1832 – First Chicago lighthouse built.
1859 – Skeletal structure built on North harbor pier.
1871 – Grosse Point becomes main light to direct maritime traffic into the Chicago River.
1893 – Chicago Harbor light built to replace the skeletal lighthouse.
1894 – Lantern and upper watch room moved to Rawley Point, WI.
1918 – Chicago Harbor light moved to new breakwater east of Navy Pier from river mouth
From Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1893
The Chicago River Light-house
Is on the north at the mouth. This is the oldest light on the lake shore, and was built and established in 1859. The skeleton tower is but 83 feet high, of iron construction. The light is lit at sunset and burns till sunrise the year round. The lenses illuminate an arc of 285 degrees, and may be seen for 16 miles into the lake. There are range lights, and in fogs a bell is struck by automatic machinery. Three keepers and 2 laborers reside in a frame house near by.
Mouth of the Chicago River with Chicago River Lighthouse (1859-1893)
The tower and lens were removed and installed near Two Rivers, Wi as the Rawley Point Light.
View of the City of Chicago from the Top of the Lighthouse at the Mouth of the Chicago River.
Chicago Tribune August 13, 1893
In less than three months the new fog horns and lighthouse signals will be at work off the lake front. The blasts of these fog horns and the flashes of the signal lights will exceed in volume and penetration any now established at the ports on the great lakes. After a long series of setbacks and delays the government has the work in such condition that it will be ready to turn it over to practical use before the season of lake navigation closes. The date set is early in October. The lighthouse being erected in connection with the fog signal is a handsome structure of massive stone, that occupies a prominent.position near the southeast end of the new outer breakwater in Chicago harbor. The tower proper will stand seventy-three feet above the level of the water and will be twenty-three feet in diameter. From the pinnacle of this will be operated the huge flash light, while on either side of the main tower are two lesser towers. each of which will contain blast fog horns capable of rendering eight distinct blasts per minute. The fog horns may be heard on an evening with reasonably clear atmosphere at a distance of twenty-eight miles, and the signal lights under similar circumstances may be seen eighteen miles distant.
It was these fog horns that were so bitterly and successfully fought by the citizens of North Chicago for a great many years, but finally in 1888 the officials of the Treasury Department at Washington overruled the objections that were so freely tendered and authorized the inauguration of the work. As the tower stands in the lake off Chicago avenue, it was alleged that the harsh shrieks of the fog horn, which ofttimes would necessarily be run three or four days in succession, would make life a burden to those citizens of the North Side who reside in the vicinity of the lake and south of Lincoln Park. The residents of the Lake Shore drive were at the head of the movement, and received the cooperation of the greater portion of those residing south of Lincoln Park and east of La Salle avenue. Several delegations were sent to Washington, and at a time when it was thought that the question was safely shelved for an indefinite number of years the department officials advertised for bids and commenced the work, much to the disappoint- ment of the before mentioned Chicagoans.
Immense Big Whistles.
The fog horns have been constructed especially for this harbor on an entirely new plan and will be a novelty in their operation. The old style consisted of large oval shaped horns, but these it has been ascertained could only be heard at long distances in the direct wake of the sound, end during a dense fog the mariner was often deceived as to distances, and even at times, according to location, was absolutely unable to hear the warning signal at short distances. The horns to be located here are more in the nature of immense whistles, and may be heard with equal distinct all sides. It ia to be a duplicate plant with separate towers which are located on either side of the main tower. Each will have an engine and boiler of 25 horse-power. the cylinders of which will be four-inch bore by nine-inch stroke and 120 revolu- tions per minute. These are fitted with automatic whistle gear operating ten-inch steam whistles, prod a characteristic series of five seconds each with twenty-five seconds silent intervals. These fog .horns under normal atmospheric conditions can be heard as far as -four miles, but during foggy weather they will not be heard beyond six or seven miles, as the penetration of the sound depends entirely upon the density of the atmosphere.
