Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

I have a truly ridiculous amount of history books on my shelf that I haven’t managed to get around to reading yet. To be fair, I also have a ridiculous amount of books. I’m told this is a common affliction and that I don’t need to worry about it being serious. However, I want to get that “not read yet” shelf down to a more manageable size. So I’m setting myself a goal- one book a month. Each month I’ll read one of my unread books and write up a review here about said book. Should be easy enough, right? Any links to the books are affiliate links, and I’ll receive a small payment for any books you purchase through the links.

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters.

Nuclear symbol

June’s book was Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters by Serhii Plokhy. As it says right in the title, Serhii Plokhy takes a close look at six of the world’s largest nuclear disasters. Plokhy is an extraordinary author. He’s well established as a historian. Currently, he is a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, where he also serves as director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This isn’t his first time looking at nuclear disasters either. He’s written at least two other manuscripts about nuclear history. Plokhy is one of the gifted historians who can not only research, but write his findings in such a way that the public reads and enjoys his writing. I know I thoroughly enjoyed Atoms and Ashes, and I’m certainly going to purchase more of Plokhy’s works.

The Disasters

Plokhy separates his books by diaster. There are six that are examined. They are The Castle Bravo disaster, Kyshtym, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chornobyl, and Fukushima. Personally, I was amazed at the depth of research Plokhy was able to pack into each section. Plokhy was able to maintain this level of research even for the Soviet-era disasters. This is despite the Soviet penchant for secrecy regarding the nuclear programs.

Plokhy does a deep dive into the history of each disaster. Not just the actual event, but the history of the area, facility, personnel, etc. He touches on political, societal, cultural, and historical influences that may have contributed to the events. This does make for a long read, but Plokhy is able to tie it all together in a way that’s easy to understand and digest. He doesn’t shy away from the human element, either. In some cases, he shows exactly what the people on the scene were seeing, hearing and feeling. With the Three Mile Island section, the confusion and terror felt by those in the surrounding area were made extremely clear. In the last section, on the Fukushima disaster, you could tangibly feel the helplessness and frustration of the Prime Minister and his team, as well as the utter terror and resolve of those at the plant.

Fukushima Plant after the disaster.
Digital Globe, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Science

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some scientific history manuscripts where the authors shy away a bit from the science. Plokhy happily avoids this. It’s easy to tell that he has a solid grasp of nuclear mechanics. Thankfully, he also realizes that most people do not have a good grasp of nuclear mechanics. He weaves the science into the history, explaining as he goes along what went wrong and why. He compares reactor types, fuel and coolant considerations, and much more. I’ve never had a great understanding of physics and chemistry, but Plohky manages to make it easy enough that the non-science types will realize not just what happened, but how dangerous it could have been.

In the Prologue, Plokhy goes over the various measurements used to measure radiation. The one thing I would change is the measure systems Plokhy uses. He uses the measurement systems used at the time of each event, rather than standardizing the units across the book. I kept having to flip back to the Prologue to check the measurements.

The Politics

Nuclear power is fundamentally a political issue. There are those who are for nuclear power as a green solution to climate change. There are those that are against nuclear power because of the danger. Plokhy tries, and mainly succeeds in keeping his opinions and current politics to the prologue and closing. He does seem to be against nuclear power, and after reading about the various problems and events, I’m inclined to agree.

The one common thread in every disaster is the human element. In many of the disasters, the systems worked exactly as designed- but due to human error or misunderstanding, the reactions went critical. Its these human errors that are the most terrifying part of the book. The best systems in the world were unable to prevent some of the worst disasters possible. Undertraining, greed, corners cut due to budgets, and incompetent operators are perhaps the true horror Plokhy points out. Radiation is a common fear, as is the possible explosive power of a plant in the middle of a meltdown. But the human element that can never be completely erased from any scenario, is the actual terror hiding behind each of the disasters.

My Recommendation

If it isn’t clear from the abundant praise above, I highly recommend this book. I would not recommend this book for those who are sensitive to disaster scenarios or have a phobia of radiation/nuclear. This was an intense but enjoyable read. Not really beach book material, but perhaps a long weekend read.

