A Pioneering Lighthouse Makes Its Debut on Alcatraz Island


June 1, 1854

The original Alcatraz Island Lighthouse in California’s San Francisco Bay began operations. The lighthouse was first lit at sunset by head keeper Michael Cassin.

The lighthouse, which was the first active one on the Pacific coast, had been authorized in response to the urgent need to safely guide an ever-growing number of vessels sailing through the bay. The Baltimore firm Gibbons & Kelly built the lighthouse, and the equipment and other materials for it were shipped from the Eastern Seaboard in an extensive voyage that involved rounding South America’s Cape Horn.

The lighthouse, which was located on the southern end of Alcatraz Island, consisted of a 40-foot (12.2-meter)-tall tower surrounded by a cottage serving as the keeper’s residence. This structure remained in service during a time when the island was home to a military fort – widely known as Alcatraz Citadel – and prison. (The military prison was the first of two built there; both preceded the world-famous federal penitentiary that existed on the island from 1934 to 1963.)

After more than a half-century of service as a navigational aid in a rocky and often fog-shrouded area, the original lighthouse was damaged during the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Ultimately, the lighthouse was replaced in 1909 by a new and taller one built just to the south of it. The first Alcatraz Island Lighthouse was torn down after being used for storage for a few years.

See Wikipedia.org for more information on the original Alcatraz Island Lighthouse and the structure that took its place.

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