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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2 Vintage Brass Caboose Lamps with Mounting Brackets, No Globes or Shades Bid Now »

2 Vintage Brass Caboose Lamps with Mounting Brackets, No Globes or Shades

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Antique Dietz No.2 D-Lite Kerosene Oil Lantern Railroad Lamp NY USA Buy Now »

Antique Dietz No.2 D-Lite Kerosene Oil Lantern Railroad Lamp NY USA

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12" VINTAGE STAR HEADLIGHT CO. RAILROAD BRAKEMAN SIGNAL LANTERN LAMP HONEOYE NY Buy Now »
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12" VINTAGE STAR HEADLIGHT CO. RAILROAD BRAKEMAN SIGNAL LANTERN LAMP HONEOYE NY

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Dietz No.100  (oil/kerosene) Lantern CITY OF L.A. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Dietz No.100 (oil/kerosene) Lantern CITY OF L.A.

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8.5" VINTAGE EVER BRIGHT BRAND GLASS & TIN BLUE RAILROAD LANTERN #208 Buy Now »

8.5" VINTAGE EVER BRIGHT BRAND GLASS & TIN BLUE RAILROAD LANTERN #208

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Vintage Ash Flash Railroad Lantern with Handle & Red Lens Hong Kong British Emp Bid Now »
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Vintage Ash Flash Railroad Lantern with Handle & Red Lens Hong Kong British Emp

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BUFFALO ROCHESTER & PITTSBURGH RAILWAY LANTERN CLEAR ETCHED GLOBE Bid Now »

BUFFALO ROCHESTER & PITTSBURGH RAILWAY LANTERN CLEAR ETCHED GLOBE

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Vintage WingedWheel 9.5"Red Kerosene Railroad Lantern#400 w/Clear Globe (Japan Buy Now »

Vintage WingedWheel 9.5"Red Kerosene Railroad Lantern#400 w/Clear Globe (Japan

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VINTAGE DIETZ MONARCH NEW YORK U.S.A LANTERN Buy Now »

VINTAGE DIETZ MONARCH NEW YORK U.S.A LANTERN

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Star Head Light & Lantern Co ICRR Railroad Inspector Lamp Rochester NY USA Train Bid Now »

Star Head Light & Lantern Co ICRR Railroad Inspector Lamp Rochester NY USA Train

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Vintage Dietz 100 Kerosene Lantern Yellow Jamaica Water Supply Co **NOSTALGIC!** Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz 100 Kerosene Lantern Yellow Jamaica Water Supply Co **NOSTALGIC!**

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NYNH&H -- New Haven Adlake No. 200 with clear cast globe Bid Now » Buy Now »

NYNH&H -- New Haven Adlake No. 200 with clear cast globe

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Vintage TH Stough Co. Glass Candy Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage TH Stough Co. Glass Candy Railroad Lantern

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VINTAGE NO.2 BLIZZARD DIETZ KERO LANTERN Buy Now »

VINTAGE NO.2 BLIZZARD DIETZ KERO LANTERN

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Antique Adlake Kero Railroad Train Lantern Pennsylvania RailRoad Marked RPR, NR! Bid Now »

Antique Adlake Kero Railroad Train Lantern Pennsylvania RailRoad Marked RPR, NR!

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NOS Safetran Clearview Lightning Arrester For Signal Circuits Railroad Buy Now »

NOS Safetran Clearview Lightning Arrester For Signal Circuits Railroad

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VINTAGE RED GLOBE DIETZ TRAFFIC GARD SYRACUSE NY USA NO. 40 LANTERN Bid Now »

VINTAGE RED GLOBE DIETZ TRAFFIC GARD SYRACUSE NY USA NO. 40 LANTERN

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Vtg Delta Lantern Battery Operated Light Lamp Railroad Train Railroad USA Bid Now »

Vtg Delta Lantern Battery Operated Light Lamp Railroad Train Railroad USA

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Sherwoods Limited Sound Oil Lamp No. 1 Vaporite Ship Lantern Bid Now »

Sherwoods Limited Sound Oil Lamp No. 1 Vaporite Ship Lantern

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VINTAGE WAGR WESTERN AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT RAILWAY SIGNAL LAMP LIGHT Bid Now »

VINTAGE WAGR WESTERN AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT RAILWAY SIGNAL LAMP LIGHT

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Vintage Rare Canadian National ( CNR ) Hiram L. Piper / Adlake-Kero  Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Rare Canadian National ( CNR ) Hiram L. Piper / Adlake-Kero Lantern

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Vintage DIETZ No 40 Traffic Gard Red Globe Kerosene LANTERN Syracuse N Y -U S A Bid Now »

Vintage DIETZ No 40 Traffic Gard Red Globe Kerosene LANTERN Syracuse N Y -U S A

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 Railroad Lantern lamp Kerosene Adlake Kero  rr ry frame only insulated handle Bid Now » Buy Now »

