July 12, 1851

Benjamin C. Chase wrote to the Light House Board in 1851 praising the effectiveness of Sankaty Light. Erected in 1850, the light was equipped with the nation’s first Fresnel lens, which magnified light by refracting it through a series of prisms. Two lights in New Jersey also were installed with Fresnel lenses that year.

“Sankaty head shows a clear, brilliant light when the flashes are at their greatest power and may be distinctly seen (in clear weather) from the deck of a vessel of one hundred tons, twenty five miles distant…My business packeting to and from Boston gives me good opportunity to observe the lights on that route In coming from the north in clear weather we raise Sankaty Head light above Great Point the point being six or seven miles nearest,” Chase wrote.

Many sailors sent letters to the Light House Board that year testifying to the superior visibility and efficiency of Sankaty Light.

Charles H. Coleman keeper of the Cross Rip lightship said, “I believe it to be the general opinion of the seafaring community that it (Sankaty) is decidedly the best light on the coast respectfuIly.”

In 1852, the Light House Board issued a report saying Fresnel lenses were four times more effective than any other lighthouse beacon, and by 1860, almost every light in the country had one. In 1944, the U.S. Coast Guard took over Sankaty’s operation, upgraded the Fresnel lens and donated the original one to the Nantucket Historical Association.


Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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