The last lighthouse keeper

Just one manned lighthouse is left in Norway

Photo: Marianne Løvland / NTB scanpix
The last manned lighthouse in Norway is in Lindesnes, the site of the very first one.

M. MICHAEL BRADY
Asker, Norway

The history of lighthouses in Norway begins before that of the modern nation. The first was built in 1656 on the coast of the southern tip of the country at Lindesnes. Others were then built. By 1814, Norway had 10 lighthouses. After the dissolution of the Union with Denmark that year, the speed of building lighthouses was ramped up, in part with technologies from France and the United Kingdom.

By 1841, there were 27 operational lighthouses along the Norwegian coast. That triggered the establishment of the governmental Fyrvesenet (The Lighthouse Directorate). The speed of building was again ramped up. In the following 40 years, 101 new lighthouses were built. By the time the lighthouse on the island of Anda in the Vesterålen Archipelago in Nordland County was built in 1932, more than 200 staffed lighthouses were operational along the Norwegian coast. Thereafter, with time, automated technologies replaced human lighthouse keepers. So today, as for manual road toll plazas (further reading), only one is left in Norway, at Lindesnes, the site of the first one.

Lighthouse deployments elsewhere in Scandinavia were similar. The profusion of lighthouses had triggered a quest for improved lighthouse technologies, including those for producing the brightest light at the lowest cost, as well as for imparting a specific character of the light from each individual lighthouse to identify it. Swedish engineer, inventor, and industrialist Gustaf Dalén contributed notably to meeting those needs.

His many inventions included a means to store acetylene gas that, when burned, produced a more brilliant white light than the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) then used and hence superseded it as a lighthouse fuel. He also invented the sun valve, which regulated gas flow to a light so it operated only at night. For his many contributions, he was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physics for his “invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys.”

Further reading:

Nå er han landets siste fyrvokter (Now he’s the country’s last lighthouse keeper) by Elise Rønnevig Andersen, Aftenposten, Aug. 16, 2020, online version at: www.aftenposten.no/karriere/i/zGWGbw/frank-otto-roeiseland-er-landets-eneste-fyrvokter-frykter-jeg-ogsaa-b (in Norwegian only).

One lonely tollbooth, just one manual toll plaza left in Norway,” The Norwegian American, April 5, 2019.

The Museums of the Norwegian Coastal Administration, online at kystverkmusea.no/om/english.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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