Want a copy? Check out the book on Amazon! Link below not showing up? Click here!

Want some more Horrifying History?

Check out our article on the Birthing Spinner! Women everywhere are quite glad that this birthing technique never caught on….

Mansfield Bars

Mansfield Bars are an incredible, yet simple safety device added to tractor-trailers. I can guarantee you’ve seen them. If you’ve seen a tractor-trailer, then you’ve seen one of the most important safety innovations made to trailers. So, what is a Mansfield Bar, and what exactly makes them historical?

What is a Mansfield Bar?

Attribution:  Mike Mozart via Flickr. Red circle added by me. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/38823760262/in/photostream/

Simply put, a Mansfield bar is a large metal bar added to the back of a trailer. They’re also called underride bars or underride guards. Many have red and white paint, although I have seen them without the paint as well. While these look like a handy way to climb up into the trailer, they are actually an incredibly important safety feature.

These bars help stop cars from sliding under the trailer during a crash. If a car rear-ends a trailer without these, there is a high chance the car will be crushed under the trailer. The car will sustain much more damage. And as the bottom of the trailers are right at head height, there’s a much higher chance of dying.

The Mansfield bar catches the car before it can go under the trailer, preventing the cabin of the car from being crushed by the bottom of the trailer. In an era where rear-end accidents are on the rise due to distracted driving, these bars have likely saved hundreds of lives.

Why are they called Mansfield bars?

Before 1967, you may not have seen underride protection. Previously in 1953, the federal government mandated the use of underride guards. However, this legislation had no rules about the strength of the guards, how they were to be attached, or how much kinetic energy they had to absorb.

That began to change on June 29th, 1967. Jayne Mansfield, an up and coming actress, was quickly becoming the darling of Hollywood. She woul never get the chance to be remembered for her acting skills.

Mansfield, her lawyer, driver, and children were driving in New Orleans. It was late and dark. A semi had slowed down on US 90 in reaction to a cloud of mosquito fog. The driver didn’t see the semi, slamming the Buick into the rear of the truck. The Buick slid under the trailer, crushing the cabin. Jayne Mansfield, her lawyer, and her driver were all killed. Her children survived the crash through luck. They had been laying down, asleep, in the rear. As they were not sitting up, they were not crushed. The children were injured and rushed to the hospital. Two of her four dogs were killed as well.

The crash was described as “horrific” by witnesses. The actress was described as “decapitated” but this was refuted by later reports. In actuality, she suffered a shearing injury to her head, causing more of a partial decapitation.

Lake Charles American-Press June 29, 1967

Her death was a shock to the nation. She was being groomed as a counter to Marilyn Monroe. Her grisly death did help spur on greater safety regulations for tractor-trailers. Not long after her death were the underride guards mandated by the government. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

The Story Continues

Despite the mandate for underride guards, many of the Mansfield bars were largely worthless. They were apt to crumble when hit. This made them not nearly as effective as they should have been. They were also not that effective when part of the rear is involved. In 1998, additional rules were put in place. These involved how strong the bars must be and standardized the measurements of the guards.

The IIHS, (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) noticed this in the early 2010’s and began to push for improved safety. They recommended again strengthening the bars and designing ways to ensure the safety of car drivers in low speed crashes and in crashes where the car does not hit the rear dead on.   In 2017 the IIHS started to award the manufacturers for enhancing the safety of these bars.

Others are still not satisfied with underride safety. 2017 also saw the revival of a push for complete underride protection. This would involve side guards as well as the now-standard rear guard.

In 2021, a bill was put before Congress to require side underride guards. This is the third time such a bill was written to mandate the side under guards. The bill is still working its way toward being passed.

As someone who spends thousands of miles on the road each year, additional safety measures are very welcome. With any luck, we won’t need to wait for a celebrity to be killed before new measures are put in place.

Want to Read More about Innovation?

Check out our post on US Patent Number One!

