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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Large Antique Red Glass Rail Road Train Lantern Glass Globe Ship Boat Buy Now »

Large Antique Red Glass Rail Road Train Lantern Glass Globe Ship Boat

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Vtg 1909 Antique Primitive Paulls No. 0 Lantern Glass Chimney Tubular Barn RUSTD Bid Now »

Vtg 1909 Antique Primitive Paulls No. 0 Lantern Glass Chimney Tubular Barn RUSTD

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4 Sided Enamel Railroad Lantern Bid Now » Buy Now »

4 Sided Enamel Railroad Lantern

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VINTAGE ADLAKE NO. 31-F BRAKEMAN RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »

VINTAGE ADLAKE NO. 31-F BRAKEMAN RAILROAD LANTERN

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Vintage Railroad lantern; " Maine", clear glass globe, Rusty, old, collectable Buy Now »
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Vintage Railroad lantern; " Maine", clear glass globe, Rusty, old, collectable

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Vintage Railroad Lantern..New York USA with Red Globe Buy Now »
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Vintage Railroad Lantern..New York USA with Red Globe

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Antique Dietz Vvesta Railroad Lantern with Red Globe Buy Now »
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Antique Dietz Vvesta Railroad Lantern with Red Globe

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Antique Dietz Vesta Railroad Lantern, with Clear Lens, New York USA, no handle Buy Now »
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Antique Dietz Vesta Railroad Lantern, with Clear Lens, New York USA, no handle

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Vintage Collectable Adlake Kero Railroad Lantern St.Louis USA, Orange Lens Buy Now »
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Vintage Collectable Adlake Kero Railroad Lantern St.Louis USA, Orange Lens

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Antique Vintage Dressel Railroad Caboose Marker Lantern Arlington N.J. USA Bid Now »

Antique Vintage Dressel Railroad Caboose Marker Lantern Arlington N.J. USA

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Adams & Westlake ERIE Rail Road Lantern With Etched E in Diamond Globe Bid Now »

Adams & Westlake ERIE Rail Road Lantern With Etched E in Diamond Globe

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Antique Lantern Bid Now »

Antique Lantern

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Erie Railroad  Lamp Ideal Red Vesta Globe Diez Inspection Buy Now »

Erie Railroad Lamp Ideal Red Vesta Globe Diez Inspection

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C1850 B&W RR Cast Fixedglobe Lantern Earliest Lantern Boston Worcester 1 of Kind Buy Now »

C1850 B&W RR Cast Fixedglobe Lantern Earliest Lantern Boston Worcester 1 of Kind

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Armspear '1925' PRR Rail Road Lantern AMBER Fresnel Globe Bid Now »

Armspear '1925' PRR Rail Road Lantern AMBER Fresnel Globe

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Vintage FEDERAL EAGLE MILK CAN ELECTRIC LANTERN LAMP, American, US, Bald, Dairy Buy Now »

Vintage FEDERAL EAGLE MILK CAN ELECTRIC LANTERN LAMP, American, US, Bald, Dairy

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Antique Lantern Winged Wheel Red No. 400 Kerosene Railroad Lamp Bid Now » Buy Now »

Antique Lantern Winged Wheel Red No. 400 Kerosene Railroad Lamp

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Dietz Blue Lantern, Number 8 Air Pilot Buy Now »

Dietz Blue Lantern, Number 8 Air Pilot

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Railroad gear Star Headlight & Lantern Co. Blue Metal Electric Torch Lamp Bid Now »

Railroad gear Star Headlight & Lantern Co. Blue Metal Electric Torch Lamp

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Vtg PostWar Brass Hugo Zweigle Esslingen Railroad Signal Oil Lantern Lamp Osmeka Buy Now »

Vtg PostWar Brass Hugo Zweigle Esslingen Railroad Signal Oil Lantern Lamp Osmeka

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Rare Dietz D-Lite Pagoma No. 2COLD  BLAST Lantern  NY USA 14 Inches Height Bid Now »

Rare Dietz D-Lite Pagoma No. 2COLD BLAST Lantern NY USA 14 Inches Height

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 Vintage-Brass-Davy-Style-Welsh-Miners-Lamp-Coal-Miner- Buy Now »
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Vintage-Brass-Davy-Style-Welsh-Miners-Lamp-Coal-Miner-

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Shapleigh Hawdware Co Lantern Vintage Norleigh Diamond Painted red Buy Now »

Shapleigh Hawdware Co Lantern Vintage Norleigh Diamond Painted red

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ANTIQUE  RAIL ROAD LAMP -HUNGARIAN BAOSMEOYEI Bid Now »

ANTIQUE RAIL ROAD LAMP -HUNGARIAN BAOSMEOYEI

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Rare Vintage Diamond Brand Warning  Light! Hong Kong. NOS Buy Now »

