Dauphin Island, AL
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Winslow Lewis (1770-1850) was a sea captain, engineer,
inventor and contractor active in the construction of many American lighthouses
during the first half of the nineteenth century.
A resident of Wellfleet,
Massachusetts, Lewis began developing his ideas during the embargo of
American shipping during the Napoleonic wars. He created a new lighting
system based on Argand lamps; in 1812 the United States Congress purchased
his patent rights for the system. In so doing, it awarded him a contract
to equip all American lighthouses with the lamps. The fitting took four
years; afterwards, Lewis won another contract, this one allowing him to
supply oil to all the stations, and to visit them yearly to ensure their
Lewis soon branched out into contracting work, winning
bids to build new lighthouses around the country. When Stephen Pleasonton
took over the responsibility for these contracts in 1820, he formed an
alliance with Lewis, who was soon being awarded most lighthouse construction
deals in the United States.
While demand for the towers was high, funds
were short, and Pleasonton took great pride in the fact that Lewis was
able to do cheap, fast work. Lewis soon had a set of standard plans drawn
up to meet demand; these plotted out five different sizes of lighthouses,
at 25, 30, 40, 50, and 65 feet high.
Many such towers were built; most
were made of brick, but a few were constructed of stone. But Lewis knew
little about proper engineering practices, and most of the lighthouses
were either poorly constructed, or they were too short. Most had to be
replaced; only a handful survive today.
Little is known of Lewis' later
career. His nephew, I. W. P. Lewis, was also a lighthouse builder and