•1761: 43 New York merchants petition the Colonial Assembly of New York to erect a lighthouse at Sandy Hook to aid sailors in navigating the narrow curved channel at the tip of Sandy Hook so there would be a safer passage way into New York Harbor.
•1762, May 10: 4 acres of land at Sandy Hook was purchased from Robert Hartshorne with money raised in a lottery authorized by the Colonial Assembly of New York.
•1763, June 14: A second lottery was held in order to raise funds to build the lighthouse.
•1764, June 11: The rubble stone lighthouse built by Isaac Contro of New York City, and originally known as the "New York Lighthouse", was first lit. This made the light the 5th to be built in the colonies.
•1776, March: The lighting apparatus and oil lamps were removed in order to prevent the light aiding British troops.
•1776, Spring: The British were able to relight the tower using makeshift lamps and reflectors.
•1776, June 1: Americans fire upon the light with cannons in an effort to take out the light now under British control. After damaging the tower, they were chased off by an armed ship.
•1817: Two additional beacons, the Sandy Hook East and the Sandy Hook West, were constructed at Sandy Hook.
•1856: A 3rd order Fresnel lens manufactured by the P. Sautter & Co. of Paris, France was installed in the lantern. This lens is still in use today.
•1857: Three assistants were assigned to aid the head keeper who was in charge of all 3 lights at Sandy Hook.
•By 1863: Extensive repairs including a new edifice, a brick lining inside the tower and new iron steps to replace the old wooden stairs were completed.
•1883: A new keepers quarters was built. The double frame dwelling, which housed the head keeper, his family, and the assistants, still stands today.
•1889: Sandy Hook Lighthouse became the first lighthouse in the U.S. to be lit by incandescent lamps.
•1964, June 11: The lighthouse is dedicated as a National Historic Landmark on its 200th anniversary.
•1965, lighthouse is automated.
•1996: Ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service.2
•2002: The lighthouse is a part of the Gateway National Recreational Area. Equipped with a 1000-watt bulb, the light is visible up to 19 miles on a clear day. The New Jersey Lighthouse Society in conjunction with the National Park Service conducts tours of the tower.
In 1764, the eight-year-old child prodigy Mozart was entertaining in Europe’s royal courts, Beethoven’s birth was still six years in the future, Thomas Jefferson would not pen the Declaration of Independence for a dozen more years, and the oldest lighthouse that is still standing in the United States was put into service.
As the lighthouse’s primary purpose was to guide vessels into New York Harbor, Jonias Smith, clerk of the Master and Wardens of the Port of New York, was authorized to collect three pence a ton from ships passing the lighthouse and entering the harbor. The money collected was then used to pay the keeper and purchase supplies like oil, tallow, and coal required at the lighthouse.
Early in the Revolutionary War, the New York Congress resolved that the lighthouse should be destroyed or the lighting apparatus dismantled lest it fall into enemy hands. Major William Malcolm received orders in a letter dated March 6, 1776 to “take the glass out of the lantern, and save it if possible; but if you find this impracticable you will break the glass. You will also endeavor to pump the oil out of the cisterns into casks, or not being able to procure casks, you will pump it out onto the ground. In short, you will use your best discretion to render the lighthouse entirely useless.” Major Malcolm’s mission must have been partly successful as a letter to Colonel George Meade dated March 12 states: “Received from Wm. Malcolm eight copper lamps, two tackle falls and blocks, and three casks, and a part of a cask of oil, being articles from the lighthouse on Sandy Hook.”
Less than three months later, the British had the lighthouse repaired and back in operation. Next, a daring attack was led by Benjamin Tupper to destroy the lighthouse with cannon fire, but after an hour of volleys, he “found the walls so firm that the cannon fire could make no impression.” The stout lighthouse would remain under British control for most of the war.
Following the war, a feud over the lighthouse broke out between the states of New Jersey and New York. This disagreement was quickly defused when the Act of August 7, 1789 gave control of all lighthouses to the federal government, stating that "the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses beacons, buoys, and public piers erected, placed or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United States."
In compliance to the Act, a lot of about four acres "at the point of Sandy Hook, in Monmouth County," was ceded to the United States by the State of New Jersey on November 16, 1790, and on March 1, 1804, the State of New Jersey "consented to the purchase of a lot on the north point of Sandy Hook, for the purpose of erecting a beacon."
A fixed, third-order Fresnel lens was installed in the lighthouse in 1856 and remains in use. In 1857, the lighthouse underwent a major refurbishing. A red brick lining was installed to reinforce the rubblestone walls, and a spiral iron staircase replaced the wooden one. The keepers received the present dwelling in 1883 with accommodations for the principal and assistant Keepers” was constructed.