Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society ID:59505.

Many of us can easily picture a lighthouse in our minds. You may think of a tall structure that’s right along a lake or ocean, illuminating the water and land it protects. Whatever comes to mind, lighthouses have an everlasting cultural presence far beyond their functionality. Lighthouses have long been known for their role in navigational assistance and as a beacon for maritime activity. Even as lighthouses continue to face a decline in necessity due to improving navigational technologies and GPS, their structures remain crucial to many coastal town identities. The Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, which sits quaintly on Lake Michigan, is no exception.

Map of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, created in 1868. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society.

Manitowoc has always exuded an aura of maritime grandeur from its participation in shipbuilding in the late 19th century to its submarine construction during WWII.  Shortly after its establishment in 1836, the town recognized it had a suitable harbor which could facilitate nautical travel and trade. Soon the need for a navigational aid arose in this bustling harbor town, and the first light tower was built in 1840 by the city of Manitowoc, establishing lighthouses as an important guide for the ships entering the city. As Manitowoc’s shipping industry grew, the city was able to invest in new constructions of light towers, ultimately resulting in the installation of the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse in 1918 to replace the previous tower.

View of the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse in the winter, ca. 1951. Image taken by Sig Weinert. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society ID:140939.

The Manitowoc Breakwater Light stands at 52 ft on a concrete pier with a steel frame. It is painted white and installed with a fourth order Fresnel lens. The Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse had a multi-purpose design. Its basement served as a boathouse, the first story functioned as a power room with hollow tile lining, and the second story was equipped with a shower, lavatory, and furnished with desk and chairs. Joseph Napiezinski held the position of lighthouse keeper from 1911 to 1941, and Ross F. Wright was his first assistant from 1911 to 1932. In addition to their responsibilities of operating the light and fog signal, the keepers remained vigilant for anyone in need of assistance on the water. Throughout its more than 80 years of operation, the Breakwater Lighthouse has served as a guiding light for those coming in and out of Wisconsin. In 1971, the lighthouse was automated so that it could operate without the need for a keeper. Still sitting at the end of Manitowoc’s harbor, visitors and locals can walk along the north pier to visit the lighthouse and appreciate the city’s maritime history. Tourists and residents can also visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which sits not too far from the Breakwater.

U.S.S. Mero entering the Manitowoc harbor. In the background is the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse, ca. September 1942. Image courtesy of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
Elevated view of commercial boats in Manitowoc Harbor. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society ID: 117989.

In 2009, a New York businessman named Philip Carlucci bought the lighthouse after it was determined to be excess by the U.S. Coast Guard. Carlucci had dreamt of owning a lighthouse since he was a kid, and when he came into possession of the Breakwater, he decided to restore it. By the Lighthouse’s 100th anniversary in 2018, Carlucci repainted the structure and renovated the lighthouse to its previous historical layout. It has since continued to be a place where visitors can come to appreciate the beauty of the lighthouse as well as the scenic view of Lake Michigan. As navigational technology advanced and Manitowoc’s industry evolved over time, the lighthouse continued to adapt and is a testament to the perseverance of lighthouses as an entity.

All throughout the Great Lakes and the country, lighthouses are often visited and appreciated for their design, even with so many of them being obsolete. The Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse is not only cherished by its charm but also for its lasting testament to the everlasting maritime industry in Manitowoc. 

Written by Bella Roberts, May 2023.


“Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse.” LighthouseFriends. Accessed May 9, 2023.

“Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse.” LighthouseFriends. Accessed May 9, 2023.

“Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse.” Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse – Wi Shipwrecks. Accessed May 9, 2023.

“Manitowoc North Breakwater Lighthouse.” United States Coast Guard. Accessed May 9, 2023.

“Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse.” Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Accessed May 9, 2023.

Roberts, Bruce. Western Great Lakes Lighthouses: Michigan and Superior. (Guilford, Conn.: Globe Pequot Press, 2001.)

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