The peculiar mechanism of these signals renders them such that can readily distinguish them from steamboat, railroad, or factory whistles. In tone they have a low, sonorous sound, not at all offensive, and do not possess such sharp, squeaky, ead irritating tones as many North Chicago people imagine. The superintendent in charge says the people will soon get used to the whistles. and except for their continued monotony they will not be noticed any more than are the hundreds of tugboat, steamer, railroad, and factory whistles now so commonly heard. The sound is produced on a different principle from that of the ordinary whistle, which relieves the sound of any shrillness, and although a person may be close by it does not have a stunning effect on the head or a grating upon the nerves, as would be supposed. The persons in charge of the tower, it is said, may be about the whistles for days at a time without having their hearing impaired or receiving any ill effect of any kind.
Another remarkable feature is that the whistles do not sound any louder in the im- mediate vicinity than they do at a mile distant. It is said that this distance is required for the whistles to develop their full effect, and for the vibrations to operate upon the atmosphere at their maximum capacity. One of the chief merits of the rotary is the ease with which it is located by the mariner. Although the fog may be very heavy he has no difficulty in ascertaining the exact direction from which the sound is coming. This is a very important item, as it enables the captain to clear the shore in case of a storm. Many shipwrecks have occurred from the failure to locate sounds, but with whistles of this kind all such fears may be laid aside.
The preparatory work In the tower was commenced in the fall of 1889. At that time the foundation was laid, which consists of a crib 40×60 feet in plan, solidly filled with stone ballast. This crib stands about 100 feet from the southerly end of the outer breakwater, and is separated from it by an interval of about 80 feet. Upon this crib a solid concrete superstructure with stone faces was built to about eight feet above the lake level. Above the substructure a steel casing four feet wide is boarded to the top of the wooden substructure and filled with Portland cement concrete. On this is set a pier of stone masonry built of Bedford stone of the same dimensions as the substructure and eight feet high, containing two fresh water cisterns. A part is given up to a basement and to coal cellars, where the fuel supply for the engines of the fog signals is to be kept. The interior of the stone work of the pier is also backed with Portland cement concrete.
The pier is surrounded by a post and chain railing and provided with snubbing posts, chocks, and a crane, with ladders for the landing of lighthouse tenders and small boats. One ladder will be on the northwest end and the others distributed about the pier where they seem to be moat needed. The tower will be seventy-three feet above the pier and the focal plane of the lighthouse lantern will be sixty-eight feet above the level of the lake.
Rapid Red and ‘White Flashes.
The lantern or illuminating apparatus will be a third-order flash light. The machinery of the lantern is so that it will work very rapidly, showing a red and white flash at intervals of only five seconds. The mechanism of the machinery is very intricate and the -lantern when in running order will show more flashes per minute than any lighthouse on the entire chain of lakes. Close by the light does not appear powerful and is discernible. It will leave the pier in comparative darkness, and persons on the breakwater and near by in boats would hard- ly observe any light whatever. With the light, however, distance lends enchantment, for its power increases as you leave it. Its maximum is attained at a distance of about two miles which is retained to its extreme point of visibility. This on a clear night will be about sixteen miles, but with a heavier atmosphere the distance is proportionately reduced. The light itself is of about 2,000 candle-power and this is multiplied a hundred-fold by the powerful lenses which are brought into service. Flashes may be seen from shore, and in fact from all sides. It will be a big improvement to the one now in use on the north pier, as the latter has only a fixed white light. The advantage and value of the new light are its peculiar characteristic, which makes it prominent sand discernible among a thousand other lights. It is similar in many respects to those in use on the seashore. It will differ from the Grosse Point, off Evanston, not only in the superiority of the work but in the constant flashes which occur every five seconds, while the changes at the Evanston lighthouse are a fixed white varied only by a red flash every three minutes.
In 1889 Congress made an a of $35,000 for the erection of the lighthouse, off the new government pier, but this amount was soon found to be inadequate, and in 1890 an additional appropriation of $15,000 was made. The importance of the station and the fact that the lighthouse and fog horns were to serve the entire harbor of Chicago so im- pressed itself on the Treasury officials that thp plans were improved and magnified from time to time, so that the last Congress found it necessary to make a further appropriation of $15,500. And now the inspector in charge says that Congress will be called upon for another appropriation of $20,000, with which to complete the interior finishings and furnish some necessary equipments. This will make the total amount expended $85,000.
