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 C&O Adlake Kero 4-61 Railroad Lantern - With 4 Colored Globes Original Bid Now »

Vintage C&O Adlake Kero 4-61 Railroad Lantern - With 4 Colored Globes Original

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DORCO ECOLITE LANTERN 6V CELL 2 LIGHT FLASHLIGHT W/ DOME LENS ALUMUINUM USA #200 Bid Now »

DORCO ECOLITE LANTERN 6V CELL 2 LIGHT FLASHLIGHT W/ DOME LENS ALUMUINUM USA #200

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G.T. Ham No. 2 Cold Blast Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

G.T. Ham No. 2 Cold Blast Railroad Lantern

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Monarch Railroad Lantern 14" tall Bid Now »

Monarch Railroad Lantern 14" tall

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Vintage Orange Glass Dietz Safety Construction Railroad Emergency Light Lenses Buy Now »
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Vintage Orange Glass Dietz Safety Construction Railroad Emergency Light Lenses

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Antique 1874 White Manfg Co Railroad Fire Chief Engineer Hand Lantern Lamp Parts Buy Now »
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Antique 1874 White Manfg Co Railroad Fire Chief Engineer Hand Lantern Lamp Parts

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Antique Vintage Dietz Junior Cold Blast Lantern Light Bid Now »

Antique Vintage Dietz Junior Cold Blast Lantern Light

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Lantern Globe Shade for oil lamps railroad navigation fits dietz little wizard  Bid Now »
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Lantern Globe Shade for oil lamps railroad navigation fits dietz little wizard

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 Dietz Lantern Globes D-Lite Loc No 8 Patent 1918 & Burners Bid Now »

Dietz Lantern Globes D-Lite Loc No 8 Patent 1918 & Burners

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VINTAGE ANTIQUE RAILROAD LOCOMOTIVE TRAIN LIGHT (b) Bid Now »

VINTAGE ANTIQUE RAILROAD LOCOMOTIVE TRAIN LIGHT (b)

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antique oil lamp little wizard blue & red Buy Now »

antique oil lamp little wizard blue & red

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Vintage Lamp RailRoad Lantern with glass intact - cool collector piece Bid Now »

Vintage Lamp RailRoad Lantern with glass intact - cool collector piece

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Original Barn Railroad Lantern Antique Glass & Tin Paull's 1890 & 1903 Pat Dates Buy Now »

Original Barn Railroad Lantern Antique Glass & Tin Paull's 1890 & 1903 Pat Dates

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Red Glass Oil Lantern Kerosene Lamp DIETZ NY USA NO. 100 P.G.E. Co. Bid Now »

Red Glass Oil Lantern Kerosene Lamp DIETZ NY USA NO. 100 P.G.E. Co.

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Antique CPR Canadian Pacific railroad station wall hanging lantern lamp complete Bid Now »

Antique CPR Canadian Pacific railroad station wall hanging lantern lamp complete

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No. 10 Brass Tubular Lantern Extremly Rare 19th century Condition Excellent Bid Now » Buy Now »

No. 10 Brass Tubular Lantern Extremly Rare 19th century Condition Excellent

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Antique Pennsylvania Railroad lantern. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Antique Pennsylvania Railroad lantern.

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Two steel coach lights for parts or repair, make unknown, Buy Now »

Two steel coach lights for parts or repair, make unknown,

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Vintage BIG BEAM No. 164 Beacon Lamp Sealed Beam Chicago No Reserve! Bid Now »

Vintage BIG BEAM No. 164 Beacon Lamp Sealed Beam Chicago No Reserve!

