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 Kerosene Road Construction RR Torch Highway Flare Smudge Pot Bid Now »

Vintage Kerosene Road Construction RR Torch Highway Flare Smudge Pot

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Vintage Kerosene Road Construction RR Torch Highway Flare Smudge Pot

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Rustic Railroad Tie Light Chandelier Buy Now »

Rustic Railroad Tie Light Chandelier

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train lanterns Bid Now »

train lanterns

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Vintage Winged Wheel Kerosene Red Lantern Lamp No.350 Small Japan Bid Now »
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Vintage Winged Wheel Kerosene Red Lantern Lamp No.350 Small Japan

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Great CNR RAILROAD LANTERN TRAIN Lamp w/ ORIGINAL CNR GLOBE Must See! Buy Now »

Great CNR RAILROAD LANTERN TRAIN Lamp w/ ORIGINAL CNR GLOBE Must See!

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Vintage JUSTRITE Metal Flashlight/Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage JUSTRITE Metal Flashlight/Lantern

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DIETZ US TUBULAR LANTERN GLOBE (SMALL) Bid Now »

DIETZ US TUBULAR LANTERN GLOBE (SMALL)

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Vintage Adlake Non Sweating Chicago Train Lamp Railroad N.Y.C.S. with bracket Bid Now »

Vintage Adlake Non Sweating Chicago Train Lamp Railroad N.Y.C.S. with bracket

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Antique Railroad Lantern Oil Lamp Adlake 300 L&N Louisville Nashville Railroad Bid Now »

Antique Railroad Lantern Oil Lamp Adlake 300 L&N Louisville Nashville Railroad

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BEAUTIFUL DIETZ VESTA GULF MOBILE & OHIO (GM&O RR) RAILROAD LANTERN (5B) Bid Now »

BEAUTIFUL DIETZ VESTA GULF MOBILE & OHIO (GM&O RR) RAILROAD LANTERN (5B)

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VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN RED GLOBE Bid Now »

VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN RED GLOBE

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VTg DIETZ FITZALL 6 3/4" Clear Glass Globe w/Handle Sites-LOC-NOB-New York USA Buy Now »

VTg DIETZ FITZALL 6 3/4" Clear Glass Globe w/Handle Sites-LOC-NOB-New York USA

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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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C & O  Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Adams & Westlake Lantern.  Bid Now » Buy Now »

C & O Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Adams & Westlake Lantern.

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Antique Elizabethtown Consolidated Gas Co. Kerosene Railroad Lantern-Handlan Buy Now »

Antique Elizabethtown Consolidated Gas Co. Kerosene Railroad Lantern-Handlan

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Vintage Dietz HYLO Railroad / Barn Kerosene Lantern New York U.S.A. Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz HYLO Railroad / Barn Kerosene Lantern New York U.S.A.

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KOPP 1935 RED RAILROAD LANTERN LENS 5 1/2" x 1/2" F GOOD CONDITION Buy Now »

KOPP 1935 RED RAILROAD LANTERN LENS 5 1/2" x 1/2" F GOOD CONDITION

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Vintage Old Rail Road type lantern star & headlight  N&WRY Bid Now »

Vintage Old Rail Road type lantern star & headlight N&WRY

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1921 MEE'S ELECTRIC RR LANTERN Buy Now »

1921 MEE'S ELECTRIC RR LANTERN

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British C.E. & S. Kerosene Lantern Red & Blue Lenses Clear Position Dated 1955 Bid Now »

British C.E. & S. Kerosene Lantern Red & Blue Lenses Clear Position Dated 1955

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Old Vintage Adlake Railroad Switch Thing Bid Now »

Old Vintage Adlake Railroad Switch Thing

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Dietz & Ham's Kerosene Lantern Globes 1 red 2 clear Perfect Condition Bid Now »

Dietz & Ham's Kerosene Lantern Globes 1 red 2 clear Perfect Condition

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Dietz Lamp U S Red Glass Globe Untested Bid Now »

Dietz Lamp U S Red Glass Globe Untested

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Vintage Empire Railroad Lantern The Metal Ware Corp Two Rivers, Wis Glass Globe Buy Now »

Vintage Empire Railroad Lantern The Metal Ware Corp Two Rivers, Wis Glass Globe

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Vintage Lantern Glass Globe GVI Buy Now »

Vintage Lantern Glass Globe GVI

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A Terrific Oil Lamp Font For a Railroad Wall Mount Oil Lamp, Ceiling Chandelier Bid Now » Buy Now »