The contract for the stone pier and steel casing was let to Lydon & Drews of Chicago, and this part of the work was completed early last year. The for the construction of the metal work and the placing of it id position was let to the Russell Wheel and Foundry company of Detroit, which still has the work in charge. It includes the erection of the tower and the mason work necessary in connection with it. The interior finish, will be done by the government employe under the direction of the inspector. Over 800 cords of riprap were furnished by the Western Stone company, which have been placed around the pier as a protection against storms.
Inspector B. Todt has superintended the construction during the progress of the entire work. The construction was started during the term of office of Col. William Ludlow, Lighthouse Engineer, and since his retirement has been carried on under his successor, Maj. M. B. Adams, Lighthouse Engineer of the Ninth and Eleventh Districts of the United States. These districts include Lakes St. Clair, Huron, Superior, and Michigan, and all connecting rivers and straits. His headquarters are in Detroit and when seen in regard to the work being done in Chicago harbor he said:
The government owns the largest lighthouse lens in the world, and in response to an inquiry from the Treasury Department I have recommended that it be placed on top of the Masonic Temple, where it could be seen on the lake plainly at a distance of thirty-five miles, and would be observable in a less degree at a distance of seventy to eighty. A light of this kind would be of immense value to lake navigation in many particulars, as it would enable vesselmen at a great distance to steer directly for Chicago harbor and would be of inestimable value in keeping them directly in their course. Also after a storm it would be of great value in assisting them to regain their course. It would be a guide for vessels both coming and going from Chicago.
The lighthouse and fog horns now in course of construction will carry out this idea to a large extent and will be something entirely new in their plan for Chicago. They will be completed at least two months before lake navigation closes.
Chicago River Lighthouse
Chicago Tribune, Saturday, November 11, 1893
That new fog horn out in the lake off Chicago avenue since night before last had probably been the most thoroughly despised institution bearing Uncle Sam’s trademark. Forty thousand people living between Indiana street and Lincoln Park would like to see it sink out of sight, never more to sing anthems of the fog again. Some of them are up in arms and complaining bitterly, and it would not be surprising to hear of a determined crusade being organized against the thing remaining where it is. It was placed there in direct opposition to the expressed wishes of these North Side citizens, consequently a large number of them are in no humor at present to endure its blasts.n Arthur Ryerson, E. B. McCagg, and other gentlemen voice the prevailing sentiment in interviews had with them yesterday on the subject. Chicagoans have not forgotten that during Wednesday and Thursday nights of this week the city and its harbor were enveloped in one of the most impenetrable fogs ever known in this locality.
Fog Horn Kept Busy.
As the new lighthouse and its screaming signals were built expressly for service in times of such emergency and extreme danger the fog horns and flash lights were kept busy both nights sounding and flashing signals to the lake-going craft. Anyone who ever heard a fog horn in ful operation can understand the annoyance suffered by those living within hearing distance of this station. With the whistles going at a terrific rate all night, the noise made by them, it is claimed, is something wild and terrible, and as it can be heard under favorable circumstances a distance of twenty-four miles persons residing along the Lake-Shore drive must have had their rest and comfort greatly disturbed. They say they could not talk; neither could they think, and sleeping was entirely out of the question.
Mr. Ryerson came down to his office yesterday morning in a frame of mind far from peaceful. The fog horn had been the cause of his putting in a bad night, consequently he was prepared to talk about it.
What Mr. Ryerson Says.
