The Portland Head Light was the first lighthouse to be constructed in Maine and the first one completed and put into service by the Federal government under the Lighthouse Act of 1789, which moved to place all lighthouses under federal control. While work had begun on the lighthouse in 1787 by the State of Massachusetts which, at that time, had jurisdiction over Maine, it was completed by the Federal government. When this lighthouse was being built, Portland was the sixth largest port in the country, the closest port to Europe and had significant trade with the Caribbean.
Minot's Ledge is a wave-swept rock formation in a rocky area of ocean about a mile off the Cohasset shore near Boston. Numerous serious shipwrecks prompted the government to erect a beacon there, and construction began in the summer of 1847.
The light, constructed on tall iron legs, was put into operation on January 1, 1850. Designers believed that the water would flow freely through the legs, leaving the lighthouse intact. But a terrible winter storm toppled it in 1851, killing the two assistant keepers.
An early image of the James Douglass lighthouse, with the stump of the Smeaton-designed building beside it.
Eddystone Lighthouse is located in the English Channel, 14 miles south of Plymouth, England. The reef upon which it stands was the source of many shipwrecks... and many lighthouses, the first of which was built in 1698. The first three lighthouses were wooden, and suffered the fate of sea storms. John Smeaton built the fourth lighthouse in 1759 of Cornish granite.
The Atlantic Ocean's northward-flowing Gulf Stream meets the southward-flowing Labrador Current at a point marked approximately by North Carolina's Outer Banks. Since the earliest days of United States commerce, shifting tides, inclement weather, treacherous shoals, and a low-lying shoreline there contributed to what soon became known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Warning sailors of this danger quickly became a top priority in the integrated system of navigational aids provided by the federal government to promote safe passage along the Atlantic Coast.
The Old Cape Henry Light house was the first construction project authorized by the First Congress. Constructed by John McComb, Jr. of New York City, this project set the stage for all subsequent public works projects of the Federal Government. In addition, this specific lighthouse was a vital navigation aid to all shipping through the Virginia Capes, thereby enhancing international and coastal trade with the Mid-Atlantic States.