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OurStory: Life on the Water Lenses and Lighthouses

Background Information

For more information, visit the National Museum of American History Web site http: /americanhistory.si.edu/ourstory/activities/wate .html.

F or hundreds of years, seacoasts, rivers, lakes, and canals have had a big impact on the ways America has changed as a country. Even Americans who have never seen an ocean are still very connected to water. Eating fish for dinner, playing at the beach, ordering goods made overseas, and other maritime activities continue to play an important role in our lives.

Image of Point Bolivar Lighthouse in Texas.

Life and work on the water—for seafarers, fishers, passengers, and many others—have included many big challenges and successes, and even some disasters. On shore, many other

jobs are connected to maritime activities, like moving cargo carried by boats, making fishing

nets, and running lighthouses.

In fog or deep night, a lighthouse’s beam warns ships away from dangers such as shorelines, shallow waters, and underwater rocks. Because the exact locations of lighthouses are marked on charts, the lights help seafarers figure out where they are. In the past, lighthouse keepers lived in lighthouses to make sure the lights were shining every night. Today, many lighthouses are run by computers.

For more information, visit the On the Water online exhibition at http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater.

Lens from Point Bolivar Lighthouse in Texas What kinds of lights can you see right now? A computer screen? The sun? A lamp? Are they bright lights? How far away do you think you could be and still see that light?

Look closely at a lighthouse lens from the National Museum of American History to see how it works!

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