Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fun Facts

  • The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States, measuring 198.49 feet from the base to the pinnacle of the tower.
  • Two hundred and sixty-nine narrow stairs lead up to the lens room.
  • Each flight of 31 stairs weigh 5,000 pounds each!
The first Cape Hatteras lighthouse built in 1803 ©Mike Litwin
  • In 1803, the first Cape Hatteras lighthouse was built. It was built to warn sailors of the dangerous diamond shoals off of the coast. It was inefficient due to its height, weak light, and inability to stand out.
  • The first Argand style lamp light used reflectors and whale oil for fuel.
The first Cape Hatteras lighthouse after improvements in 1853 ©Mike Litwin
  • In 1853, the lighthouse was extended 60 feet and recolored.
  • In 1854, the new Fresnel lens was installed which also burned whale oil which was later replaced in with Colza (wild cabbage or rapeseed) oil, then 1870 by kerosene.
  • The modern lighthouse was built years later near the 1803 lighthouse and was lit December 16, 1870.
  • The 1803 lighthouse was deconstructed in February of 1871 after the modern lighthouse’s development.
  • The new lighthouse received its famous spiral design in 1873.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the move in 1999 – NPS
  • In 1999, the lighthouse had to be moved 2,900 feet from the shore to its current location. Over the decade, beach erosion cause the location to once be 1,500 ft from shore to fewer than 100!
  • It took 23 days and 11.8 million dollars to move the lighthouse to its new location, which at the time was also 1,500 ft away from shore.
  • Before the National Park Service took ownership of the lighthouse, keepers were in charge of the tower. Their job was to maintain the structural quality, regular maintenance, and light operation.
  • The original keepers made a salary of up to $800/year.
  • Today, the lighthouse and decommissioned keeper’s quarters are kept up by the National Park Service. The U.S. Coast Guard now operates the automatic light.

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