Lighthouses of U.S. Pacific Remote Islands

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 These tiny colonies were short lived; all the settlers were withdrawn in 1942 after Kanton, Baker and Howland Islands were strafed by Japanese ships and planes based at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands (also now in Kiribati).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.

ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights.

General Sources
United States Minor Outlying Islands
Photos available from Wikimedia.
Line Islands Lighthouse
Jarvis Island
1935. Inactive since 1942. 5 m (17 ft) round tower; no lantern, but a light on a short mast was placed at the top. It appears that the lighthouse was originally painted white with a red horizontal band, but little paint remains today. Wikimedia has a 2003 view from the sea, and the beacon casts a shadow in Google's satellite view. Jarvis Island is about 40 km (25 mi) south of the Equator; its longitude of 160°W places it a huge distance, about 1800 km (1100 mi), east of Baker and Howland Islands. Like Baker, it was mined for guano from 1858 to 1879. After being annexed briefly by Britain, it was reoccupied by American settlers from 1935 to early 1942. Harold Jewell visited the island with a biological expedition in 1958 and mentioned the lighthouse several times in his report (no longer online); the scientists stored some of their gear in it. The lighthouse still stands and is charted as a daybeacon. Like Howland, the island is a national wildlife refuge; visits require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ARLHS PJI-001.

Amelia Earhart Beacon
Amelia Earhart Beacon, Howland Island, August 2008
Wikimedia Creative Commons photo by Joann94024

Phoenix Islands Lighthouses (see also Kiribati)
Amelia Earhart (Howland Island)
1937. Inactive since 1942. 6 m (20 ft) round rubblestone tower, originally painted with black and white horizontal bands but unpainted today. A 2008 photo appears above, the same photographer has a more distant view, and Google has a satellite view. Howland Island is an atoll in the Phoenix Islands 80 km (50 mi) north of the Equator at longitude 176.6°W, about 3050 km (1900 mi) southwest of Honolulu. The atoll has been claimed by the U.S. since 1856. The lighthouse and an airstrip were constructed in 1937 to support a round-the-world flight by the famous aviator Amelia Earhart. After Earhart disappeared July 2 on her flight from New Guinea to Howland, the tower was retained in her memory. Damaged during World War II, it was restored by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1963 as a daybeacon. Lighthouse Explorer has a Coast Guard photo of the restored tower. Clearly, there has been no further restoration since that time. The island is a national wildlife refuge; visits require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ARLHS BAK-002.
Baker Island
1935. Inactive since 1942. 5 m (17 ft) round brick tower; no lantern, but a light on a short mast was placed at the top. The lighthouse was originally painted white. A 2008 photo is at right, and the same photographer has a view from the sea, but the tower does not show up in Google's satellite view. Baker Island is 68 km (43 mi) south of Howland Island and only 25 km (15 mi) north of the Equator. The island was mined for guano from 1859 to 1878. American settlers arrived in 1935 and built the lighthouse; the settlement was evacuated at the start of World War II and the island has been uninhabited and very rarely visited since then. The lighthouse still stands and is charted as a daybeacon. Like Howland, the island is a national wildlife refuge; visits require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ARLHS BAK-001.

Information available on lost lighthouses:

Notable faux lighthouses:

Baker Island Beacon
Baker Island Beacon, August 2008
Wikimedia Creative Commons photo by Joann94024

Adjoining pages: North: Hawaii | South: Kiribati

Return to the Lighthouse Directory index | Ratings key

Posted August 28, 2005. Checked and revised August 27, 2013. Lighthouses: 3. Site copyright 2013. Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.