In 1856 the U.S. Congress passed the Guano Islands Act, which authorized U.S. citizens to take possesion of uninhabited oceanic islands anywhere in the world for the purpose of mining guano for fertilizer. More than 100 islands were occupied at various times in the second half of the 19th century. Nearly all these territorial claims have lapsed, but several islands have remained permanently in U.S. possession, including Navassa Island in the Caribbean and a number of small islands in the northern and central Pacific west and south of Hawaii.
Among the guano islands are several in the Phoenix Islands and Line Islands, located near the Equator in the central Pacific Ocean. In the 1930s, the U.S. government decided to send American settlers to several of these islands to establish U.S. sovereignty more clearly in the face of Japanese imperial expansion. Small lighthouses were built as part of five settlements, including the three described on this page. The other two were on Kanton (Canton) Island and Enderbury Island, but the U.S. claims to these islands were ceded to the new nation of Kiribati in the 1979 Treaty of Tarawa. These tiny colonies were short lived; all the settlers were withdrawn in 1942 after Kanton, Baker and Howland Islands were strafed by Japanese ships and planes based at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands (also now in Kiribati). All the islands have been uninhabited ever since.
In 2009 the atolls of Baker, Howland, Jarvis, Wake, Johnston, and Palmyra and the Kingman Reef were incorporated into the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. These same islands, plus the Midway Islands in the Hawaiian chain, are also called the United States Minor Outlying Islands, a statistical category invented by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights. There are no active aids to navigation on any of the Pacific Remote Islands.
Baker Island Beacon, August 2008
Wikimedia Creative Commons photo by Joann94024
Information available on lost lighthouses:
Notable faux lighthouses:
Adjoining pages: North: Hawaii | South: Kiribati
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Posted August 28, 2005. Checked and revised August 23, 2015. Lighthouses: 3. Site copyright 2015. Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.