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You Asked

Caleb from Washington State emailed us and asked the following questions:



  • How many rooms does a lighthouse have? Do the rooms have a special purpose?
  • What is a lighthouse made from? Why are those materials used?
  • What is the average height for a lighthouse?
  • What is the significance of the colors used on the outside of a lighthouse?
  • Where are lighthouse’s usually located and why?
  • What is the purpose of the light? What kind of lens and bulbs are used?
  • What does the light mean?
  • Why do we have light houses?
  • There are many types (size and shape) of lighthouses, is there a reason?
  • Does someone live in the lighthouse?
  • How many stairs are in a lighthouse?

Our resident Lighthouse Historian, Sandy, writes:
Lighthouses come in many shapes and sizes. There is no “average” height. Ones located on rivers are smaller and ones located on the ocean can be very tall, so that the light can shine out many miles to protect the ships from the shoals, or rocks, or other hazards that might harm them as they make their way to shore and safe harbor.

In the 1700s, most lighthouses were built from wood or stone. The wooden ones were sometimes damaged by fires, as the earliest lighting was done with oil-powered lamps that had a flame. Later on, other materials were used such as brick or cast iron, and when electricity was invented, they didn’t have to use the dangerous flame-powered lighting any more.

The colors or designs on the outside of some lighthouses are intended to serve as “daymarks” – so the ships can see them in the daylight, and with a map, they know exactly where they are.

Today in 2005, most of the lighthouses still being used as aids to ship navigation are automated. Some have solar-powered lamps, and others run by remote-controlled batteries. So we don’t need people to live in them anymore. In other centuries, the lighthouse keeper and his family lived in lighthouses near the shore, or sometimes out on a remote island. I’ve met many people who grew up in a lighthouse – do you think that would be fun? In times long ago, the keeper had to carry heavy cans of oil or kerosene up the stairs to keep the lamps lighted all night long, and had to clean and polish the lenses every day to keep them clean so the light would shine brightly.

Before we had all today’s navigational tools for ships, the lighthouse was often the only protection a ship had to avoid being dashed upon rocks or shoals in a storm. Even now, boaters tell us that they always feel more “comfortable” when they are boating at night and see a welcoming light from a lighthouse.

Some of the tallest lighthouses have hundreds of stairs to climb, and many of these are open to the public to climb.
Good luck on your project!

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