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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Antique Pennsylvania Railroad Kerosene Flare Buy Now »
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Antique Pennsylvania Railroad Kerosene Flare

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Vintage Adlake PRR Pennsylvania Railroad Red Glass Kerosene Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage Adlake PRR Pennsylvania Railroad Red Glass Kerosene Lantern

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Antique Dietz Railroad Lantern Shipping Crate Wood Box Lamp Advertising Bid Now »

Antique Dietz Railroad Lantern Shipping Crate Wood Box Lamp Advertising

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cast B&M RR Boston & Maine Barrel type Railroad Lantern Globe 6 inch Bid Now »

cast B&M RR Boston & Maine Barrel type Railroad Lantern Globe 6 inch

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Vtg. Railroad Salesman Sample? Oil Lantern No 202 The World Light MFY,LTD/ Bid Now »

Vtg. Railroad Salesman Sample? Oil Lantern No 202 The World Light MFY,LTD/

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Antique Dietz Monarch Tubular Lantern - Dietz Fitzall Globe Bid Now »

Antique Dietz Monarch Tubular Lantern - Dietz Fitzall Globe

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Railroad Car Oil  Wall Mount Lamp / Bracket White Flame CO. Grand Rapids, Mich. Buy Now »

Railroad Car Oil Wall Mount Lamp / Bracket White Flame CO. Grand Rapids, Mich.

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 Pennsylvania Railroad Vintage Train Lantern with Colored Globe Bid Now »

Pennsylvania Railroad Vintage Train Lantern with Colored Globe

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Antique "Luck E Lite" Contractor Lantern No. 225 Bid Now »

Antique "Luck E Lite" Contractor Lantern No. 225

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Early Vintage "1925"  Armspear Erie Railroad Lantern W/ Classic Red Globe Bid Now »

Early Vintage "1925" Armspear Erie Railroad Lantern W/ Classic Red Globe

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Antique Large Fount Dietz D Lite Lantern No 2 vintage Black 13.75" tall Buy Now »

Antique Large Fount Dietz D Lite Lantern No 2 vintage Black 13.75" tall

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Rare Primitive Metal Railroad Gas/Kerosene Can, Lantern makers Peter Gray & Son Buy Now »

Rare Primitive Metal Railroad Gas/Kerosene Can, Lantern makers Peter Gray & Son

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C.1930 BOND 4 1/2" CLEAR GLASS BATTERY SKATERS LANTERN-WORKING CONDITION Bid Now » Buy Now »

C.1930 BOND 4 1/2" CLEAR GLASS BATTERY SKATERS LANTERN-WORKING CONDITION

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#R2  C.1930 BOND PLA-MATE RED GLASS BATT. OPR. SKATERS LANTERN-WORKS Bid Now » Buy Now »

#R2 C.1930 BOND PLA-MATE RED GLASS BATT. OPR. SKATERS LANTERN-WORKS

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C.1930 BOND PLA-MATE RED GLASS BATTERY OPERATED SKATERS LANTERN-WORKING COND. Bid Now » Buy Now »

C.1930 BOND PLA-MATE RED GLASS BATTERY OPERATED SKATERS LANTERN-WORKING COND.

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Antique Lantern Birmingham Bid Now »

Antique Lantern Birmingham

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RARE ! Antique British RR Lantern CHAS.  H ANDREWS Lamp Mfg London Railroad Buy Now »

RARE ! Antique British RR Lantern CHAS. H ANDREWS Lamp Mfg London Railroad

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ANTIQUE 1914 DIETZ MONARCH LANTERN --FITZALL N.Y. U.S.A. 1914 Buy Now »
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ANTIQUE 1914 DIETZ MONARCH LANTERN --FITZALL N.Y. U.S.A. 1914

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Old Dressel SOOLINE Railroad Lantern W/ Clear Koop Globe Bid Now »

Old Dressel SOOLINE Railroad Lantern W/ Clear Koop Globe

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Vintage Dietz No. 8 Air Pilot Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz No. 8 Air Pilot Railroad Lantern

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Kerosene Lantern NY USA Steel Railroad Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Kerosene Lantern NY USA Steel Railroad

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New York New Haven Hartford RR Lantern Orange Amber Globe Dietz Vesta Buy Now »

New York New Haven Hartford RR Lantern Orange Amber Globe Dietz Vesta

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Rare GTR Grand Trunk Railway Whale Oil Railroad Lantern Primitive Signal Lantern Buy Now »

Rare GTR Grand Trunk Railway Whale Oil Railroad Lantern Primitive Signal Lantern

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ANTIQUE RAILROAD TRAIN LANTERN /  DRESSEL ARRINGTON, N.J./ RED GLOBE Buy Now »

