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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 SWITCH / MARKER LAMP GASKETS NEW 5-3/8" (4) SET Buy Now »

SWITCH / MARKER LAMP GASKETS NEW 5-3/8" (4) SET

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VINTAGE LANTERN 6V FEDERAL ELEC CO MODEL H CHICAGO RAILROAD BARN Bid Now »

VINTAGE LANTERN 6V FEDERAL ELEC CO MODEL H CHICAGO RAILROAD BARN

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Clear Glass H17 Lantern  Globe Bid Now »

Clear Glass H17 Lantern Globe

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Vintage Dietz No.40 Traffic Gard Lantern. Syracuse, N.Y. USA, Estate Find Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz No.40 Traffic Gard Lantern. Syracuse, N.Y. USA, Estate Find

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VERY RARE Vintage Candle Lantern Lamp from 1907 With Original Globe Set Of Two Bid Now »
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VERY RARE Vintage Candle Lantern Lamp from 1907 With Original Globe Set Of Two

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Small 8" Red Sun Grand No. 3500 Lantern Bid Now »

Small 8" Red Sun Grand No. 3500 Lantern

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Vintage lantern oil lamp railroad transportation ? hanging light painted black Buy Now »
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Vintage lantern oil lamp railroad transportation ? hanging light painted black

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1912 National marine Lamp RUBY GLOBE LANTERN Railroad Copper Tin Red Glass Buy Now »
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1912 National marine Lamp RUBY GLOBE LANTERN Railroad Copper Tin Red Glass

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Clear Glass Lantern Globe Bid Now »

Clear Glass Lantern Globe

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VINTAGE DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD RAILROAD LANTERN RED GLOBE Bid Now »

VINTAGE DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD RAILROAD LANTERN RED GLOBE

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Dietz Monarch Railroad Lantern Vintage  Antique Black Iron Lamp Bid Now »
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Dietz Monarch Railroad Lantern Vintage Antique Black Iron Lamp

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DIETZ NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM - NYC Railroad Lantern RED CAST Globe- 999 Buy Now »

DIETZ NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM - NYC Railroad Lantern RED CAST Globe- 999

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Vintage Embury Traffic Gard  No.40 Original red Railroad/Traffic Lantern vintage Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Embury Traffic Gard No.40 Original red Railroad/Traffic Lantern vintage

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Vintage Monarch  Dietz N.Y.U.S.A. Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage Monarch Dietz N.Y.U.S.A. Lantern

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Vintage Dietze No. 87-1940 Burner Kerosene Smudge Pot Bid Now »

Vintage Dietze No. 87-1940 Burner Kerosene Smudge Pot

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Antique Canadian National Railway car/caboose bracket lantern Bid Now »

Antique Canadian National Railway car/caboose bracket lantern

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L&N RR CLOCKS, MADE BY RETIREE Buy Now »

L&N RR CLOCKS, MADE BY RETIREE

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Vintage Used Metal Oxweld No 2155 Train Railroad Hand Lantern Spotlight Parts Buy Now »
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Vintage Used Metal Oxweld No 2155 Train Railroad Hand Lantern Spotlight Parts

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Vintage Used Metal Oxweld USA Train Railroad Hand Lantern Spotlight Parts Buy Now »
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Vintage Used Metal Oxweld USA Train Railroad Hand Lantern Spotlight Parts

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VTG Milwaukee Railroad Midwest Hiawatha Omaha to Chicago Dietz Vesta Lantern EUC Buy Now »

VTG Milwaukee Railroad Midwest Hiawatha Omaha to Chicago Dietz Vesta Lantern EUC

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Clear Glass Lantern C8 Globe Bid Now »

Clear Glass Lantern C8 Globe

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Clear Glass Lantern Globe Bid Now »

Clear Glass Lantern Globe

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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 Dietz No. 2 D-Lite Kerosene Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz No. 2 D-Lite Kerosene Lantern

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Vintage DIETZ Red Tubular Railroad Barn Lantern Red Globe Buy Now »

Vintage DIETZ Red Tubular Railroad Barn Lantern Red Globe

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Vintage Delta Power light Railroad Lantern Mining Camping # 276 Bid Now »