Railroad Lantern lamp Kerosene Adlake Kero rr ry frame only insulated handle

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GREEN RAILWAY RAILROAD LAMP LANTERN Bid Now »

GREEN RAILWAY RAILROAD LAMP LANTERN

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Vintage Dietz railroad Lantern No. 999  Clear Globe super condition Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz railroad Lantern No. 999 Clear Globe super condition

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VINTAGE DIETZ RED NO 40 TRAFFIC GARD KEROSENE OIL LANTERN Bid Now »

VINTAGE DIETZ RED NO 40 TRAFFIC GARD KEROSENE OIL LANTERN

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Vintage Made In China Ever-Bright 203 Railroad Lantern 12" Tall Bid Now »

Vintage Made In China Ever-Bright 203 Railroad Lantern 12" Tall

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Dietz 40 Traffic Guard Syracuse NY Bid Now »

Dietz 40 Traffic Guard Syracuse NY

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Union Pacific UPRR Brass Railroad Lantern with Red Globe Bid Now » Buy Now »

Union Pacific UPRR Brass Railroad Lantern with Red Globe

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Red Dietz RR Lantern Lens Buy Now »

Red Dietz RR Lantern Lens

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NYCL (NEW YORK CENTRAL LINE) RAILROAD LAMP OIL CAN 11 IN TALL 6 IN WIDE NICE Bid Now »

NYCL (NEW YORK CENTRAL LINE) RAILROAD LAMP OIL CAN 11 IN TALL 6 IN WIDE NICE

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Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

Railroad Lantern

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Dietz No 40 Traffic Gard, Syracuse NY Lantern, Kerosene Oil Lamp - Vintage Bid Now »

Dietz No 40 Traffic Gard, Syracuse NY Lantern, Kerosene Oil Lamp - Vintage

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 Antique Railroad Lantern, NYLE & WRR Buy Now »

Antique Railroad Lantern, NYLE & WRR

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Vintage Adlake #31-F Railroad Lantern Electric RR Light Torch Flashlight Buy Now »

Vintage Adlake #31-F Railroad Lantern Electric RR Light Torch Flashlight

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Missouri Pacific Railroad Company Certificate  "NICE" Bid Now »

Missouri Pacific Railroad Company Certificate "NICE"

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Dietz Gray and Silver Speckled Paint Lantern Bid Now »

Dietz Gray and Silver Speckled Paint Lantern

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Missouri Pacific "MOP" Railroad Wrench "Nice" Bid Now »

Missouri Pacific "MOP" Railroad Wrench "Nice"

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Southern Pacific Railroad Caboose Lamp  "NICE!" Bid Now »

Southern Pacific Railroad Caboose Lamp "NICE!"

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Antique Ships Lantern Lamp Starboard Brass 1890 F. H. Lovell New York Bid Now »
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Antique Ships Lantern Lamp Starboard Brass 1890 F. H. Lovell New York

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DIETZ BLIZZARD LAMP GLOBE-PATD. 3-10-14 (MARKED) Bid Now »

DIETZ BLIZZARD LAMP GLOBE-PATD. 3-10-14 (MARKED)

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N.Y.N.H.& H.R.R. RED 5 3/8" CAST TALL GLOBE FOR RAILROAD LANTERN / LAMP Bid Now »

N.Y.N.H.& H.R.R. RED 5 3/8" CAST TALL GLOBE FOR RAILROAD LANTERN / LAMP

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3 hrs
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Mars Dietz silver lantern no. 78 Bid Now »

Mars Dietz silver lantern no. 78

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3 hrs
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Vintage Dietz Ruby Red 2H Loc-Nob Fit Zall Replacement Lantern Globe VG! Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz Ruby Red 2H Loc-Nob Fit Zall Replacement Lantern Globe VG!

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4 LENS COUPLING RINGS FOR SIGNAL TYPE RAILROAD LANTERN/LAMP Bid Now »

4 LENS COUPLING RINGS FOR SIGNAL TYPE RAILROAD LANTERN/LAMP

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1940's Kopp Glass 2 Red 2 Blue Round Glass Lenses 4 3/4" Diameter Bid Now » Buy Now »
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1940's Kopp Glass 2 Red 2 Blue Round Glass Lenses 4 3/4" Diameter

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BLUE CAST 6 INCH NEW YORK CENTRAL Buy Now »

BLUE CAST 6 INCH NEW YORK CENTRAL

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Antique Railroad Adlake switch Signal Lamp All orginal Chicago Bid Now » Buy Now »

Antique Railroad Adlake switch Signal Lamp All orginal Chicago

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Dietz VULCAN 39 RAILROAD Lantern with Vulcan Globe New York USA RR Train Vintage Bid Now »

Dietz VULCAN 39 RAILROAD Lantern with Vulcan Globe New York USA RR Train Vintage

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New York Central System Pinback Bid Now »

New York Central System Pinback

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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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