A Terrific Oil Lamp Font For a Railroad Wall Mount Oil Lamp, Ceiling Chandelier

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Vintage DIETZ 80 TORCH Kerosene Smudge Pot Flare Buy Now »

Vintage DIETZ 80 TORCH Kerosene Smudge Pot Flare

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Vintage Dietz Torch Kerosene Smudge Pot 1940 Airport/Highway Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Torch Kerosene Smudge Pot 1940 Airport/Highway

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Vintage Sig-nal-ite And Toledo Torch Railroad Signal Lights Buy Now »

Vintage Sig-nal-ite And Toledo Torch Railroad Signal Lights

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UNMARKED SMALL CLEAR GLASS GLOBE SHADE for RAILROAD SIGNAL LANTERN Buy Now »

UNMARKED SMALL CLEAR GLASS GLOBE SHADE for RAILROAD SIGNAL LANTERN

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Antique Dietz Lantern Buy Now »
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Antique Dietz Lantern

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11 EACH OLD MIXED COLOR DOMED RAILROAD RR LANTERN / TRAFFIC LIGHT SIGNAL LENS Buy Now »

11 EACH OLD MIXED COLOR DOMED RAILROAD RR LANTERN / TRAFFIC LIGHT SIGNAL LENS

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Vintage Kerosene Lamp Bid Now » Buy Now »
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Vintage Kerosene Lamp

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Train inspector lamp Buy Now »

Train inspector lamp

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NS Norfolk Southern Railroad Key Chain Pittsburgh Division brand new sealed Buy Now »
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NS Norfolk Southern Railroad Key Chain Pittsburgh Division brand new sealed

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Antique Handlan Kerosene Oil Lantern City of Chicago Ruby Red Glass Circa 1920's Buy Now »

Antique Handlan Kerosene Oil Lantern City of Chicago Ruby Red Glass Circa 1920's

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Vintage RAYO HOT BLAST NO. 75 TUBULAR A-FRAME LANTERN LAMP RAIL ROAD GLOBE NICE Buy Now »

Vintage RAYO HOT BLAST NO. 75 TUBULAR A-FRAME LANTERN LAMP RAIL ROAD GLOBE NICE

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Antique DIETZ ACME INSPECTOR LAMP Railroad Lantern EXCELLENT ORIGINAL No Reserve Buy Now »

Antique DIETZ ACME INSPECTOR LAMP Railroad Lantern EXCELLENT ORIGINAL No Reserve

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NEW W.R.R.S. TYPE 88C  4 WAY RAILROAD ELECTRONIC SWITCH LAMP 1880-1 Buy Now »

NEW W.R.R.S. TYPE 88C 4 WAY RAILROAD ELECTRONIC SWITCH LAMP 1880-1

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Vintage Southern RY Railroad Lantern < Clear Globe > New York-Chicago-Phila Bid Now »

Vintage Southern RY Railroad Lantern < Clear Globe > New York-Chicago-Phila

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Vintage Railroad Lantern New York < Clear Globe > #3 Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad Lantern New York < Clear Globe > #3

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Vintage Metalglobus Kerosene Oil Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Metalglobus Kerosene Oil Lantern

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11 hrs
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Vintage Ship Train Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage Ship Train Railroad Lantern

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Vintage Justrite Metal Mining Railroad Lamp Lantern Light Buy Now »

Vintage Justrite Metal Mining Railroad Lamp Lantern Light

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Vintage Adlake No. 31-F Brakeman Railroad Lantern Mustard Yellow Made In USA Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Adlake No. 31-F Brakeman Railroad Lantern Mustard Yellow Made In USA

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Vintage 1930s Lightmaster Pocket Lantern Searchlight Flashlight 500 Foot Beam Buy Now »

Vintage 1930s Lightmaster Pocket Lantern Searchlight Flashlight 500 Foot Beam

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Vintage Dietz Monarch Barn Tubular Kerosene Oil Lantern w/Fitzall Glass Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Monarch Barn Tubular Kerosene Oil Lantern w/Fitzall Glass

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Vintage Dietz MONARCH Barn Railroad Lamp Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz MONARCH Barn Railroad Lamp Lantern

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Vintage Dietz Clear Glass Replacement Lantern Globe Fitzall, Loc Nob H 7" USA Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Clear Glass Replacement Lantern Globe Fitzall, Loc Nob H 7" 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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