Sunday, October 2, 2011

Scathing News from 1852 Scientific American

Some hot tidbits in the Oct. 2, 1852, issue of Scientific American. (We added paragraph breaks.)

Image: Carysfort Reef Light, by Gerald C. Hill, from Florida Lighthouses Illustrated Map & Guide.
The Fresnel Light and the Old System.
It was well, we think, for the honor of our country and the benefit of our great and rapidly increasing commerce, that the last Congress changed the old Light-house System, and established a new one upon a far superior basis.

Some years ago a Fresnel lens was purchased in France by our old Light-house Board, but so inefficient and careless was said Board, that, after its arrival here, although it cost $10,000* and was intended for the Iron Lighthouse on Carysfort Reef, Florida, it was suffered to remain in the New York Custom House, like a corpse, and was laid among the old lumber and unclaimed baggage.

At last it was sold for old iron and such-like trumpery, nobody about the Custom House having the gumption to know that such a valuable apparatus was anything more than some wheels, pieces of glass, and so on. It was purchased for $300, and no sooner was this done than up awakened the Rip Van Winkles of the Lighthouse Board, and a writ of replevin was issued to reclaim it for the Government, as having been sold by a mistake. This led to a long law suit between the purchasers and the blundering officials; but at last it was obtained by government, and has been taken to Philadelphia, where it was exhibited on the 16th ult., at the monthly meeting of the Franklin Institute, by Lieut. Meade, U. S. Navy, who has put it together for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not it was perfect in all its parts.

It is stated that those who witnessed the exhibition were almost overwhelmed with the mass of concentrated rays, and were nearly blinded. It is a Fresnel of the first magnitude and perfect in all its parts, excepting a few fractures which can easily be repaired and which were caused by the clumsy application of a crow-bar in opening one of the boxes. It will be set up in the Carysfort Light-house, where it should have been long ago, had our light-houses been under better management.** The workmanship is excellent, and all the machinery is beautifully executed.

Miscellaneous News of the Week.
The Fresnel apparatus selected for the light-house on Sand Key, Fla., will be a brilliant flash light of the first magnitude, and may be expected to be lighted by the 1st of June.***
*$10,000 in 1852 would be nearly $260,000 in today's money. Carysfort Reef was finished in 1852, but didn't get a Fresnel lens until 1858. Before then it had the inefficient system of lamps and reflectors patented by Winslow Lewis, who had a sweetheart deal to outfit all U.S. lighthouses. The wrought-iron skeleton tower tower was designed by Lewis's nephew, IWP Lewis, a civil engineer.

**A dig at Stephen Pleasonton, who as 5th Auditor of the Treasury was in charge of lighthouses 1820-1852.

***Navy Lt. George Gordon Meade, who supervised the completion of Carysfort Reef, was sent to finish Sand Key in January 1853. In July its 1st-order Fresnel lens went into service, with a hydraulic lamp designed by Meade. Exactly ten years later he was a victorious major general at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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