About the Collection
The large size of civil engineering projects poses
special challenges to museums. Curators cannot “collect” actual
dams, bridges, tunnels, railroad stations, irrigation systems,
and skyscrapers in the same manner they might acquire coins, musical
instruments, household furniture, hand tools, or even the occasional
locomotive. Museums interested in documenting the history of civil
engineering—or other areas of life associated with very large
artifacts—must turn to various types of representations:
models, drawings, photographs, and the like.
The historic picture postcards of lighthouses showcased in this
Web display exemplify just such an effort. Like museum objects
of various sorts, these postcards can be understood and interpreted
in a number of ways. What did these lighthouses, and the seascapes
and harbors around them, look like 50 to 100 years ago? What materials
were used in their construction? How did their architectural styles
vary from region to region? Why have people found these structures
This collection of postcards depicts lighthouses in 25 states
and Canada. Most of the postcards were never mailed, and a number
of the pictured lighthouses no longer exist. Of those cards that
were mailed, the earliest was postmarked in 1904, while the majority
were postmarked during the first two decades of the last century.
But these cards merely continue a history of lighthouses and their
mementos that extends back to the ancient world.