This is what he had to say:
Some ten years ago I appeared before the Lighthouse Board in Washington on behalf of citizens of Chicago to protest against the placing of a steam fog whistle at the mouth of the Chicago River. The protest was based upon the ground that it would be injurious to property and to health, and a very serious menace to the comfort of a great part of the city. The board recognized the force of the protest and abandoned the plan. It was admitted that such fog whistles were never placed in larger cities on the sea coast, but always at remote points, and that the placing of one at the entrance to the Chicago River could be equivalent to one at the Battery in New York, which would, of course, not be considered or tolerated. Residents of the North Side are probably aware that this fog whistle scheme has lately been carried out. Two thousand blasts at intervals of twenty seconds is the record for last night. I commend this to residents of the lake shore and owners of lots in the new made land. The latter can count the fog horn as their near neighbor, and imagine themselves on an Atlantic liner. The opinion of physicians would also be valuable as to its effects on the sick and delicate. It is utterly needless, and was brutal to have placed this steam horn where it is. There is one at Grosse Point, and if another were necessary, and it seems to have been dispensed with for many years without evil results, it could have been placed on a four-mile crib. But to put this instrument of torture down in the middle of a great city, for that virtually is what has been done, is an outrage and one which public opinion should see corrected.
Chicago River Lighthouse
History of Opposition.
The fight made by the citizens of Chicago and especially those living south of Lincoln Park and east of LaSalle avenue, headed by the residents of Lake Shore drive, against this lighthouse and its horns being located in the harbor is still fresh in the mind of nearly every one. It was commenced, as Mt. Ryerson says, ten years ago, and for a time was successful, but in 1888 the Treasury officials at Washington overruled the objections so freely offered and authorized the inauguration of the work. Last August, in a description of the new institution, then nearing completion, The Tribune predicted that October was comparatively free from fogs, those that should have come then were mixed up with November supply and the whole stock was crowded in two days. As a result the fog whistle was compelled to do two months’ howling in one night.
Mr. McCagg’s Experience.
Other men besides Mr. Ryerson were discussing the matter yesterday. Among them was E. B. McCagg, who said:
Unquestionably the fog-horn is an unmitigated nuisance. For the last two nights it has kept every well person awake and must have been exceedingly distressing to sick and nervous people. The 40,000 people living within the full sound of the noisy affair necessarily have among them their proportion of the afflicted population, to where the screams of that whistle are certainly organizing. On the grounds of humanity I deny that it should be where it is, for the annoyance it causes is forced upon us whether we want it or not. My house is not on the lake shore, but eight blocks west; yet, with the windows all down and the doors al shut I can hear the thing very plainly and I can easily imagine its sounds must be thoroughly destructive to the peace, rest, and comfort of everyone within hearing of it. I should say that if it can possible be done the nuisance should be removed.
Franklin MacVeagh’s Opinion.
Franklin MacVeagh took a different view of the situation. While he characterized the noise of the horn, when it is in extraordinary action, an unquestionable annoyance, at the same time he could discern some cheerful notes in the vibrations of its far-reaching voice. This is what MacVeagh said:
I don’t know that I am well enough acquainted with the conditions that confronted the government in placing the horn where it is to judge whether a more remote position should be selected. If it could I am of the belief that even now the whistle should be removed to it. But if the present location is necessarily the place I for one could not undertake to raise an objection. Quite true, it may be an annoyance to a great many people living near shore, but necessary protection to the sailors, it sounds to me, must be had. To tell you the honest truth, I felt rather relieved last night to hear the fog horn blowing, especially after having read in the newspapers yesterday of numerous accidents due to the dense fog of the night before. I felt that somebody was looking out for the interest and safety of the sailors. As a consequence I experienced an grievous annoyance from the noise. I have no doubt, however, that many people were kept awake by it. This emotion might be controlled, I fancy, by one’s attitude of mind. If you array yourself against that horn you are sure to get worsted. But if you are fortunate enough to be able to enter sympathy with it, I don’t believe it will hurt you.
Thus runs the story from river to park. All through that section yesterday were found men openly, vigorously, condemning the fog horn’s ceaseless howls of the night before. The sensibly nervous people were were all broken up, not only from loss of sleep, but because of the shock to their nerves. A young man, who requested that his name be withheld, ventured the opinion that with the fog horn in the harbor North-Siders would not be permitted to get lonesome. “On a lonely, dismal night,” he continued,” it is pleasant to hear that demon screaming like mad out there in the lake. It makes you feel that there is somebody around.”
Dr. Isham’s Views.
