The Inauguration of Alcatraz Island’s First Lighthouse  

June 1, 1854

The original Alcatraz Island Lighthouse in California’s San Francisco Bay began operations when it was first lit at sunset by head keeper Michael Cassin. The lighthouse was the first active one on the Pacific coast, and it resulted from the urgent need to safely guide the ever-growing number of vessels sailing through the bay. The Baltimore-based firm Gibbons & Kelly built the lighthouse, and the equipment and other materials for it were shipped in a voyage of approximately 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) that started on the Eastern Seaboard and included rounding South America’s Cape Horn.

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

An 1890s photograph of the original Alcatraz Island Lighthouse

After more than a half-century 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 original Alcatraz Lighthouse was subsequently used for storage before being torn down sometime around 1913. The lighthouse that replaced it has been a museum since 2000.

For more information on the original Alcatraz Island Lighthouse and its successor, please check out




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