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VINTAGE AUTO-LITE LANTERN Bid Now »

VINTAGE AUTO-LITE LANTERN

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 Early Genesy Electric Lantern Railway Flashlight - Battery operated Bid Now »

Early Genesy Electric Lantern Railway Flashlight - Battery operated

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Antique Old Green Dietz Acme Inspector Lamp Red Shade Train Railroad Lantern Buy Now »
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Antique Old Green Dietz Acme Inspector Lamp Red Shade Train Railroad Lantern

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Antique Rare 1869 Brass Top Bell Bottom Porter's Son Railroad Lantern Lamp Cage Buy Now »
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Antique Rare 1869 Brass Top Bell Bottom Porter's Son Railroad Lantern Lamp Cage

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Dietz Air Pilot #8 Lantern Buy Now »

Dietz Air Pilot #8 Lantern

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Antique Dietz # No 2 D- Lite Lantern Bid Now »

Antique Dietz # No 2 D- Lite Lantern

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Chalwyn British Railway Lantern Bid Now »

Chalwyn British Railway Lantern

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RARE Antique Dressel Railroad Switch Lantern Train Lamp Complete Burner 4 Lens Bid Now »

RARE Antique Dressel Railroad Switch Lantern Train Lamp Complete Burner 4 Lens

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Antique Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

Antique Railroad Lantern

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DIETZ LANTERN LAMP MONARCH W RED GLOBE MADE IN NEW YORK USA NY ANTIQUE Bid Now » Buy Now »

DIETZ LANTERN LAMP MONARCH W RED GLOBE MADE IN NEW YORK USA NY ANTIQUE

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PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD OIL CAN Buy Now »

PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD OIL CAN

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Antique or Vintage Lantern Holder ??? Bid Now »

Antique or Vintage Lantern Holder ???

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 Dietz Ideal Inspector Railroad Lantern-New York Bid Now »

Dietz Ideal Inspector Railroad Lantern-New York

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Vintage ADLAKE Long Time BURNER Railroad Switch Lantern NOS Antique Bid Now »

Vintage ADLAKE Long Time BURNER Railroad Switch Lantern NOS Antique

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Illustrated Guide To Peter Gray Railroad Hardware Buy Now »
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Illustrated Guide To Peter Gray Railroad Hardware

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Antique CCC&StL Railroad Lantern, Handlan Embossed Blue Fresnel Globe Bid Now »

Antique CCC&StL Railroad Lantern, Handlan Embossed Blue Fresnel Globe

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2 Antique RR Railroad Signal Switch Lamp Lantern Light Train Switch C&O RY Buy Now »

2 Antique RR Railroad Signal Switch Lamp Lantern Light Train Switch C&O RY

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Vtg Milwaukee Road (CMStP&P) Railroad Lantern.  Amber Adlake Embossed Globe. Bid Now »

Vtg Milwaukee Road (CMStP&P) Railroad Lantern. Amber Adlake Embossed Globe.

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Vintage Dietz Red #40 Traffic Gard Syracuse NY USA Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Red #40 Traffic Gard Syracuse NY USA Lantern

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CLEAR GLASS OIL LAMP GLOBE Bid Now » Buy Now »

CLEAR GLASS OIL LAMP GLOBE

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Star Headlight and lantern Company Railroad Lamp Bid Now » Buy Now »

Star Headlight and lantern Company Railroad Lamp

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Red Lantern Lamp Globe Bid Now » Buy Now »

Red Lantern Lamp Globe

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Pair Heavy Cast Brass Pullman Railroad Wall Sconce Light Fixtures Parts / Repair Bid Now »

Pair Heavy Cast Brass Pullman Railroad Wall Sconce Light Fixtures Parts / Repair

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Antique railroad lantern Bid Now »
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Antique railroad lantern

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SP&S Railroad Lantern, Marked Globe, Adams Westlake Adlake Kero Pat 1922 Buy Now »
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SP&S Railroad Lantern, Marked Globe, Adams Westlake Adlake Kero Pat 1922

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NYCS DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN-TOP & RETAINER Bid Now »

NYCS DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN-TOP & RETAINER

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Adlake Railroad Lantern with Red Globe. Bid Now »

Adlake Railroad Lantern with Red Globe.

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NYCS DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN / LAMP W/ RED GLOBE AMAZING PATINA Bid Now »

NYCS DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN / LAMP W/ RED GLOBE AMAZING PATINA

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railroad lantern Embury Bid Now »

railroad lantern Embury

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Vintage Winged Wheel Railroad RR Lantern Light Lamp Glass 350 Japan Desk Light Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Winged Wheel Railroad RR Lantern Light Lamp Glass 350 Japan Desk Light

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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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