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Bureau of Lighthouses.
The first lighthouse on this continent was built in 1714-16, at the entrance to Boston Harbor, by the Province of Massachusetts, and was supported by light dues on all incoming and outgoing vessels, except coasters. Several other lighthouses were built by the colonies. Congress by the act of August 7, 1789, authorized the maintenance of lighthouses and other aids to navigation at the expense of the United States. There were at that date eight lights in operation, maintained by the colonies. These, together with others completed later, thirteen in all, were ceded to the General Government by the States.
The maintenance of lighthouses, buoys, etc., was placed under the Treasury Department, and up to 1820 was directed personally by the Secretary of the Treasury, except for two intervals, when supervision was assigned by him to the Commissioner of Revenue. In 1820 the superintendence of the lights devolved upon the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, who was popularly known as the General Superintendent of Lights, and who continued in charge thereof until 1852, when the United States Lighthouse Board, consisting of officers of the Navy and Army, and civilians, was organized, with the Secretary of the Treasury as ex officio president of the Board, The Board selected from its own number a member to act as chairman.
The Lighthouse Service was transferred to the Department of Commerce on July 1, 1903. On July 1, 1910, the Lighthouse Board was terminated, and the present Bureau of Lighthouses established. In this Bureau four officers are appointed by the President - a Commissioner of Lighthouses, a Deputy Commissioner, a Chief Constructing Engineer, and a Superintendent of Naval Construction.
The United States Lighthouse Service is charged with the establishment and maintenance of aids to navigation, and with all equipment and work incident thereto, on the sea and lake coasts of the United States, on the rivers of the United States, and on the coasts of all other territory under the jurisdiction of the United states, with the exception of the Philippine Islands and Panama. The jurisdiction of the Lighthouse Service over rivers not included in tidewater navigation is restricted to such as are specifically authorized by law; these now include practically all the important navigable rivers and lakes of the country.
All the work of establishing and maintaining the aids to navigation under the jurisdiction of the Lighthouse Service is performed directly by that Service through the district organizations, with the exception of a few minor aids which are maintained by contract, and with the exception of the island of Guam, the American Samoan Islands, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the aids are maintained through the local authorities. The Lighthouse Service also has supervision over the establishment and maintenance of private aids to navigation and the lighting of bridges over navigable waters of the United States.
There is an office in Washington, which is the executive center of the Service, under the Commissioner of Lighthouses and the Deputy Commissioner. There are in this office an engineering construction division, under the Chief Constructing Engineer; a naval construction division, under the Superintendent of Naval Construction; a hydrographic division, under an assistant engineer, and the general office force, under the chief clerk.
The Service outside of Washington is divided into nineteen lighthouse districts, each of which is under this charge of a lighthouse inspector. In each district there is a central office at a location selected on account of either its maritime importance or its geographical position, and there are also one or more lighthouse depots located conveniently for carrying on the work of the district, in the matter of storing and distributing supplies and apparatus. Each district is provided with one or more lighthouse tenders for the purpose of distributing supplies to the various station, and light vessels and for transportation of materials for construction or repair, for the placing and care of the buoyage system in the district, and for transporting the inspector and other officers of the Service on official inspections of stations and vessels and on other official duty.
In addition to the various district depots, there is in the Third lighthouse district, on Staten Island, New York Harbor, a general lighthouse depot, where many of the supplies for the whole Service are purchased and stored and sent out for distribution, and where much of the special apparatus of the Service is manufactured or repaired, and where also there is carried on various technical work in the way of testing apparatus and supplies and designing or improving apparatus.
On June 30, 1914, there were 45 regular lighthouse tenders in commission, and the Service maintained light vessels at 52 stations; having for this purpose 66 light vessels, of which 14 were relief vessels, making a total of 111 vessels. The number of employees was and the number and classes of aids to navigation maintained by the Service were as follows:
The number of private aids to navigation maintained was 658.
The appropriations made by Congress for the general maintenance of the Lighthouse Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1915, amount to $5,151,630; the appropriations made for special works are $136,000. The average appropriations for special works for the ten preceding years, 1905 to 1914, inclusive, amounted to $946,927 per year. The special works include new lighthouses, fog signals, tenders, light vessels, and depots, and extensive improvements or rebuilding of these.
A report of the operations of the Lighthouse Service is submitted annually by the Commissioner of Lighthouses to the Secretary of Commerce and transmitted to Congress. The Service also publishes Weekly Notices to Mariners (jointly with the Coast and Geodetic Survey), Light Lists for the various coasts, and Buoy Lists for each lighthouse district. These publications are distributed free.