Vintage Railroad Lanterns, Lamps & Lenses

In the early days of railroads, operating after dark was a difficult and dangerous proposition. The lights they had available to use as locomotive headlights, switch signal lights, to direct and inspect the trains, and to direct and sort passengers, luggage, and cargo in train yards were generally "dead flame" whale oil lamps and lanterns. Dead flame lanterns rely on convection to bring fresh air inside the lantern globe around the bottom, and the globes and air intakes are shaped to guide airflow around the flame. This design helps to prevent the wind from blowing out the flame, as it is sitting in the middle in "dead" air, but it does not cast a bright light. The glass globes on these early railroad lanterns were fixed to the fuel font, making access to the burner and wick area difficult.


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Vintage 1904 Adlake Non Sweating Lamp Lantern Railroad 4 Way Electrified Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage 1904 Adlake Non Sweating Lamp Lantern Railroad 4 Way Electrified

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Vintage PRR Pennsylvania Railroad lantern kerosine red globe Dressel Arlington Bid Now »

Vintage PRR Pennsylvania Railroad lantern kerosine red globe Dressel Arlington

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13.5" VINTAGE DIETZ BUCKEYE DASH LAMP METAL GLASS GLOBE RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »

13.5" VINTAGE DIETZ BUCKEYE DASH LAMP METAL GLASS GLOBE RAILROAD LANTERN

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VINTAGE STAR HEADLIGHT & LANTERN COMPANY RAILROAD BATTERY LANTERN METAL Buy Now »

VINTAGE STAR HEADLIGHT & LANTERN COMPANY RAILROAD BATTERY LANTERN METAL

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Julian McDermott Blue RR Marker Light 6 Volt New Buy Now »
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Julian McDermott Blue RR Marker Light 6 Volt New

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Vtg WW11 German Railroad Carbide Lantern Helmholz & Pauli Frankfurt Buy Now »

Vtg WW11 German Railroad Carbide Lantern Helmholz & Pauli Frankfurt

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5 3/8" Switch and Marker Lamp Gaskets Buy Now »

5 3/8" Switch and Marker Lamp Gaskets

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Adlake Non Sweating Lamp-Circa early 1900's Buy Now »

Adlake Non Sweating Lamp-Circa early 1900's

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GTC Vintage Dietz Union Driving Lamp New York USA 7x11 Buy Now »

GTC Vintage Dietz Union Driving Lamp New York USA 7x11

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SMUDGE POT BRAIDED COTTON ROPE WICK 3/4" X 16" FITS TOLEDO, DIETZ AND MORE Buy Now »

SMUDGE POT BRAIDED COTTON ROPE WICK 3/4" X 16" FITS TOLEDO, DIETZ AND MORE

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VINTAGE  BRASS COAL MINERS MINING CARBIDE LIGHT LAMP Bid Now »

VINTAGE BRASS COAL MINERS MINING CARBIDE LIGHT LAMP

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Clear Globe Railroad Barn Lantern Buy Now »
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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Clear Globe Railroad Barn Lantern

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VINTAGE B&O RR LANTERN - DRESSEL - CLEAR GLOBE Bid Now »

VINTAGE B&O RR LANTERN - DRESSEL - CLEAR GLOBE

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Vintage Dietz Monarch Lantern with Red Fitzall Glass Globe Buy Now »
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Vintage Dietz Monarch Lantern with Red Fitzall Glass Globe

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Vintage Dietz Monarch Lantern with Fitzall Glass Globe Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Monarch Lantern with Fitzall Glass Globe

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VINTAGE BELT RWY ADLAKE KERO LANTERN - RED GLOBE - SCARCE Bid Now »

VINTAGE BELT RWY ADLAKE KERO LANTERN - RED GLOBE - SCARCE

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Clear Globe Railroad Barn Lantern Buy Now »
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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Clear Globe Railroad Barn Lantern

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ANTIQUE DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN NEW YORK CITY SUBSTATION, ARLINGTON NEW JERSEY Bid Now »

ANTIQUE DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN NEW YORK CITY SUBSTATION, ARLINGTON NEW JERSEY

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Vintage Railroad Lantern Reflector White 10" Outside Dia 4 1/4" Inside Dia #1 Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Lantern Reflector White 10" Outside Dia 4 1/4" Inside Dia #1

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Vintage Railroad RR Kopp Lantern Lens #10 Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad RR Kopp Lantern Lens #10

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Vintage Kopp Aqua 5" Railroad RR Lantern Marker Signal Lens Caboose 18 Bid Now »

