The United States has more lighthouses than any other country — around 700 of them — but only one of them is still regularly staffed instead of being automated. That would be Boston Light, which can be found on Little Brewster Island in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Before the advent of electric lights, “keeping a good light” required lighthouse keepers to tend to the actual lamp (which generally burned oil or kerosene), watch out for fog and sound fog signals, and perform housekeeping duties that included cleaning the lens. Today, lights are automatic, monitored by a remote control center and built with backup components that come online automatically if any portion of the system fails.
Built in 1716 and standing some 60 feet high, Boston Light has undergone significant changes throughout its 306-year tenure, but thanks to a law passed by the Senate at the behest of Massachusetts’ own Senator Ted Kennedy in 1989, it will remain staffed by a human in perpetuity. The law followed Boston Light being named a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Such protections and distinctions are warranted: Boston Light is actually the first lighthouse built in the United States. It saw significant damage during the Revolutionary War, with the British occupying it (as well as Boston itself) from July 1775 until June 1776 — a siege that included several fires lit by patriots to undermine the British position, and culminated in the British blowing it up. Massachusetts rebuilt the structure in 1783, and it has stood ever since.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was the tallest human-made structure in the world when it was built in approximately 270 BCE — only the Great Pyramid of Giza, also in Egypt, rose higher. It’s considered the archetype of all lighthouses built in the thousands of years since, and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World along with the Great Pyramid, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and Colossus of Rhodes. Designed by the Greek architect Sostratos during Ptolemy II's reign, it’s believed to have stood about 380 feet tall and was destroyed by a series of earthquakes between 956 and 1323 CE. Of the original Seven Wonders, only the Great Pyramid remains.