Manitowoc Breakwater Light Seeing The Light

Manitowoc, Wisconsin Home Back

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Historical Information

Manitowoc established itself early as a shipbuilding center when in 1847 the first wooden sailing ship built in Manitowoc was launched and the tradition of shipbuilding was born. 1852 saw the launch of the first Clipper Schooner built on the Great Lakes. Manitowoc's prowess as a shipbuilding and commercial center quickly spread and the port became known as the "Clipper City." 

Click to view enlarged imageBy 1900, more than 200 schooners, tugs and steamers had been built in the Manitowoc shipyards. Between 1850 and 1880 there were as many as ten major shipbuilders within the harbor. One of the old main docks is now, appropriately, the location of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

Manitowoc's shipbuilding history reached its zenith during World War II when 28 submarines were turned-out of the Manitowoc yards. In fact, more than 100 vessels including landing craft, minesweepers and submarine chasers were constructed here in support of the war effort. Manitowoc remained the center of shipbuilding in Wisconsin until 1970, when its largest shipbuilder moved to Sturgeon Bay as a result of the river and port being too small to construct the pre-eminent 1,000 foot freighters.

The existing light was built in 1918, and is situated on an 11 foot high rectangular concrete pier, which is integrated into the breakwater at the mouth of the Manitowoc River. Standing forty feet tall, the tower was capped with a cast iron lantern room ,and equipped with a Fifth Order Fresnel lens, which remains in the lantern to this day.

Keepers of this Light

Click Here to see a complete listing of all Manitowoc Pierhead and Breakwater Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

Manitowoc was our last stop for the day, and the shadows were getting long as we walked out to long pier to the light.

As well as protecting the commercial harbor, the pier system also provides shelter for a marina which had some of the most beautiful and luxurious boats we have seen during our trips.

As is the case with most of the pier lights, all doors, windows and portholes have had steel plates welded over them to preclude entry. Also, the pitched roofs which used to cover the two wings have been removed and replaced with flat steel plates. As a result, the entire structure appears as a mass of white.

The historical photograph below clearly shows the catwalk that once ran the length of the pier to the building, though unfortunately today there is no evidence of the old structure.

Finding this Light

Head downtown (east) into Manitowoc on Washington Street to the intersection with 10th Street. Take 10th Street north and cross the river. Immediately after crossing the river, turn right onto Maritime Drive. Follow Maritime Drive as it sweeps to the North, and park in the marina on the right.

Reference Sources

Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994 
USCG Historians office, Photographic archives.
Wisconsin Handbook, Thomas Huhti, 1997
Photographs from author's personal collection.
Personal observation at Manitowoc, 09/09/2000
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

Click to view Manitowoc weather conditions

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This page last modified 02/23/2004