Between 1820 and 1860, Hawai`i was popular with whalers as a stopover point for refitting and reprovisioning. The high cost of supplies and port charges at Honolulu made Lahaina the port of choice for whale ships. To aid the ships in reaching the port, the first lighthouse in Hawai`i was constructed at Lahaina in 1840. The light was built on a section of waterfront known as Keawaiki that means literally “the small passage,” referring to a narrow break through the coral reef, which led to protected anchorage.
The only existing record of the original lighthouse is a letter written from John Kapena of Lahaina to Paulo Kanoa in Honolulu. In the letter, Kapena describes the original light as a "tall looking box-like structure, about nine feet high and one foot wide, so was all sides; built on a suitable position facing the landing." It was positioned so the landing was marked for "those vessels, boats, and canoes that may come in port at night; because there were quite a number of boats wrecked by the waves." The lighthouse was first lit on November 4, 1840, and the keeper was paid a salary of $20 per year. The whaling ships using the port were charged $1 for the lighthouse, $10 for anchorage and pilotage, and $3 for water.
In 1866, a third light was put into operation at Lahaina. Little information exists regarding the second light to serve the port, but some rough details concerning it are given in the following excerpt from the Hawaiian Gazette announcing the establishment of the third light.
The old Light House at this port has been pulled down, and a new one erected on the old site, somewhat enlarged. The old house was 19 feet by 25 feet, the new one is 25 feet by 30 feet, and a light tower built on top, containing a light room and a sleeping room for the light-keeper. The lamps are altered to burn kerosene oil, instead of whale oil.
The storehouse below the light was leased to the owners of a sugar plantation at a rate of $96 per year.
The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by a group of armed businessmen who established a provincial government. The U.S. government officially annexed Hawai`i on July 7, 1898, but it would not be until 1904 that the government took control of the aids to navigation in the islands.
This is a fixed white light composed of two ordinary kitchen lamps of small power, with red and green sectors, estimated to be 20 feet above high water. The lights are shown from a white wooden pyramidal tower built on the top of a wooden storehouse. It is difficult to distinguish this light from the lights in the town.
Due to the deficiency of this light, it was reconstructed in 1905. The new wooden, pyramidal, skeleton tower was fifty-five feet tall, thirty feet taller than its predecessor and had an enclosed workroom near the top, just below the lens platform. The lens lantern that replaced the two ordinary reflector lamps had red and white sectors. As long as a mariner remained in the white sector, a safe approach to the port could be made.
In 2009, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer David Garrett and his crew from the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team in Honolulu converted the Lahaina Lighthouse to solar power, ending years of reliance on Maui Electric Co. This move, made possible by new developments in light-emitting diode (LED) technology, will eliminate power bills and allow the beacon to stay lit during power outages.