Horrifying History: The Birthing Spinner

Throughout history, there have been some inventions that are just plain horrifying. Some of these made it to production and were actually sold and used. Others, thankfully, never really saw the light of day. The “Birthing Spinner” is one that never went into production, and I’m sure that every woman will thank god for that.

The “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force“, patent US3216423A, was filed in 1963 by George and Charlotte Blonsky. It was supposed to be a device to help aid in the birthing process. Instead, it seems to be more of a medieval torture device.

How It’s Supposed to Work

Blonsky’s work is based far more on physics than on actual biology. The premise is this: A woman in labor may not have enough muscle to actually give birth to the child. So to help support the mother and push the baby out of her, Blonsky turns to centrifugal force. A mother in labor is strapped to a large rotating table and a mesh net strapped to her waist. Her head would be near the center of the table. As the machine spins, the centrifugal force would place additional force on the baby in the birth canal, forcing the child out faster and with less strain on the mother. No personnel were allowed near the table while it was spinning. So the net, having been strapped in place, was supposed to catch the baby.

Once born and in the net, the weight of the baby would trigger a bell and activate a lever to stop the motion of the table.

A drawing of the invention from the patent. This does NOT look comfy. At all.

Thank God the Birthing Spinner Never was Used

This is horrifying on several layers. A woman, in labor, is supposed to be strapped down onto a table to be spun around until the baby pops out. She’s basically on her own on the table. Remember that no personnel are allowed near while the table is spinning. So there is no doctor or midwife monitoring the mother or child. Then the baby pops out, into a bag, a bell rings, and the table stops. The doctor can raise or lower the table for the “optimum angle” of birth. Personally, I’d be terrified of ever giving birth if that’s how it’s supposed to go.

At the end of the patent, Blonsky mentions that “the supplementary forces supplied by the patient are zero either because she is too weak to render any assistance at all, or has lost consciousness.”

There is one good thing about this invention. A pillow is provided for the expectant mother.

Strangely enough, George and Charlotte Blonsky never had any children. I wonder why?

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Sign up for our newsletter! Want more about a more reasonable invention? Check out our article on The Mechanical Pencil!

Popcorn History

Freshly popped and buttered popcorn is practically synonymous with movies. When you think of going to the movies, one of the first things that pops into your head is popcorn. If you’re like me, you may consider going to the movies just to get that authentic movie theatre popcorn. While the marriage of popcorn and the movies is somewhat recent, popcorn is much older than you would think! Popcorn has a long history. People have been enjoying popcorn for well over a thousand years.

Popcorn- more history than you would think
Modern popcorn, popped and buttered
Logicaldisaster~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

The First Popcorn

Popcorn is definitely an American invention. While corn is a staple of many diets now, it was completely unknown outside of the America’s before Columbus accidentally discovered the western continents. Europeans didn’t have corn until well after trade was established with the Native Americans. Corn, and by extension popcorn, had a history with Native Americans that goes back thousands of years.

The oldest ears of popcorn are over 6,000 years old! Archeologists believe that some of the first uses of wild corn was popping. Researchers in Peru found corn cobs stuffed with flowery popped kernels in 2012. Previously researchers thought popped corn was bout 4,000 years old. This was based on small cobs found in Western Mexico.

Popcorn was an important part of the Native American diet. Aztecs used popcorn in important rituals. They also dressed statues of the gods with jewelry adorned with popcorn.

Other people in the Americas relied on popcorn. Researchers throughout Central and South America have found evidence of popcorn consumption. Even within North America, tribes from current day Mexico as far north as the Iroquois near the Great Lakes enjoyed popped corn! French explorers had their first taste of popcorn when they traded with the Iroquois to get through the harsh winters. Colonists to the New World quickly became dependent on corn, and by extension popcorn.

Modern Popcorn

Popcorn was originally not quite as tasty as it is today. It was smaller and had a more “parchment” like feel and taste. As different types of corn developed, new varieties were made to improve popcorn. Households would pop their own corn over a flame- no popcorn machines had been invented yet. That would change in 1885. Charles Cretors created the first commercial popcorn machine. It was on wheels and used a gas burner. He took the cart out onto the streets of Chicago, popping and selling corn to passers. His popcorn was an instant hit.