Rare Vintage Diamond Brand Warning Light! Hong Kong. NOS

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Adlake Illinois Central Railroad marked frame with Amber Globe Buy Now »
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Adlake Illinois Central Railroad marked frame with Amber Globe

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Vintage Dietz #40 Traffic Gard Rail Road Lantern With Red #40 Dietz Orig Globe Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz #40 Traffic Gard Rail Road Lantern With Red #40 Dietz Orig Globe

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vintage railroad lantern Bid Now »

vintage railroad lantern

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Vintage Dietz Lantern No.999 Kero N.Y.C.S.Red Globe Gold In Color Bid Now »

Vintage Dietz Lantern No.999 Kero N.Y.C.S.Red Globe Gold In Color

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Vintage Teal Lantern Converted Into Electric Lamp Unknown Company Bid Now »

Vintage Teal Lantern Converted Into Electric Lamp Unknown Company

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VINTAGE DANDY KEROSENE FILLER JUG Bid Now » Buy Now »

VINTAGE DANDY KEROSENE FILLER JUG

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Antique Adlake Railroad  Switch Lantern with extra pieces Bid Now »

Antique Adlake Railroad Switch Lantern with extra pieces

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DIETZ "NO 2 BLIZZARD" N USA LANTERN Buy Now »

DIETZ "NO 2 BLIZZARD" N USA LANTERN

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ANTIQUE L.S.&M. S.RY  RAILROAD LANTERN RED GLOBE ADLAKE RELIABLE Buy Now »

ANTIQUE L.S.&M. S.RY RAILROAD LANTERN RED GLOBE ADLAKE RELIABLE

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Union Pacific handheld latern light Bid Now »

Union Pacific handheld latern light

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chicago and northwestern railroad lantern c&nw ry oil lantern dietz littlewizard Buy Now »
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chicago and northwestern railroad lantern c&nw ry oil lantern dietz littlewizard

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Adams and Westlake Railroad Lantern - M&STL R.R. - Minneapolis and St Louis RR. Bid Now »

Adams and Westlake Railroad Lantern - M&STL R.R. - Minneapolis and St Louis RR.

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Vintage Handlan Switch Lamp/Lantern - NYO Badge Plate Bid Now »

Vintage Handlan Switch Lamp/Lantern - NYO Badge Plate

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VINTAGE KOPP GLASS COLORED LENS LOT OF 3 TRAFFIC LANTERNS INDUSTRIAL CRAFT DECOR Bid Now »

VINTAGE KOPP GLASS COLORED LENS LOT OF 3 TRAFFIC LANTERNS INDUSTRIAL CRAFT DECOR

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LED Lantern Camping Hiking Outdoor Sport Collapses Emergencies Black Hurricanes Buy Now »
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LED Lantern Camping Hiking Outdoor Sport Collapses Emergencies Black Hurricanes

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ANTIQUE CAST IRON OIL KEROSENE LANTERN LAMP LIGHT DOUBLE WALL SCONCE RACK HOLDER Buy Now »

ANTIQUE CAST IRON OIL KEROSENE LANTERN LAMP LIGHT DOUBLE WALL SCONCE RACK HOLDER

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Vintage Red No. 202 World Light Oil/Kerosene Lanterns Globe Brand  Estate Sale Buy Now »
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Vintage Red No. 202 World Light Oil/Kerosene Lanterns Globe Brand Estate Sale

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Dietz No. 100 Lantern Bid Now » Buy Now »

Dietz No. 100 Lantern

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Vintage Blue Dietz Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage Blue Dietz Lantern

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DRESSEL RR L&N LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE RAILROAD KEROSENE LANTERN EMBOSSED GLOBE Bid Now »

DRESSEL RR L&N LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE RAILROAD KEROSENE LANTERN EMBOSSED GLOBE

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ADLAKE SOUTHERN RAILWAY (SO RY) LANTERN WITH RED FRESNEL GLOBE (18) Bid Now »

ADLAKE SOUTHERN RAILWAY (SO RY) LANTERN WITH RED FRESNEL GLOBE (18)

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VINTAGE KEROSENE ROAD FLARE SMUDGE POT LANTERN  Bid Now » Buy Now »
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VINTAGE KEROSENE ROAD FLARE SMUDGE POT LANTERN

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Antique Adlake SOUTHERN RAILROAD RAILWAY RR Lantern Blue Fresnel Globe SOU RY Buy Now »

Antique Adlake SOUTHERN RAILROAD RAILWAY RR Lantern Blue Fresnel Globe SOU RY

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Vintage Dressel Lantern - K&ITRR- KENTUCKY & INDIANA TERMINAL - Red fresnel Bid Now »

Vintage Dressel Lantern - K&ITRR- KENTUCKY & INDIANA TERMINAL - Red fresnel

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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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