Built: 1803 Original Tower
- 1870 Current Tower
Type: Conical Tower: white
and black spiral bands with red brick base.
Height: 198.48 Feet
Status: Operational maintain
by the United States Coast Guard and the National Park Service
Location: North of Cape Hatteras
Point, Outer Banks
Lens: 1870 First order Fresnel
Notes: Congress, in 1794,
authorized the construction of a permanent lighthouse at Cape Hatteras.
It took almost ten years before a "light was raised" in October, 1803.
Built in sandstone, 90 feet high, the tower was a start, but only a start
in providing the protection needed in those hazardous waters. A major problem
through years was illumination; the the small lamp fueled by sperm whale
oil did not penetrate the darkness beyond the shoals. Storms shattered
the windows and broke the lamps, putting the lights out for days at a time.
In 1837, the Captain of
a coasting vessel reported that "...as usual no light is to be seen from
the lighthouse". In 1851, Lieutenant H.K. Davenport, skipper of the mail
steamer, Cherokee, complained "Cape Hatteras Light, upon the most dangerous
point on our whole coast, is a very poor concern."
Creation of the Lighthouse
Board in 1852 made a decided improvement in the conduct of all United States
lighthouse operations. Composed of men familiar with the problems involved,
the board answered directly to the Secretary of the Treasury and soon acted
to correct the deficiencies at Cape Hatteras. Among the first corrections
was to raise the tower to more than 150 feet and to install a new lighting
device, a first order fresnel lens. Developed in France by Augustine Fresnel,
the lens utilized prime and magnifying glasses to intensify a small oil
wick flame into a powerful beacon of many thousands candlepower. The improvements
made the Cape Hatteras light one of the most dependable on the coast.
Cape Hatteras light burned
steadily for seven short years before the fighting of the Civil War extinguished
it again. Confederate forces wanted the lighthouse destroyed to deprive
Federal vessels of the beacon. In a series of battles in 1861, Union forces
managed to save the tower but retreating Confederated took the fresnel
lens with them. Although the light shone again in 1862, the tower had been
damaged and the Lighthouse Board recommended extensive repairs. Studies
showed that it would be less costly to build a new tower than to repair
the old one and the 1867 Congress appropriated $75,000 to reconstruct the
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Because of erosion danger, it was built 600 feet
north of the original tower.
new Fresnel lens and
oil lamp were installed and a light flashed >from the new tower on December
16,1870. The old tower, no longer useful and in danger of falling, was
blown up and totally destroyed. The final "touch" for the new structure
was the distinctive black and white striping ordered by the Lighthouse
Board in 1873 to make the tower " a better day mark on this low, sandy
Cape Hatteras light does
a short flash every 7.5 seconds. The cape is actually a bend in Hatteras
Island, one of the long thin barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks.
The first lighthouse at the cape was built in 1803; it was replaced by
the current Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1870, which at 198.48 feet from
the ground to the tip of its lightning rod is the tallest lighthouse in
the United States and the tallest brick lighthouse in the world.
In 1999, as the receding
shoreline had come dangerously close to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the 4830-ton
lighthouse was lifted and moved inland a distance of 2900 feet. Its distance
from the seashore is now 1500 feet, about the same as when it was originally