People quickly started to purchase the carts as well as the popcorn. They started setting up outside movie theatres, at fairs, and anywhere people would gather. Movie theatres originally refused to sell popcorn. Popcorn wasn’t sold inside the theatres at first. People considered popcorn too messy. That mindset didn’t last too long. Movie theatres that sold popcorn saw far more business. During the Great Depression, it was one of the few snacks that was still affordable.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Cinema_popcorn_bucket.jpg

Sugar became heavily rationed during World War II. Candy was off the table for many Americans as prices skyrocketed. Despite this, popcorn was still affordable. It didn’t use any sugar and popcorn consumption tripled during the war.

Microwavable Popcorn

Popcorn was immensely popular during the war, but by 1950 people were staying home to watch their brand new TVs. With the advent of television, movie theatres began to lose customers. As they lost customers, so did popcorn begin to lose popularity.

Thankfully, popcorn wasn’t about to be left to the history books. Percy Spencer discovered how to generate microwaves in the 1940’s and began to work on microwave ovens soon after. By the 1980’s, microwave ovens had taken off in popularity. The popcorn industry quickly adapted. 1981 saw the first microwavable popcorn. Refrigeration was required as it had actual better. Other versions came frozen instead. By 1984 a shelf-stable version was created. Americans bought $250 million worth of popcorn by 1986.

Orville Redenbacher created the popcorn we’re familiar with today. An agricultural scientist by trade, his popcorn expanded twice as much as any on the market.

Today, people are more inventive with their popcorn. Many different seasonings and additives are available so you can mimic whatever flavor you’d like with your popcorn. Personally, I’m a fan of the regular old-school movie theatre butter popcorn.

What’s your favorite popcorn flavor? Have any ideas for our next article? Let us know in the comments!

Want to read more?

Want to read more about popcorn history? Check out the websites below!

https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-history-of-popcorn-1328768

https://www.popcorn.org/All-About-Popcorn/History-of-Popcorn

https://www.seriouseats.com/popcorn-history-movie-theaters– This one is by far the most comprehensive.

Interested in food history?

Then you should definitely check out our article on the first beer can! Canning beer is way harder than you would think, and it wasn’t until the 1930’s that we managed it!

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US Patent Number 1

Every year, the US Patent and Trademark Office issues thousands of patents. In fact, just last year they issued patent 11 million. Patents are an incredibly important part of the economy. They prevent anyone else from making, distributing, or selling an invention without permission for a set period of time. Inventors and innovators race to be the first to file a patent for new inventions. Patents are far older than most people think. The first patent recognized is from 1421. The government in Florence issued it for a new style barge. Patents are important enough that the Founding Fathers of the United States included patents in the Constitution. The Patent Office was created in 1790, and US Patent Number 1 was issued.

The First US Patent

The first US Patent was issued in 1790, not long after the US Patent and Trademark Office was created. George Washington signed the patent on July 31, 1790. A copy of the patent is below.

A copy of the First US Patent number 1.
A copy of the First US Patent number 1

The First US Patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins. He created a new recipe for potash. Potash is a mix of minerals and chemicals used in fertilizer. It’s pretty interesting that the first patent granted in the United States was for fertilizer. It highlights that the US was mainly agrarian when the country was first founded. Farmers are still using potash in their fertilizer to this day.

1790 had only 3 patents issued. The second patent, applied for by Joseph Sampson, was for a new way to manufacture candles. The last, applied for by Oliver Evans, was for an automated flour mill.

Despite how few patents were issued that first year, Americans are an inventive people and applications for patents quickly piled up. The young government placed all the records in temporary storage. A new records building was in the process of being built in 1836 to handle the mass of paperwork. The temporary storage caught on fire, destroying nearly all the records in one fell swoop.

