Mariners have depended on lights for navigation for over 2,000 years. The ancient Egyptians built light towers and priests tended the beacon fires. The Romans maintained beacons at prominent ports throughout their empire. By the 18th century, light platforms protected many of Europe’s most dangerous coasts. These early lights were little more than open bonfires on raised platforms, but they warned sailors of danger and gave them hope of safe harbor during storms.
As maritime travel and commerce increased, so did the quantity and quality of navigational lights. Brick and metal lighthouses replaced wooden platforms. Brighter burning oil lamps took the place of simple wood or coal fires. Parabolic or spherical reflectors were added to concentrate the lights and increase visibility. But one of the greatest improvements in lighthouse technology came in 1822 when a French physicist named Augustin Jean Fresnel (Freh-nel) introduced a new lens design that would revolutionize lighthouse optics and make waterways safer for sailors around the world.