September 1, 1901: Duluth’s South Pier Light operates for the first time

On this day in Duluth in 1901, the new South Pier Light on the east end of the Duluth Ship Canal’s south pier burned for the first time. In the mid 1890s the canal’s original wooden piers were dismantled, the canal was widened, and new concrete piers established. In June 1900 contractors began constructing a new lighthouse to replace the simple light that had been serving mariners since 1873, when contractors built a wooden pyramid tower and capped it with an octagonal cast-iron lantern housing a fifth order Fresnel Lens. The light, which cast a red beacon visible 12.5 miles away, was lit for the first time on June 2, 1874. In 1877 the light was upgraded with a fixed red fourth order Fresnel lens. That same lens was used inside the 1901 lighthouse, a single-story building, forty-five feet long and twenty-two feet wide, faced with Cream City brick. A tower sprouting thirty-five feet from its east end holds the lens inside a new circular cast-iron lantern that gave it a range of twelve miles. A fog signal was also installed, along with a new steel parabolic reflector to keep the hillside quiet. You see, ever since the first fog horn was installed in 1880, people living on the Hillside have been complaining about the racket bouncing off the hillside. You can read more about the fog signal here, more about the South Pier Light here, and more about the canal, aerial bridge, and the other lighthouses in Duluth and Superior here.

The Duluth Ship Canal’s South Breakwater Light. (Image: Library of Congress)