided a strong, steady light source. Despite these improvements in light sources, lighthouses still required some sort of magnification to project their beacon out to the horizon. Continue reading →
Six Common Misconceptions about the St. Augustine Lighthouse
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is a popular destination in our nation’s oldest city, but many misconceptions about it persist. Each of the following are NOT TRUE, but are often thought to be.
Misconception #1 – The St. Augustine Lighthouse is Florida’s first lighthouse.
Florida’s first lighthouse was the old St. Augustine Lighthouse (often called the Old Spanish Watchtower). It was a refurbished Spanish-built watchtower. The current lighthouse replaced the old one when beach erosion began to threaten the first lighthouse’s foundation. It eventually fell into the ocean in 1880. Continue reading →
Special programs and restoration work on the lighthouse’s first order Fresnel lens will mark the 140th anniversary of the brick tower’s first lighting on Oct. 15, 1874.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA. – On the evening of Oct. 15, 1874, Head Keeper William Russell lit the 370 prism, first order Fresnel lens in St. Augustine’s new lighthouse for the first time. In the 140 years since, the lens and its 165 ft. tall tower have presided over many changing tides in the oldest city. To celebrate this milestone anniversary, the lighthouse will offer a special presentation about the science behind the light at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 15th. These programs will also highlight the lens restoration work currently under way at the museum.
“Although our history goes all the way back to the first Spanish watchtowers in the 1500s, this anniversary is still very special to us,” said Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming. “The last 140 years have seen several important chapters in the light station’s history, through wars, technological advances, the Junior Service League’s incredible restoration project and our transition into a maritime museum and archaeological research center.”
The familiar black and white barber pole stripes of the current brick lighthouse tower became part of St. Augustine’s skyline after it replaced a coquina tower built in 1737. The coquina structure, which officially became Florida’s first lighthouse on April 5, 1824, fell into the ocean in 1880, during Head Keeper William Harn’s tenure at the light station. Continue reading →