In the early years of the 20th century, iron ore shipments on Lake Superior doubled and redoubled. United States Steel's bulk ore carriers became "the greatest exclusive freight-carrying fleet sailing under one ownership in the world," so the demand for a new lighthouse on the lake's inhospitable North Shore was hardly surprising.
A single storm on Nov. 28, 1905, damaged 29 ships, fully one third of which were the uninsured property of the steel company fleet. Two of these carriers foundered on this rocky coastline, which some called "the most dangerous piece of water in the world." A delegation led by the steamship company president descended upon Washington, D.C., and in early 1907, Congress appropriated $75,000 for a lighthouse and fog signal in the vicinity of Split Rock.
The U. S. Lighthouse Service completed the 7.6-acre facility in 1910 and operated it until 1939, when the U.S. Coast Guard took command. By that time, Split Rock's picturesque setting near the North Shore highway, built in 1924, had made it "probably the most visited lighthouse in the United States."
Lighthouse Operating Agencies
When Split Rock Light Station was commissioned in 1910, all beacons in the United States were under the authority of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. USLHS had its roots in the federalization of all lighthouses in 1789. It was a branch of the Commerce Department, and had jurisdiction over anything to do with lighthouses.
In 1939, the USLHS was absorbed into the U.S. Coast Guard, which continues to operate all lighted aids to navigation in the United States today. It runs only one manned light station: Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, the first lighthouse built on American soil. All other lighthouses in the United States are either automated or decommissioned in the face of new navigational technology such as LORAN (Long Range Navigation), radar and GPS (Global Positioning System).
Closing of the Lighthouse
The station closed in 1969 when modern navigational equipment made it obsolete. The State of Minnesota obtained the scenic landmark in 1971. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources operates Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, a 2,200-acre state park that offers hiking, picnicking and tent camping to visitors.
In 1976, administrative responsibility for the 25-acre Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site was given to the Minnesota Historical Society. The Society continues the dual goals of preservation and interpretation of Split Rock Light Station for the generations to come.