Civilian keepers operated the light from 1796 until 1943. The U.S. Army assumed control of the light in 1943, and passed it to the Coast Guard in 1946. The light was automated in 1987. The Montauk Historical Society assumed control of the light in 1996, returning it to civilian control.
The lighthouse made the sea approaches to New York City far safer. By 1797 New York harbor was handling a third of the nation’s trade with other countries. It was, and remains, America's busiest port overall.
The tower is 110'6" high. The current light emits 290,000 candlepower, flashes every 5 seconds, and can be seen at a distance of 17 nautical miles.