St Helena Island lies on the western side of the Straits of Mackinac and the lighthouse was constructed in 1872 to guide ships past the island. This was the first Michigan lighthouse to lose its keeper. In 1922, the lighthouse was automated and the tower was fitted with a tank of acetylene gas, a pilot light, and the “sun valve” recently invented by Nobel Prize-winning engineer Gustav Dalén. When the sun set, the temperature would drop slightly, causing the valve to open and acetylene to be released against the pilot flame. The light would then relight itself and shine throughout the night. With the sunrise the next morning, the valve would close. The St. Helena Island Light innovation was successful, and in the years after 1922, many other Michigan lighthouses would be refitted with sun valves.
The light is illuminated by electricity instead of acetylene and remains an active aid to navigation. The lighthouse is maintained by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA)
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