The Second US Patent Number 1

With the original warehouse of documents gone, the US Patent and Trademark Office started a numbering system. The Office designated all patents before this point as X patents. You can see the X-number listed in the top right corner of the image above. So the US Patent and Trademark Office issued the “Second” first US Patent to John Ruggles. This is “US Patent Number 1”. Ruggles designed traction wheels for locomotives. The Office granted the patent to him on July 13, 1836. His wheels helped the train to keep traction in bad weather, rather than slipping on the rails.

Thankfully, recordkeeping is much more secure and there is little chance of Ruggles losing his US Patent Number 1 designation.

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Want to learn more about US inventions?

Check out our article on the Beer Can!

A Short History of Egg Painting

Decorating Easter eggs is an extremely popular Easter tradition. Every year, millions of families will dye, paint, or otherwise decorate eggs for Easter. Some families who don’t decorate eggs themselves will purchase pre-painted eggs, brightly colored plastics eggs, or help their kids hunt for eggs if the weather is nice enough. Little do most people know, that decorating eggs is a tradition that goes back to the very beginnings of human history.

Brightly colored easter eggs in a wicker basket
Painted eggs in a basket Ikonact, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Early Decorated Eggs

The oldest decorated eggs go all the way back to 55 to 65 thousand years ago. These eggs were found in South Africa. Archeologists believe that hunter-gatherers used ostrich eggs to carry water, as some tribes still do today. The ancient tribes marked the eggs with lines. Some eggs found had a cross-hatch pattern, others had wavy lines. Amazingly, some eggs show different colors than the normal ostrich’s white/yellow, so they may have painted the eggs as well! During the Bronze and Iron Ages, ostrich eggs were found as far away from Africa as Spain.

Most ancient cultures seem to have placed a special significance on eggs and, at times, decorating them. Ancient Egyptians believed in a great “cosmic egg.” Chinese and Indian myths both have creator beings born from eggs. Finnish mythology also has the world being created from fragments of an egg laid by a goldeneye. Other mythologies have restoration or creation myths involving eggs. So it can be easy to see how eggs are linked to Easter and the rebirth of Jesus.

Decorated eggs were also found in other regions of the world. Persians and Zoroastrians used decorated and painted eggs for Nowruz. Nowruz is the New Year in some parts of the world and is celebrated at the Spring Equinox. People in Eurasia still follow this tradition.

Painted Eggs and Easter

Painting eggs for Easter started with the Eastern Orthodox. Most egg decorating began well before Christianity. So it’s not surprising that those who already decorated the eggs around the time of Easter began incorporating them into their Easter celebrations. Ukrainian egg decoration, called pysanky, is very elaborate. These eggs are often given as gifts for health and fertility.

Pysanky painted eggs
Pysanky eggs Lubap Creator:Luba Petrusha, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest record linking the painted eggs directly with Easter comes from the Middle Ages when England’s King Edward I ordered 450 eggs to be colored and given out to other royals. Eggs tended to be cheap and the practice caught on.

Easter egg hunts became popular in Germany in the 1600’s and spread across Europe. By the Victorian era, early fake eggs were being used.

Chocolate eggs started in the late 1800’s and the Industrial Revolution helped make mass-producing the candy possible. Now millions of chocolate eggs are distributed each year.

Egg Color Meanings

As eggs already symbolized life and rebirth, they fit in quite well with the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Certain colors quickly took on special meanings

Red was for the blood of Christ, Mary’s tears staining the eggs red, and the eggs next to Jesus’ tomb turning red.

White was for purity. Sometimes this is for the purity of the Virgin Mary. Other times it is for the lilies that grew in Easter lilies.

Black is for mourning and grief. This mainly relates to the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Violet stands for royalty, as well as penance and sadness. This is to remind people of Jesus’ suffering.

Green is the color of life. For Easter, it means eternal life. Green also stands for spring and renewal.

Yellow tends to stand for happiness. It’s the color of joy. It’s also the color of sunshine. Gold stands for victory. Gold symbolizes the victory of life over death.

How Do You Decorate Easter Eggs?

