From before the American Civil War through World War II, sail and steam-powered lake freighters transported copper, iron, grain, and other commodities, by the wild shorelines of present-day Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Storms, fogs, reefs, icy waters, and uninhabited cliffs, forests, and dunes posed real dangers to the sailors and passengers of those vessels. This French-manufactured 3rd-order Fresnel lens shone a steady light over Lake Superior for over 80 years, warning ships away from the dangerous reefs of Au Sable Point. Lit by a succession of lighthouse keepers and their families, their lonely and isolated service can still be sensed in this place: in the lack of modern sounds, in the starry skies, and in the many moods of the world's largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior. This lens represents the close connection between land and lake and the people bold enough to live lives on these wild and wonderful shorelines.
The lens's service ended when advances in shipboard radio communication and radar made navigating Lake Superior'ss dark nights and stormy weather safer and independent of lighthouse lights. In 1958 it was determined that the Au Sable Light should be automated; the 3rd-order lens was disassembled and shipped to district U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Cleveland. A battery powered optic was installed on the light tower'ss gallery railing.
On January 12, 1968, the station reservation and buildings were incorporated into Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Arrangements were made to return the 3rd-order lens from Cleveland, and in June, 1996, after years of being displayed in Munising and then Grand Marais, the lens was returned to Au Sable, reassembled in the light tower'ss lantern room, where it can still be seen to this day.