Manitowoc Breakwater Light

A History of the Manitowoc Breakwater Lights by Molly Biddle, Registrar

manitowoc lighthouse breakwaterThe Manitowoc Breakwater Light has guided lakefarers in and out of the Manitowoc harbor for over 164 years, with the first lighthouse being established in 1839. In 1840, a brick structure located at the corner of 5th and York Streets perched on a high hill a short distance from the mouth of the Manitowoc River.

A wood pyramidal tower standing 35 feet high was built in 1850 on the outer end of north pier. a catwalk extended to shore assured safe access to the 300 pound hand-operated bell, the city’s first fog signal and the oil lamp that provided light to help pilots navigate into The river.

This light would later be known at the Pierhead Light. In 1859, the original lighthouse structure was raised and then rebuilt on the same location with a revolving 56th Order lens.

By 1895, this lighthouse needed such extensive repairs that it was demolished and reconstructed by the government. Along the river at the Goodrich Docks, at this time, a two-family residence was built on the location of the old lighthouse.

This same year the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse was established on the outer end of the North Breakwater. It was a wood structure covered with corrugated tin. The structure did not have a tower but a small lens room to accommodate the kerosene lamp and a 10-inch steam fog whistle.

In 1918 a new light structure was built on the North Breakwater, a lighthouse, which greets all people coming into Manitowoc Harbor today. The lighthouse originally had a 4th Order lens but was soon replaced with a 5th Order lens.

A Type F Diaphone (compressed air) fog signal was installed as an added safety feature for mariners sailing into manitowoc Harbor. The main light was fixed red and was visible seventeen miles off of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

A radio beacon as installed in 1927 and five years later the diaphone and radio beacon were synchronized to help guide them safely into the harbor.

The Pierhead tower that was built in 1850 was destroyed in a storm and a new steel skeleton structure was erected three years later on the same location. Then in 1947, the structure was moved to the outer end of the pier until 1948 when the light was moved ashore to the Goodrich Docks on the north side of the river.

The Manitowoc Breakwater Light saw many refinements over several years. The light changed from red to straw in 1939 and in 19?? a telephone line and new radio beacon transmitters were installed in the radio room. The color of the light changed in 1956 to a flood white.

In 1964, machinery and Type F Diaphone were removed from the Manitowoc Breakwater Light to modernize it to electric power foghorns along with installing a diesel generator set allowing the light and foghorn to run automatically for navigation, a system in use today.

The most recent change to the Manitowoc Breakwater Light was the removal of the 5th Order lens that is now housed in the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. The United States Coast Guard removed this lens in October 2002 and replaced the lens with a modern light fixture.

The delicate lens will undergo much needed repair and restoration to stabilize it for exhibition. To observe professional staff and volunteers restoring the 5th Order lens form the Manitowoc Breakwater Light, visit the Riverside Gallery located in the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

For more information, visit

Manitowoc Area Lighthouses

Manitowoc Breakwater Light

manitowoc lighthouse breakwaterBuilt: 1918
Type: Square steel and concrete
Phone: (920) 686-3070 or (800) 627-4896
Facts: The cupola rises 52 feet above the lake which the tower houses the sound signal. Although automated in 1971, the light is considered active. It is closed to the public, but can be seen close up from a designated walkway.
Location: End of the north breakwater, downtown Manitowoc. From I-43, take Exit 149, then east to our Visitor Information Center. From there, take Calumet Ave. (Hwy 151) to 8th St. downtown. As you cross the bridge stay right, turning on to Maritime Dr., passing the Maritime Museum and USS COBIA WWII Submarine. Follow the blue railing all the way out to the Breakwater.

North Pier Lighthouse, Two Rivers, WI

North Pier LighthouseBuilt: 1876
Type: Pyramid wooden tower
Phone: (920) 793-5905
Facts: The U.S. Coast Guard deactivated the lighthouse in 1969 and donated its 15-foot high lantern to Two Rivers. It is on display at Rogers Street Historic Fishing Village.
Location: 2022 Jackson Street. Follow Hwy. 42 North across the 22nd Street bridge and turn right

Rawley Point Lighthouse, Two Rivers, WI

rawley pointBuilt: 1884
Type: Skeletal
Phone: (920) 747-7185
Facts: The U.S Coast Guard has operated a lighthouse at Rawley Point since 1853. This relocated lighthouse, which came from Chicago in 1894, rises 113 feet above Lake Michigan. It’s lantern is one of the largest and brightest on the Great Lakes. Because it is on view it is to walk along the beach from Point Beach State Park.
Location: Hwy. 42 North to Two Rivers, then follow the signs to Point Beach State Park on Sandy Bay Road (Hwy O)