ANTIQUE RAILROAD TRAIN LANTERN / DRESSEL ARRINGTON, N.J./ RED GLOBE

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Vintage Dietz No #8 Air Pilot Latern Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz No #8 Air Pilot Latern

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Vintage Delta PowerLite Latern Bid Now »

Vintage Delta PowerLite Latern

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Antique Adlake Kero 146 Canada CNR Amber Globe RailRoad RR Lantern Hiram Piper Bid Now »

Antique Adlake Kero 146 Canada CNR Amber Globe RailRoad RR Lantern Hiram Piper

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handlan latern red with red globe Buy Now »

handlan latern red with red globe

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RAILROAD LANTERN TRAIN "DIETZ" NEW YORK N.Y. BEACON LAMP DIETZ GLOBE PAT.1897 Buy Now »
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RAILROAD LANTERN TRAIN "DIETZ" NEW YORK N.Y. BEACON LAMP DIETZ GLOBE PAT.1897

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Union Pacific Railroad Yellow Plastic Battery Powered Lantern Rail Road Train Buy Now »
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Union Pacific Railroad Yellow Plastic Battery Powered Lantern Rail Road Train

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Vintage Delta Powerlite Railroad Lantern Safety Light Working Condition Bid Now »

Vintage Delta Powerlite Railroad Lantern Safety Light Working Condition

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2 All Original & Antique Wagon Lanterns! Both Are In Working Condition! Bid Now »
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2 All Original & Antique Wagon Lanterns! Both Are In Working Condition!

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US&S 2-light railroad signal background Bid Now » Buy Now »

US&S 2-light railroad signal background

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ERIE RAILROAD ANTIQUE FANCY ADAMS & WESTLAKE WALL MOUNT CABOOSE LAMP Buy Now »
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ERIE RAILROAD ANTIQUE FANCY ADAMS & WESTLAKE WALL MOUNT CABOOSE LAMP

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Blue Star Headlight & Lantern Flashlight Honeoye Falls, NY Good Clean Condition! Buy Now »

Blue Star Headlight & Lantern Flashlight Honeoye Falls, NY Good Clean Condition!

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VINTAGE STARLITE 222 UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD LANTERN LIGHT SIGNALMAN Buy Now »

VINTAGE STARLITE 222 UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD LANTERN LIGHT SIGNALMAN

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Jas Robertson Brass Steam Gauge Toronto Ontario Buy Now »

Jas Robertson Brass Steam Gauge Toronto Ontario

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Vintage 1944 Adams & Westlake ACL RR Railroad ADLAKE KERO Lantern Libbey Globe Buy Now »

Vintage 1944 Adams & Westlake ACL RR Railroad ADLAKE KERO Lantern Libbey Globe

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Vintage Dietz Vesta New York Railroad Lantern White Glass Electric Conversion Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz Vesta New York Railroad Lantern White Glass Electric Conversion

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Vintage Dietz Vesta Railroad Lantern orginal white globe New York USA Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz Vesta Railroad Lantern orginal white globe New York USA

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Vintage Railroad Lantern Dressel  Arlington NJ USA Electric 4 way switch Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Lantern Dressel Arlington NJ USA Electric 4 way switch

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Adlake 31-f Railroad Brakeman Lantern Bid Now »

Adlake 31-f Railroad Brakeman Lantern

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Delta, RR Train Lantern  Powerlite Buy Now »
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Delta, RR Train Lantern Powerlite

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Milwaukee Gas Light Co. Dietz N.Y Little Wizard red lens oil lantern lamp IP7 Buy Now »

Milwaukee Gas Light Co. Dietz N.Y Little Wizard red lens oil lantern lamp IP7

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Winged Wheel No 350 Railroad Kerosene Lantern Vintage 1950's RED & BLUE NOS new Bid Now »

Winged Wheel No 350 Railroad Kerosene Lantern Vintage 1950's RED & BLUE NOS new

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6 Vintage Kopp Red & Amber Glass Lens Lantern Car Railroad Signal Light Cover Buy Now »

6 Vintage Kopp Red & Amber Glass Lens Lantern Car Railroad Signal Light Cover

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Red glass globe or lens cover lamp/globe ? Buy Now »

Red glass globe or lens cover lamp/globe ?

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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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 EMBURY RR Lantern Made in WARSAW NY No 40 Traffic Gard Kerosene Railroad Barn Bid Now » Buy Now »

EMBURY RR Lantern Made in WARSAW NY No 40 Traffic Gard Kerosene Railroad Barn

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Antique Deitz # 20 Junior red railroad or barn kerosene lantern. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Antique Deitz # 20 Junior red railroad or barn 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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