A Signature Flash
Each lighthouse developed a distinctive flashing pattern, serving as its own light signature. Some burned large tallow candles. Some burned whale oil in spider lamps with wicks that had to be trimmed so often that their keepers were nicknamed “wickies.” Eventually the lights burned mineral oil or kerosene, with metal reflectors or elaborate lenses to increase their visibility. The most successful of these was the famous Fresnel lens, invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel.
The First Lights
The first “lighthouses” in Maine probably were Native American bonfires with rock piles on two or three sides to protect the flames. Early colonists used open fires in barrels to guide mariners into difficult harbors. The first light on Ram Island Ledge was a beacon sitting atop a simple tripod and the first light at Whitlock’s Mill Station was a lantern hanging from a tree.