History Of The Kīlauea Lighthouse

In the early 1900’s the U.S. government studied alternatives for placing a lighthouse on Kaua‘i to aid in navigation. Kaua‘i was the first landfall for ships coming from the west.  After surveys and consultations with masters of steamships, Kīlauea Point was selected.  Due to the 180 foot elevation of the peninsula, the cost to build was less since the tower structure did not have to be taller to be effective.

Construction started on July 8, 1912. The tower was built using a then-experimental technique, structural reinforced concrete, now a standard in the industry. The metalwork was fabricated in Ohio. All materials, including the Fresnel lens from France, were offloaded from ships in the inlet surrounded by steep rocky cliffs.  

Wooden derricks raised the materials from the decks of the ships.  The loads were then hauled up steep inclines to the building site. In addition to the tower, three houses were built for the light keepers and their families.

In 1927, the Kīlauea Point Light Station would play a role in aiding a new mode of travel, aviation.  The first flight from the mainland to Hawai‘i overshot its intended destination in O‘ahu in bad weather. Lost in the night, the pilots finally spotted the double flash of Kīlauea Point, realizing they were over Kaua‘i. They circled the tower for an hour and a half, waiting for daylight. Then they made the 100 mile trip to O‘ahu.  

Already important to marine navigation, the lighthouse would now aid aviation since the beam could be seen for 90 miles away from an airplane. In 1930 two 80 foot radio towers were added to the station to broadcast a signal for ships and airplanes to use as direction finding devices.

“Condition One” was declared after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, causing the light station to go dark until the end of the war. Bunkers were built into nearby Crater Hill for an observation post. Important work was done in these bunkers to test and perfect RADAR and long range navigational systems. Eventually, these systems would lead to the end of manned lighthouses throughout the nation, including at Kīlauea Point.

After 63 years serving marine and air transportation, the massive beam of Kīlauea Point Lighthouse was replaced by an unmanned automated beacon. Large ships and planes no longer relied on the light for navigation. In 1976, the Coast Guard shut down the double flash of Kīlauea Point.