Instructions to Light Keepers

Circulars for lighthouse keepers were issued initially through local customs collectors who served as superintendents of lights in their districts. Most instructions concerned tracking the amount of oil used in lighting their lamps. The oil was a very valuable commodity. In 1835 Stephen Pleasonton, who oversaw lighthouses within the Treasury Department from 1820 to 1852, issued the following instructions. His clerk copied them into a volume recording outgoing correspondence now part of the National Archives collection under Record Group 26 Entry 18.



After the U.S. Light-House Board took over the administration of the lighthouses in 1852, the lighthouse service became much more organized and professional, resulting in detailed, multi-paged instructions. The Instructions were updated and expanded almost every decade.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society has digitized many of the Instructions to Light Keepers publications and is making them available on their website as downloadable books. You will notice other useful publications on the same page.

Note that the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association reprinted the 1905 Instructions. It is for sale on their website.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, November 15, 2016


  1. Terry Pepper says:


    Thanks for mentioning that we have the reprinted “Instructions” available in our online store! It is appreciated.

    Terry Pepper Executive Director Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association 707 N. Huron Ave. (PO Box 219) Mackinaw City, MI 49701 tel: 231-436-5580 cel: 231-203-1195 fax: 231-436-5466 eml: web: Follow us on Facebook

  2. David Gamage says:

    I note items 6 and 7 relate to expectations of the contractor regarding lamp supplies and lamp oil.

  3. ree47 says:

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

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