The copper mining industry got going on the Keweenaw Peninsula in the 1840s. Lake Superior's unreliable disposition meant that passing ships needed navigational assistance, and in 1851 the original lighthouse was built. The wooden tower which supported a fourth-order Fresnel lens illuminated by a sperm oil lamp soon deteriorated, and in 1871 it was replaced by the present red brick structure. In 1895 a fog signal was added.
In 1968, the original lens was replaced by aviation beacon-type white and red lights, which beam their warning to ships more than 20 miles offshore. After being tended by 21 keepers over a 129-year history, the lighthouse became automated in 1980.