Vintage Delta Power light Railroad Lantern Mining Camping # 276

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Antique Lantern Shell Buy Now »
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Antique Lantern Shell

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Vintage Railroad Switch Lantern Reflector Target Yellow Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Switch Lantern Reflector Target Yellow

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ANTIQUE KEROSENE LANTERN OIL LAMP BRASS Original 821 Baby PETROMAX Germany Buy Now »

ANTIQUE KEROSENE LANTERN OIL LAMP BRASS Original 821 Baby PETROMAX Germany

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Globe Brand Lantern #202  labeled “The World Light Mfy. Ltd” Bid Now »

Globe Brand Lantern #202 labeled “The World Light Mfy. Ltd”

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W25 LAMPLIGHT FARMS RAILROAD 12" Black Metal LANTERN * WICK INTACT * Bid Now »

W25 LAMPLIGHT FARMS RAILROAD 12" Black Metal LANTERN * WICK INTACT *

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Rare 1940's Antique # 5000 Sun Kerosene Lantern Made in Japan Bid Now »
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Rare 1940's Antique # 5000 Sun Kerosene Lantern Made in Japan

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Vintage Dietz #40 Tamper Proof Burner Traffic Gard Red Globe Lantern Syracuse NY Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz #40 Tamper Proof Burner Traffic Gard Red Globe Lantern Syracuse NY

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Kopp Glass 4 1/2 Inch Railroad Signal Lens Red Bid Now »

Kopp Glass 4 1/2 Inch Railroad Signal Lens Red

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Vintage Rail Road Flair holder - LVRR Bid Now »

Vintage Rail Road Flair holder - LVRR

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ORIGINAL RAILROAD CABOOSE LAMP LANTERN MOUNTING BRACKET w/tapered flag mtg Bid Now »

ORIGINAL RAILROAD CABOOSE LAMP LANTERN MOUNTING BRACKET w/tapered flag mtg

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Vintage DIETZ VESTA Kerosene Lantern, RDG. Co. TR  ANS. DEPT. Bid Now »

Vintage DIETZ VESTA Kerosene Lantern, RDG. Co. TR ANS. DEPT.

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Antique Adlake Kero sp lines 151 Railroad Kerosene Lamp Nice Bid Now »

Antique Adlake Kero sp lines 151 Railroad Kerosene Lamp Nice

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Vintage Conger Battery Powered Railroad Lantern w/ Handle Pat. # 2653218 Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Conger Battery Powered Railroad Lantern w/ Handle Pat. # 2653218

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Adlake Switch Electric Lantern Frame Bid Now »

Adlake Switch Electric Lantern Frame

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8 hrs
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Vintage Railroad Switch Lantern Reflector Target White Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Switch Lantern Reflector Target White

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Clear Glass Painted Red Lantern Globe Bid Now »

Clear Glass Painted Red Lantern Globe

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8 hrs
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Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

Railroad Lantern

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8 hrs
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Vintage Railroad Switch Lantern Reflector Target Red Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Switch Lantern Reflector Target Red

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Deitz Little Wizard lantern Bid Now »

Deitz Little Wizard lantern

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Embury No.1 Little Air Pilot kerosene lantern w/red globe-Made in the USA Bid Now »

Embury No.1 Little Air Pilot kerosene lantern w/red globe-Made in the USA

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NYCS -New York Central Systems Red Globe Railroad Lantern DRESSEL ARLINGTON N.J. Bid Now »

NYCS -New York Central Systems Red Globe Railroad Lantern DRESSEL ARLINGTON N.J.

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Union Pacific Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

Union Pacific Railroad Lantern

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EMBURY "LITTLE   DEFIANCE" NO. 1 LANTERN Buy Now »

EMBURY "LITTLE DEFIANCE" NO. 1 LANTERN

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DIETZ-BARN-HOME-FARM-RALE ROAD-GARDEN-DECK-KEROSENE LANTERN Bid Now » Buy Now »

DIETZ-BARN-HOME-FARM-RALE ROAD-GARDEN-DECK-KEROSENE LANTERN

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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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