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Bell buoy

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Bell buoy
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 78-18116


This object appears in the following sections:

Work and Industry
Tending Aids to Navigation — Where the Buoys Are

Buoys at the depot

A buoy tender's deck

Bell Buoy
Catalog #: 336,771, Accession #: 1978.2285.01
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
This lighted bell buoy is of the type widely used in the 20th century to mark shoals in coastal waters along the East Coast of the United States. It was put into service around 1930 near Turkey Point in the upper Chesapeake Bay. When the buoy was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1978, about 10 feet of the bottom--the portion that is normally under water--was removed. The buoy has been on display in the Hall of American Maritime Enterprise since 1978.
Physical Description
Artifact. This iron bell buoy is 12' high and 8' in diameter. It weighs about 1500 pounds and is painted black. A white number "1" is affixed to four sides of the structure. Its two pockets originally housed the acetylene gas tanks that powered the white light at the top of the buoy. In later years the pockets held batteries. The buoy's bronze bell has two strikers that rang the bell with the motion of waves.
Date Made:
about 1930
Dates Used:
about 1930 - about 1970
Coastal waters of the Eastern United States
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard
Buoys became important aids to navigation around 1880. Before then, mariners relied on lighthouses to guide them around dangerous points and into harbors. But with the increased speed of steam-powered vessels and the growing importance of ships meeting their schedules by taking the fastest routes, buoys were employed to mark the safest and shortest routes. The United States Lighthouse Service, the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, was responsible for setting and maintaining the nation's buoys, in addition to other navigational aids. In 1931, around the time this bell buoy was placed in service, the Service had marked 40,580 statute miles of coast and river channels and was actively maintaining 19,556 aids to navigation.

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