During the colonial days, hundreds of shipwrecks occured off Grand Turk due to the shallow reef off its northern coast. Because shipwrecks were so common, vessels began refusing to call for salt cargoes, the mainstay of the Grand Turk economy. Both shippers and the American Government insisted that a lighthouse be constructed.
The Grand Turk Lighthouse was built in London in 1852 and shipped to Grand Turk, where it was assembled in hopes of saving the salt trade. Standing sixty feet, it was designed by Alexander Gordon, who designed lighthouses throughout the British Empire.
The original lighting apparatus consisted of eight Argand whale lamps with reflectors. These reflectors, built in 1851 by Devill & Co. of London, magnified the light to 450 times its original intensity. Simple clockwork machinery was driven by weight which revolved the chandelier, made by the Chance Brothers of Birmingham, England.
By 1943 the lighting system was changed when the same company, the Chance Brothers, installed a Fresnel lens and kerosene light, which had a visibility of fifteen miles. The lens' prismatic glass lenses were designed to extract every shimmer of light and concentrate them into a powerful beam.
Finally, in 1972 the lamp was electrified and automated, and the burner and clock mechanism were removed. Today, the light has distinguishing characteristics that allow sailors to ascertain from the Admiralty Light List that this light is that of the Lighthouse of Grand Turk.