Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2021

Lighthouse Keeping – From Politics to Civil Service


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This November 1886 political cartoon from Puck magazine shows how the political underlings from both parties lost some of their power with the passing of the Civil Service reforms that would no longer allow lighthouse keepers to be political appointees. Instead, prospective employees would have to pass a civil service exam to become a lighthouse keeper.

The caption reads:

Their Occupation Gone

Chorus of Political Wreckers. - That confounded lighthouse has busted up the business!

On the wall of the lighthouse tower are the words, “Civil Service Reform. “The names on the hats of the caricatures refer to various politicians of the time. The flags on the masts of the sunken ships read “Bourbon Democrats” and “Bourbon Republicans.”

Up until the mid-1870s, many, but not all, lighthouse keepers were appointed by the recommendation of their local politicians to the administration in Washington, D.C. This resulted in many lighthouse keepers being fired and replaced whenever there was a change in administration. Under the new civil service rules, this would no longer be allowed.

Puck was the first successful humor magazine in the United States that offered exclusive content of colorful cartoons, caricatures, and political satire of the issues of the day. Some of its cartoons have been said to have swayed legislation and elections. Many have considered it as the Mad Magazine (1952-2018) of its day. Puck was founded in 1871 and was in business until 1918.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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