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 Carriage Lantern Ruby Lens Hand Carry or Hold Metal Glass Red Lens Buy Now »

Antique Carriage Lantern Ruby Lens Hand Carry or Hold Metal Glass Red Lens

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DRESSEL ARLINGTON N.J. PRR PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD LANTERN CLEAR GLOBE  G-125 Buy Now »

DRESSEL ARLINGTON N.J. PRR PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD LANTERN CLEAR GLOBE G-125

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Vintage Dressel Arington N.J. PRR Lantern Converted To Electric Adlake Globe Bid Now »

Vintage Dressel Arington N.J. PRR Lantern Converted To Electric Adlake Globe

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Vintage Aladdin Railroad Caboose Lantern #23 w/Swivel Bracket & Wick Cleaner Bid Now »

Vintage Aladdin Railroad Caboose Lantern #23 w/Swivel Bracket & Wick Cleaner

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NOS Amber Pie Crust Edge  Lamp Shade   / Item # 128 Buy Now »
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NOS Amber Pie Crust Edge Lamp Shade / Item # 128

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DIETZ-MONARCH Yellow KEROSENE Lantern (made in NY, USA) Lot of 2 Bid Now »

DIETZ-MONARCH Yellow KEROSENE Lantern (made in NY, USA) Lot of 2

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 #2 Vintage Handlan Red Glass Globe for Railroad Brakemans Lantern Buy Now »
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#2 Vintage Handlan Red Glass Globe for Railroad Brakemans Lantern

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Winged wheel no. 350 lantern Bid Now » Buy Now »

Winged wheel no. 350 lantern

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Vintage Dietz Vesta Red Globe Railroad Lantern N.Y.C.S--NEW YORK CENTRAL LINES Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Vesta Red Globe Railroad Lantern N.Y.C.S--NEW YORK CENTRAL LINES

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Two RARE Unique Vintage Lanterns, Blue & Red Bid Now »

Two RARE Unique Vintage Lanterns, Blue & Red

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Vintage N.Y.N.H.&H.R.R. ADLAKE NO. 250 KERO Railroad Lantern-Adams & Westlake Co Buy Now »

Vintage N.Y.N.H.&H.R.R. ADLAKE NO. 250 KERO Railroad Lantern-Adams & Westlake Co

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ANTIQUE RAILROAD LANTERN GLOBE TRAIN  PRR  MACBETH PEARL GLASS  "NO RESERVE" Bid Now »

ANTIQUE RAILROAD LANTERN GLOBE TRAIN PRR MACBETH PEARL GLASS "NO RESERVE"

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2 Vintage DIETZ? Little Wizard Railroad Lantern RUBY RED/CLEAR Replacement Globe Buy Now »
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2 Vintage DIETZ? Little Wizard Railroad Lantern RUBY RED/CLEAR Replacement Globe

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Railroad Switch Track Assembly, Crossing Sign,  Track Carts, & Collection Bid Now »

Railroad Switch Track Assembly, Crossing Sign, Track Carts, & Collection

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Weir Railroad Switch Stand Bid Now »

Weir Railroad Switch Stand

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NOS  Clear 12"  Oil Lamp Chimney   / Item # 131 Buy Now »
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NOS Clear 12" Oil Lamp Chimney / Item # 131

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Stage Glass Spot Light Filters Kopp NOS Set Of 4 Blue Amber Green Red 5 3/4 Buy Now »

Stage Glass Spot Light Filters Kopp NOS Set Of 4 Blue Amber Green Red 5 3/4

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Kopp Red Stage Glass Spot Light Filters NOS 5 3/4" In Diameter Buy Now »

Kopp Red Stage Glass Spot Light Filters NOS 5 3/4" In Diameter

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Kopp Amber Stage Glass Spot Light Filters 5 3/4" In Diameter Buy Now »

Kopp Amber Stage Glass Spot Light Filters 5 3/4" In Diameter

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Kopp Blue Stage Glass Spot Light Filters 5 3/4" In Diameter NOS Buy Now »

Kopp Blue Stage Glass Spot Light Filters 5 3/4" In Diameter NOS

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Kopp Green Stage Glass Spot Light Filters 5 3/4" In Diameter Buy Now »

Kopp Green Stage Glass Spot Light Filters 5 3/4" In Diameter

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Vintage DIETZ Highway torch Bid Now »

Vintage DIETZ Highway torch

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 B.R.  DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN  BLUE K GLOBE Bid Now »

B.R. DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN BLUE K GLOBE

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NOS  Kristaluxus Hand Cut Glass Ball Shaped Lamp Globe   / Item # 132 Buy Now »
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NOS Kristaluxus Hand Cut Glass Ball Shaped Lamp Globe / Item # 132

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Baltimore and Ohio B & O Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