Dr. George S. Isham said:
I heard any amount of whistling last night, but at the time didn’t know what it was. It did not occur to me that the new fog horn was in operation. If the thing is a necessity in its present place I presume that is where it ought to be. Until we get used to the noise it will be a nuisance to us, but I don’t believe many people will pay much attention to it. It will annoy and disturb the sick a great deal, but I don’t know as anything can be done to stop it.
Anything that attracts so much attention naturally arouses public curiosity, and everybody at once becomes interested in knowing all about it, therefore a description of this peace-of-mind disturber is in order. It should be understood that these fog horns were constructed especially for this harbor and on a plan entirely different from other fog horns. That is why they are so much of a novelty in their operations. They are after the style and in the nature of immense steam whistles, and may be heard with equal distinctness on all sides. They are located on either side of the main lighthouse tower and each has an engine and boiler of twenty-five-horse power attached to it, the cylinders of which have a nine-inch stroke and make 120 revolutions a minute. These are fitted with an automatic whistle gearing working ten-inch steam whistles, producing a characteristic series of blasts five seconds each with twenty-five seconds silent intervals. Under normal atmospheric conditions these horns can be heard as far as twenty-four miles, but during foggy weather six or seven miles is about the limit. The penetration of sound depends entirely upon the density of the atmosphere.
Unlike Other Whistles.
The peculiar mechanism of these signals renders them such that vesselmen can readily distinguish them from steamboat, locomotive, or factory whistles. In tone they have a low, sonorous sound. The superintendent of the plant says that the people will soon get used to the noise, and except for the continued monotony will pay no more attention to them than they do to the hundreds of tugboat, steamer, railroad, and factory whistles, now so commonly heard. The sound is produced on a different principle from that of the ordinary whistle and is relieved of any shrillness. It has no stunning effect upon the head. The men in attendance say they can be about the whistles days at a time without their hearing impaired or receiving any ill effect of any kind. One of the remarkable features of the noise is that it sounds no louder close to the whistle than it does a mile away. The distance, in fact, is required to develop the full effect and for the vibrations to attain their maximum capacity. One of the merits claimed for the whistle is the ease with which it can be located by the mariner. Although the fog may be heavy he has no difficulty in determining the exact direction from which the sound is coming. Vesselmen say that the lighthouse and the fog horns are an absolute necessity where they have been placed; that they should always remain. The signals were started for the first time Thursday night and they worked to the entire satisfaction of everyone interested. The plant was turned over by the contractors Thursday afternoon and was not to have been started until Nov. 15, but Commander Price realized the urgent need of signals that night and turned on steam at 7 o’clock in the evening. All night the sounds and lights continued, showing boats the safe way into port.
Chicago Harbor Lighthouse
During the 1917 renovation of the northern breakwater that lies just east of Navy Pier, it was determined that a lighthouse was needed at that location to guide vessels around its southern extremity into the harbor. To avoid the expense of building a new structure, the federal government appropriated $88,000 for the relocation and rebuilding of the 1893 cast-iron tower of the lighthouse on anew site at the south end of the north arm of the extended exterior breakwater. At this time the 24-year-old tower was moved out to its present location, and the beacon was first shown from thenew position on the night of August 1, 1918. The large light station included a keeper’s dwelling and an oil room. The one-story structures adjoining the light tower once served as a fog-signal room and a boathouse and were constructed shortly after thetower was moved to the breakwater.
Throughout the 1920s the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was continually outfitted with the most technologically superior navigational aids. In 1925 the light’s fog signal was upgraded to a “Type-F diaphone,” a new type of fog signal which produced sound almost one hour faster than the light’s original steam-powered locomotive whistle. This state-of-the-art signal impressed mariners with its penetrating sound, but Chicagoans who lived and worked nearby were much less enthusiastic. One businessman complained, “That’s the damned-est outrageous nuisance and someone ought to hang for it.” By the 1930s and 1940s with the increased use of electronic navigational aids, including automated beacons, radar, and radio signals, the lighthouse took a quieter, but no less active role, in providing navigational aid to vessels entering the port. In 1979 the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was fully automated. Today it continues to operate as an unmanned beacon.