Hog Island Lighthouse First Order Fresnel Lens – Portsmouth, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

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Hog Island Lighthouse First Order Fresnel Lens

Get up close and personal at this Fresnel Lens.  


Originally installed in the second Hog Island Lighthouse on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the First Order Fresnel Lens is one of the biggest and brightest ever built.

The first Hog Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1852 but was destroyed by erosion. The second Hog Island Lighthouse was designed in 1896 and remained in service until it was deactivated in 1948. Also ravaged by erosion, the lighthouse joined its predecessor as an underwater relic off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. 

Weighing over 2,500 pounds and standing ten feet tall, the lens features 368 prisms of optical glass and is encased inside a 16-foot wide pavilion. It is worth more than one million dollars.

French civil engineer and physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel invented the lens that bears his name in 1822. By combining reflecting and refracting prisms, he enabled lighthouses to focus light that would normally scatter into a single beam. It also allowed them to produce patterns to signal ships at sea. These innovations significantly improved coastal navigation and saved countless lives.

Fresnel Lenses are divided into six different sizes known as orders, with the first being the largest and the sixth being the smallest. This particular Fresnel Lens is the second largest of its kind in the world with only the Makapu’u Point Light in Hawaii being larger.

The Hogs Island Lighthouse First Order Fresnel Lens was installed in the Portsmouth seawall during a dedication ceremony on November 5, 2003.

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