Vintage Kopp Aqua 5" Railroad RR Lantern Marker Signal Lens Caboose 18

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Antique-Railroad-Lantern-Rare red glass signal "ORNO" G T RICHES & CO LONDON Buy Now »
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Antique-Railroad-Lantern-Rare red glass signal "ORNO" G T RICHES & CO LONDON

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Antique-ENGLISH Railroad-Lantern-Rare glass  signal belt hook minning Buy Now »
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Antique-ENGLISH Railroad-Lantern-Rare glass signal belt hook minning

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Antique-ENGLISH Railroad-Lantern-Rare glass signal Buy Now »
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Antique-ENGLISH Railroad-Lantern-Rare glass signal

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ITEM #1002 FIRE RED LAMP UNIQUE 2 LIGHBULBS WORKING Bid Now »

ITEM #1002 FIRE RED LAMP UNIQUE 2 LIGHBULBS WORKING

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Vintage Train Switching Light Lenses NOS Bid Now »

Vintage Train Switching Light Lenses NOS

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NYCS NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM Adlake Kero Railroad Lantern 4-53 GLOBE ONLY CLEAR Buy Now »

NYCS NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM Adlake Kero Railroad Lantern 4-53 GLOBE ONLY CLEAR

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Vintage Collectible Dietz Vesta Kerosene Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Collectible Dietz Vesta Kerosene Lantern

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CNJ Central Railroad of New Jersey "Jersey Central" Vintage Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

CNJ Central Railroad of New Jersey "Jersey Central" Vintage Railroad Lantern

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Three red  5 3/8" Kopp spreadlight lenses for railroad lantern or signals. Bid Now »

Three red 5 3/8" Kopp spreadlight lenses for railroad lantern or signals.

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Pennsylvania RR Brass Top Lantern With Red Etched Globe Bid Now »

Pennsylvania RR Brass Top Lantern With Red Etched Globe

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Dressel Railroad Lantern Frame For Parts Repair ! N.Y.C.S. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Dressel Railroad Lantern Frame For Parts Repair ! N.Y.C.S.

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Vintage The ADLAKE NonSweating  Lamp Chicago Buy Now »

Vintage The ADLAKE NonSweating Lamp Chicago

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NEW YORK NEW HAVEN & HARTFORD TALL RAILROAD LANTERN Bid Now »

NEW YORK NEW HAVEN & HARTFORD TALL RAILROAD LANTERN

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Antique Powers R.E. & P RR Lantern Red Globe Adlake Kero PRR Train Lamp Buy Now »

Antique Powers R.E. & P RR Lantern Red Globe Adlake Kero PRR Train Lamp

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Authentic Railroad Used STAR  LANTERN Bid Now »

Authentic Railroad Used STAR LANTERN

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Vintage Adlake flashlight Bid Now »

Vintage Adlake flashlight

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City of Milwaukee Red/Yellow Dietz No 40 Traffic Gard Kerosene Lantern Bid Now » Buy Now »

City of Milwaukee Red/Yellow Dietz No 40 Traffic Gard Kerosene Lantern

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Authentic Railroad Used STAR Lantern Bid Now »

Authentic Railroad Used STAR Lantern

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ANTIQUE - 1920s ADLAKE KEROSENE LANTERN Southern Railway Red Globe Bid Now » Buy Now »

ANTIQUE - 1920s ADLAKE KEROSENE LANTERN Southern Railway Red Globe

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Vintage Dietz Night Watch Yellow Kerosene Oil Railroad Lantern Red Globe Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz Night Watch Yellow Kerosene Oil Railroad Lantern Red Globe

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Lantern Blue New York, USA Collectible 12" tall Buy Now »
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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Lantern Blue New York, USA Collectible 12" tall

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Vintage Quick Lite Coleman Lantern Double Mantle Silver Tone Made in USA Wichita Bid Now »

Vintage Quick Lite Coleman Lantern Double Mantle Silver Tone Made in USA Wichita

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ANTIQUE RED GLASS GLOBE - LOC NOB - LANTERN GLASS GLOBE Buy Now »

ANTIQUE RED GLASS GLOBE - LOC NOB - LANTERN GLASS GLOBE

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Coleman Lantern CSX Railroad Bid Now »

Coleman Lantern CSX Railroad

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Vintage Train Railroad Lantern Signed CNR on the Top of the Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Train Railroad Lantern Signed CNR on the Top of the Lantern

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Michigan Central Railroad tall globe Adlake "Adams" kero lantern w/ drop pot. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Michigan Central Railroad tall globe Adlake "Adams" kero lantern w/ drop pot.

