Digest>Archives> April 2004

Lighthouses: First Line in Cold War Defense


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Since the early days of lighthouses, they have been used as lookout towers and observation posts in time of war. In fact ,many light stations even had gun emplacements to be used against enemy aircraft or ships, and throughout history lighthouses were also the target of attack by military forces.

During the Cold War, the United States had a heightened sense of enemy attack from the air. Wire photos were extensively used in print media during the early to mid-1900’s. Issued by news agencies such as Acme, International News, AP, UPI and Fotogram only to the press, these gorgeous photographs captured a historical moment, frozen in time. They were issued in extremely limited quantities only for the print media, and in most cases, fewer than 50 copies of each print were ever made. Over the years, many were thrown out and destroyed or lost, and in some cases there are only one or two specimens known to exist today of a particular photo. Generally, those that are found still have the original photo caption with them.

This one was titled “First Light of Defense.” It shows a Civil Defense volunteer acting as a lookout from a lighthouse in San Francisco and states they are “Today’s modern Paul Revere’s.” It also goes into some depth of the training the government gave to these volunteers to report sightings of enemy aircraft. This particular photos says that it was an official Air Force Photo released to the media by the Department of Defense on June 18, 1951. It is now in the archives of the “Museum of Lighthouse History” in Wells, Maine, and is an important part of the story of America’s lighthouse history.

This story appeared in the April 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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