Baltimore and Ohio B & O Railroad Lantern

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Rare Antique ARMSPEAR LANTERN W/ RED GLOBE RAILROAD Bridge Pier Lamp 17", 10 Lbs Bid Now »

Rare Antique ARMSPEAR LANTERN W/ RED GLOBE RAILROAD Bridge Pier Lamp 17", 10 Lbs

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Vintage Adlake Non Sweating Lamp Lantern 4 Way Railroad Switch Signal Train Buy Now »

Vintage Adlake Non Sweating Lamp Lantern 4 Way Railroad Switch Signal Train

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antique vintage griswold rail road signal Buy Now »

antique vintage griswold rail road signal

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Railroad Safety First Lantern Globe RR Bid Now »

Railroad Safety First Lantern Globe RR

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ANTIQUE DIETZ  LANTERN GLOBE No 0 TUBULAR  RAILROAD TRAIN BARN COLOR  NO RESERVE Bid Now »

ANTIQUE DIETZ LANTERN GLOBE No 0 TUBULAR RAILROAD TRAIN BARN COLOR NO RESERVE

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4 RAILROAD LANTERN LENSES RED KOPP, BLUE 1935, GLASS & AMBER, RED PLASTIC Bid Now »

4 RAILROAD LANTERN LENSES RED KOPP, BLUE 1935, GLASS & AMBER, RED PLASTIC

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1935 KOPP AMBER YELLOW RAILROAD TRAFFIC LIGHT LANTERN REPLACEMENT LENS 5 INCHES Buy Now »

1935 KOPP AMBER YELLOW RAILROAD TRAFFIC LIGHT LANTERN REPLACEMENT LENS 5 INCHES

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KOPP GLASS CO. RAILROAD RED TRAFFIC LIGHT LANTERN REPLACEMENT LENS 4 1/2 4.5 Buy Now »

KOPP GLASS CO. RAILROAD RED TRAFFIC LIGHT LANTERN REPLACEMENT LENS 4 1/2 4.5

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Vintage Red Kerosene Oil Railroad Lantern WINGED WHEEL #350 Orig Glass~JAPAN Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Red Kerosene Oil Railroad Lantern WINGED WHEEL #350 Orig Glass ~ JAPAN

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Vintage Safetran Systems Corp. Authentic RR Crossing Signal Light 20" Diameter Buy Now »

Vintage Safetran Systems Corp. Authentic RR Crossing Signal Light 20" Diameter

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RAILROAD RELAY UNION SWITCH & SIGNAL DP-14 Bid Now »

RAILROAD RELAY UNION SWITCH & SIGNAL DP-14

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Antique Copper Smudge Pot Bid Now »

Antique Copper Smudge Pot

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Vtg Regal #0 Lantern ( Red Globe ) Bid Now »

Vtg Regal #0 Lantern ( Red Globe )

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Vintage Railroad  Caboose Marker Lantern The Adlake On Sweating Lamp Chicago Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Caboose Marker Lantern The Adlake On Sweating Lamp Chicago

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PAIR OF 2 STARLITE 222 LANTERNS FOR TRAINS Buy Now »

PAIR OF 2 STARLITE 222 LANTERNS FOR TRAINS

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Red HLP (plastic)optical quality round lens 5-3/8" diameter. Buy Now »

Red HLP (plastic)optical quality round lens 5-3/8" diameter.

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Red HLP (plastic)optical quality round lens 5-3/8" diameter. Buy Now »

Red HLP (plastic)optical quality round lens 5-3/8" diameter.

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DIETZ NO. 8 AIR PILOT KEROSENE RAILROAD LANTERN, Blue, Hand-Painted, Rare! Buy Now »

DIETZ NO. 8 AIR PILOT KEROSENE RAILROAD LANTERN, Blue, Hand-Painted, Rare!

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Vtg RED DIETZ Little Wizard Kerosene Barn Railroad LANTERN-Red Globe-SYRACUSE NY Buy Now »

Vtg RED DIETZ Little Wizard Kerosene Barn Railroad LANTERN-Red Globe-SYRACUSE NY

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Railroad lantern Bid Now »
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Railroad lantern

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Railroad Lantern Dietz Vesta New York train Buy Now »

Railroad Lantern Dietz Vesta New York train

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Vintage Rare Tin Dietz Lantern early 1900's Red glass Train or Marine Docks Boat Buy Now »

Vintage Rare Tin Dietz Lantern early 1900's Red glass Train or Marine Docks Boat

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Vintage clear glass lamp globe Buy Now »

Vintage clear glass lamp globe

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dietz little wizard embury 350 Train Marine Dock Lantern Lamp Red Glass CL & pco Buy Now »

dietz little wizard embury 350 Train Marine Dock Lantern Lamp Red Glass CL & pco

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dietz little wizard Train Marine Dock Railroad Lantern Lamp NY USA Buy Now »

dietz little wizard Train Marine Dock Railroad Lantern Lamp NY USA

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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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