There are many ways to decorate easter eggs. Some follow ancient traditions of blowing out eggs and using wax. Some hand-paint their eggs. Others go to the store and buy a kit. And others still use stickers.

There’s really no right or wrong way to decorate eggs- this tradition has been evolving for 60 thousand years! How do you and your family decorate eggs? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to Learn More?

Check out these websites!

Good Housekeeping goes into detail about the colors of Easter. Parade does as well!

Want to know more about ancient eggs?

Kitchn is a great resource that goes into more detail about Easter eggs.

The Library of Congress has a good overview of egg decorating.

Want to travel over the holiday? Why not see some historic lighthouses? Check out some historic New Jersey lighthouses!

5 Historic Lighthouses in New Jersey You Can Actually Visit!

While the Jersey Shore has been made famous by shows such as “Jersey Shore”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “MTV’s TRL”, the New Jersey coastline used to be infamous among sailors. Over a thousand shipwrecks litter the coast, sunk there by mariners who underestimated the dangers of the shoreline. New Jersey has two major port cities near it, New York City and Philadelphia. This led to a high volume of ship traffic around some of the most dangerous areas. The historic lighthouses along the New Jersey coast played a vital role in preventing shipwrecks.

As a result of the many deaths and shipwrecks, New Jersey had a high number of lighthouses. At the height of the lighthouse era, 38 were operating along the Jersey coast, with 6 additional lightships. These warned ships of dangerous areas and guided them safely onto the correct course.

Of the 38 lighthouses that once operated, 18 still remain. Not all of these are open for visits. But those that are open to the public are a great place to visit for a glimpse into the past. The historic lighthouses, all located in New Jersey, are well worth a visit.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse (Highlands, NJ 07732)

Picture of Historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey
Ccrabb1948, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sandy Hook lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the US! It was first lit on June 11, 1764. Isaac Conro designed and built the lighthouse about 500 feet from the shore. Today it stands about a mile and a half from the coastline. The lighthouse has been in continuous operation ever since. The only times it went dark were during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and both World Wars. It stands at 103 feet tall. Originally, the light was provided by 48 oil blazes. Now it uses a 3rd order Fresnel lens, installed in 1857. TOn October 15, 1966, the National Register of Historic Places added the Sandy Hook Lighthouse to its list.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse is on the grounds of Fort Hancock, which has a bunch of other interesting history on display. A lovely self-guided tour is available of the whole base. I highly recommend it, as it is almost completely flat and has about 40 stops that encompass the history of the base and the area around it.

The light still operates today. The National Park Service administers the lighthouse and offers tours on the weekends.

Cape May Lighthouse (Cape May, NJ 08204)

Picture of Historic Cape May Lighthouse in New Jersey
King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cape May Lighthouse is one of the most popular historic lighthouses in New Jersey, and certainly one of the most iconic. Built in 1859, this lighthouse overlooks both the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River. This is actually the third lighthouse on this site. The ocean destroyed the first lighthouse when it flooded. The second lighthouse, poorly built, succumbed to erosion. The current lighthouse stands at 157 feet tall and is still in use today. Cape May’s lighthouse originally used a first-order Fresnel Lens, the largest available. Today it uses a rotating aerobeacon. National Register of Historic Places added the Cape May Lighthouse on November 12, 1973.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts currently is leasing the lighthouse and opened it to the public in 1988. You can visit the lighthouse and keepers station Friday through Saturday, 12-3 PM

Navesink Twin Lights (Highlands, NJ 07732)

Picture of Historic Twin Lights Lighthouse in New Jersey
Lbeaumont, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Navesink Twin Lights are the only lighthouses built in a fortress style within the United States. This alone makes these historic lighthouses well worth a trip. The original Twin Lights were built in 1828. Joseph Lederle built the second Twin Lights that stands today in 1868. The Twin Lights hold the honor of being the first US lighthouse to have a Fresnel lens installed. Fresnel lenses were much more effective at magnifying light and are still used in some places today. Fort Monmouth was involved with the Twin Lights, conducting secret experiments with radar. Keeping with this tradition, the Twin Lights was also a site for some of the earliest radio navigation experiments.