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 SWITCH LAMP LENS VISORS 5-3/8" NEW Buy Now »

SWITCH LAMP LENS VISORS 5-3/8" NEW

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LANTERN! SWALLOW BRAND #225! MADE IN CHINA! WELL-USED! NEEDS REFURBISHED! AS IS! Buy Now »
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LANTERN! SWALLOW BRAND #225! MADE IN CHINA! WELL-USED! NEEDS REFURBISHED! AS IS!

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M.C.R.R  Michigan Central Railroad ADAMS & WESTLAKE Railroad Lantern "ADLAKE" Buy Now »

M.C.R.R Michigan Central Railroad ADAMS & WESTLAKE Railroad Lantern "ADLAKE"

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In the middle of the 19th century, several innovations took place in lighting technology. Dietz and Company patented a flat wick lantern burner designed to burn kerosene in 1859. Although the railroad industry continued to use lamps and lanterns burning signal oil for some time afterward, the arrival of kerosene presaged future use of the fuel in later railroad lanterns. In 1868, John Irwin received the patent for his "hot blast" type lantern, a design that diverted exhaust gas back down tubes on the sides of the lantern to direct a mix of fresh and hot air at the flame, making it burn brighter. That same year, Dietz & Smith began producing their first hot blast lanterns. In 1874, Irwin patented a similar "cold blast" type lantern, which was designed to force cold, fresh air at the flame, making it burn even brighter than the previous "hot blast" design. By that time, a number of companies were producing lanterns and signal lamps for the railroad industry, including the Buffalo Steam Gauge and Lantern Company and Adams and Westlake, commonly known as Adlake.

Because there were a large number of lantern manufacturers serving the diverse needs of the railroad companies, many different types of lanterns and lamps were produced over the years. An early innovation was to make the globe removable, allowing easier access to service the burner and wick, and allowing for easy replacement of broken globes. The fixed globe lanterns were replaced by tall globe lanterns with red, cobalt blue, green, amber, and clear globes. The different colors were used for signaling and to mark the end of a train, or a train that was stopped because it was being worked on. Different arm motions and color combinations could allow a switch operator or ground man to tell the engineer of a train to stop, slow down, proceed with caution, or could alert him that the train had parted. Track switches and train yards had signal lamps that were designed with lenses to direct different colors of light in different directions, analogous to modern day automobile traffic lights.

Some lanterns were designed for very specific roles in the railroad industry. Conductor's lanterns were generally larger and more ornate than the ones used by engineers and brakemen. The traveling public expected a dignified and well dressed conductor, and a dented and rusty old lantern would not fit the image as well as a shiny brass conductor's lantern throwing a bright light. Particularly fancy ones, called presentation lanterns, were handed out on special occasions and to particularly valued employees.

Railroad inspectors, sometimes called trackwalkers, had bright lanterns designed with a reflective case and lens, made to focus as much light as possible in a small area. They had to check the trains for cracked wheels or axles, damaged couplers, and ensure proper lubrication and maintenance activities were performed on locomotives and rolling stock. The bright light of the Dietz Acme hot blast lantern and the Dietz Ideal cold blast lantern served railroad inspectors for decades.

These signal oil lanterns gave way to kerosene lanterns, and lamp design changed again to accommodate the new fuel. Short globe railroad lanterns of the early 20th century continued in production and use until late in the 20th century, so many fine examples can be found. Though they were shorter, the brighter kerosene flame, sometimes focused using a fresnel lens, was still as useful as long globe lanterns, and for the rail industry represented a far cheaper and more reliable source of portable lighting than electric lights. The same basic designs are still sold and used today to provide lighting in areas with no electricity and in emergencies such as hurricanes.

Collectors looking for antique and vintage railroad lanterns with markings from railroad and traction companies can find new opportunities to buy these historic marker lanterns, semaphore lanterns and switch lamps here daily. For more collectible RR lanterns, visit Vintage Railroad Lanterns, where you can find lamps from Embury, Dressel, Handlan, C.T. Ham and S.G. & L. Co. appear for sale regularly, along with many other railroad lanterns from turn of the century metal shops.

For more information on the various types of lamps and lanterns used on trains and around railroad yards, visit the Railroad Lamps Web Page and the Railroad Lanterns Web Page at Railroadiana Online, where they also have a special section devoted to railroad Inspector's Lanterns. For definitions of the terms used in describing vintage lantern and lamp parts, visit the Lamp Guild. Collectors interested in other antique lanterns and lamps click here!

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