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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Railroad Crossing Signal Light Safetran System Corp Tested Working Light Lot #3 Buy Now »

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Railroad Crossing Signal Light Safetran System Corp Tested Working Light  Buy Now »

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Railroad Crossing Signal Light Bracket Manifold Safetran System Corp Buy Now »

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Bracket Railroad Crossing Signal Light Safetran System Corp BO 42027-2 lot #1 Buy Now »

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Vintage Handlan 144 Railroad Depot Cast Iron Lantern Base - B Bid Now »

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Vintage Handlan 144 Railroad Depot Cast Iron Lantern Base - A

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Antique Japanese Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

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Antique Japanese Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

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VINTAGE ORIGINAL ADLAKE KERO INDIANA HARBOR BELT IHB RAILROAD LANTERN Bid Now »

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Antique/Vintage Railroad/Train Headlamp The Pyle National Co.Huge & Heavy! LOOK! Buy Now »
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Antique Candle Signal Lamps Lanterns Ship Railroad Buy Now »

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Antique ADLAKE RELIABLE B&M RR Railroad Lantern ADAMS / WESTLAKE NY CHICAGO PHIL Buy Now »

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The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Railroad Lighting (Vol. 1) by Richard Barrett Bid Now »
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The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Railroad Lighting (Vol. 1) by Richard Barrett

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Adams & Westlake Erie Red Adlake Kero Globe RR Lantern 1923 Bid Now »

Adams & Westlake Erie Red Adlake Kero Globe RR Lantern 1923

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Kerosene Oil Railroad Lamp N.Y. U.S.A. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Kerosene Oil Railroad Lamp N.Y. U.S.A.

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Railroad Lantern Adlake USA Canada NYCS Kero Bid Now »

Railroad Lantern Adlake USA Canada NYCS Kero

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Railroad signal glass kopp lenses RED Bid Now »

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Railroad Switch Indicator Light Buy Now »

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railroad light Bid Now »

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flat glass lantern lens (turquoise or aqua) 4-1/2" diameter - Kopp glass (?) Buy Now »

flat glass lantern lens (turquoise or aqua) 4-1/2" diameter - Kopp glass (?)

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PUSH IN LENS INSERT / 2&1/2" diameter with less for fitter Bid Now »

PUSH IN LENS INSERT / 2&1/2" diameter with less for fitter

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Antique Dietz New Haven Railroad Lantern Lamp NHRR !! Buy Now »

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Vintage * Railroad STAR Headlight & Lantern Co. * Battery Operated * x 2 N.Y. Buy Now »

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PAIR OF DIETZ NO. 8 AIR PILOT KEROSENE RAILROAD LANTERN Brand New!!! Vintage! Buy Now »

PAIR OF DIETZ NO. 8 AIR PILOT KEROSENE RAILROAD LANTERN Brand New!!! Vintage!

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Old Corning glass Railroad red/blue switch Buy Now »

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Antique Rare Unusual Kerosene Miners Railroad Railway Lantern Buy Now »

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LIRR LINE RAILROAD Lantern ARMSPEAR MAN'F'G CO NEW YORK  1886 Buy Now »

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Conger Lantern Company  Electric Railroad Hand Lantern  Serial Numbered! Buy Now »

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LOT (5) PCS. VINTAGE DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD CLEAR GLASS GLOBE, BALE, SUPPORT ARMS Buy Now »

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PRR Red Glass Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

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Vintage Kerosine Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

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VINTAGE COBALT BLUE AMCO MURALIER COLOR FILTER LENS RAILROAD LANTERN 4960-A Bid Now »

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ANTIQUE CHICAGO & NORTHWESTERN RAILROAD TRACK INCLINOMETER GRADE LEVEL PA  62 IN Buy Now »

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DIETZ #6 "BELL BOTTOM" RAILROAD LANTERN "NEW YORK CENTRAL" ON LANTERN & GLOBE Buy Now »

DIETZ #6 "BELL BOTTOM" RAILROAD LANTERN "NEW YORK CENTRAL" ON LANTERN & GLOBE

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ANTIQUE DRESSEL B&M LANTERN-READY FOR THE MAN CAVE--HOLIDAY GIFT Bid Now » Buy Now »

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Railroad Lantern Dietz Vesta " N.Y.C.S. shell only railroad lanterns Buy Now »

Railroad Lantern Dietz Vesta " N.Y.C.S. shell only railroad lanterns

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VINTAGE LUCK-E-LITE RAILROAD HIGHWAY SMUDGE POT TORCH Bid Now »

VINTAGE LUCK-E-LITE RAILROAD HIGHWAY SMUDGE POT TORCH

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Vintage Century Lighting Inc. 5-5/8" Blue Domed Lantern Lens Buy Now »

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VINTAGE ERIE RAILROAD DRESSEL ARLINGTON LANTERN, RED GLASS GLOBE ETCHED ERIE Bid Now »

VINTAGE ERIE RAILROAD DRESSEL ARLINGTON LANTERN, RED GLASS GLOBE ETCHED ERIE

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Vintage Pyle National Locomotive Railroad 360 Amber Warning Light Buy Now »

Vintage Pyle National Locomotive Railroad 360 Amber Warning Light

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Railroad Lantern Globe Brand 303 World-light Buy Now »
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Railroad Lantern Globe Brand 303 World-light

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ADLAKE RELIABLE RAILYARD SWITCHMAN'S BELL BOTTOM RAILROAD LANTERN RED NW&P GLOBE Bid Now »

ADLAKE RELIABLE RAILYARD SWITCHMAN'S BELL BOTTOM RAILROAD LANTERN RED NW&P GLOBE

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Vintage Dietz Fitzall NY USA Loc-Nob 34H kerosine lantern glass globe Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Fitzall NY USA Loc-Nob 34H kerosine lantern glass globe

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Vintage Dietz  Fitzall Loc Nob NYRuby Red Glass Kerosene Lantern Globe  Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Fitzall Loc Nob NYRuby Red Glass Kerosene Lantern Globe

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vintage traffic lantern Buy Now »

vintage traffic lantern

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Lot of  5 Antique Kerosine Lanterns Bid Now »

Lot of 5 Antique Kerosine Lanterns

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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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