Digest>Archives> July 2009

The Lindbergh Beacon

By Timothy Harrison

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As well as maintaining and building lighthouses and other aids to navigation along our waterways, in the days before radar and modern means of communication, the U.S. Lighthouse Service operated an Airways Division. This division built towers that helped guide the early mail plane pilots across the country but also maintained the lights on the early and primitive landing strips, that we now call airports.

Shown here is a photograph of the Lindbergh Beacon that operated under the U.S. Lighthouse Service Airways Division. It first became became operational in 1929.

With 2 million candlepower it was listed as the strongest aviation beacon in the world. Built atop the Palmolive Building in Chicago, it was one of two aviation beacons named after famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. The other beacon was installed atop the Los Angeles City Hall in 1928. However, for some reason Lindbergh did not want his name association with the beacon and the one shown here became known as the Palmolive Beacon.

The beacon actually had two lights in its tower. One light rotated to guide airplanes to Chicago, and the other, a stationary light, pointed the way to Chicago Municipal Airport, which later became Midway Airport. Different reports indicated that the lighthouse could be seen by pilots anywhere from 225 to 300 miles away.

Eventually, as other skyscrapers were built that were taller than the Palmolive Building the light was discontinued. In 1988 the beacon from the tower was removed and donated to what is now the AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

In 2007 the new owners of the building installed a much weaker light in the tower than was originally there, but numerous complaints from tenants in nearby buildings have kept its light shining as just a weak arc over Lake Michigan.

The beacon that was atop the Los Angeles City Hall was removed in the 1940s and put in storage. Recently it was rediscovered and is now on display at the LAX Terminal.

This story appeared in the July 2009 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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