The Twin Lights ceased operations in 1954. Other navigational aids replaced the lights. The lights were converted into a museum after being rendered obsolete and deactivated. The National Register of Historic Places added the Twin Lights on December 2, 1970. The historic lighthouses are still imposing and an amazing landmark.

The grounds are always open to visitors. However, the museum is only open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10-4 PM. Tours are available from Wednesday to Saturday.

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (North Wildwood, NJ 08260)

Picture of Historic Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in New Jersey
darlingtrk, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lieutenant Colonial William Reynolds built the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in 1873. Congress approved the building of the lighthouse mainly for smaller vessels and the steamers traveling around the mouth of the Delaware River.

On May 11, 1874, the light activated for the first time. The tower stands at 49 and 1/2 feet tall. Mariners can see the light for 13 miles. The lighthouse held church services in its early days. The first keeper, John Marche, died only three months into his service. He drowned when his boat capsized as he returned to the island. Due to some intense storms that actually moved the lighthouse off of its foundations, the structure was moved about 150 feet to the west, away from the waters that threatened it.

Like all other historic lighthouses in NJ, the Hereford Inlet light went dark during World War II when the Germans were operating off the Jersey Coast. It returned to service but was decommissioned in 1964, replaced by a metal skeletal structure. By 1982, the local lighthouse society petitioned for control of the lighthouse. They restored both the lighthouse and the amazing gardens that surround it. 1986 saw the light returned from the skeletal structure that housed it, back into the lighthouse proper. It’s been operating there ever since.

Originally equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, the light is now a VRB-25 beacon, installed by the Coast Guard in 2018. The National Register of Historic Places added it on September 20, 1977

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse grounds are open year-round for visits. The gardens are impressive and well worth the trip in spring and summer. The tour of the lighthouse is self-guided. You can visit the lighthouse between May and October between 9 to 5 PM

Sea Girt Lighthouse (Sea Girt, NJ 08750)

Picture ofLighthouse in New Jersey
King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sea Girt Lighthouse is quite possibly my favorite lighthouse on this list. The funds for the Sea Girt Lighthouse were planned for 1889, but the lighthouse wasn’t built until 1896. As you can see from the photo above, it’s one of the few lighthouses that has the tower integrated into the keeper’s quarters. Sea Girt was the last lighthouse built in this style on the East coast. The light was first lit on December 10, 1896. The light was a fourth-order Fresnel lens, capable of being seen for 15 miles out to sea.

A radio beacon was installed in 1921. This allowed ships to navigate in poor conditions and heavy fog. Despite the success of the radio beacon, the transmitters were moved to the Barnegat Lightship and the Sea Girt radio beacon was decommissioned.

The Sea Girt Lighthouse played a role in the famous SS Morro Castle disaster. When the ship caught fire on September 8, 1936, it used the lighthouse to fix its position. It also helped the survivors find the shore as they tried to survive the rough seas. As rescuers braved the storm to find survivors, the lighthouse served as a first aid station.

The light went dark with the outbreak of WWII. After the war was over, the lighthouse returned to operation for roughly a decade. 1955 saw the light decommissioned. The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee saved and restored the lighthouse in 1981.

Tours are available every Sunday from 2 – 4 PM, from mid-April to Thanksgiving.

Want to Learn More?

Below are some of the awesome sources I used to help put this list together. (Note, the book links are affiliate links, so if you purchase the books I will get a small percentage of the sale. I will never link a book I haven’t purchased and read myself first.)

The National Park Service keeps up the Sandy Hook Lighthouse informational site- See the site here!

The Twin Lights Museum was an excellent resource- check them out here!

The Cape May Lighthouse website doesn’t have a lot of information about the lighthouse but has a lot of cool events listed throughout the year. Check out the calendar!

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse’s website is full of information. Definitely check this one out!

Sea Girt has a wonderful website as well! See it here!

Want some more cool New Jersey History? Did you know that NJ had the first canned beer?