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 New York Central Line Railroad Lantern   Clear Globe   Bid Now »

Vintage New York Central Line Railroad Lantern Clear Globe

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Railroad Signal Lamp Lens Blue 8 by 8 Holophane Bid Now »

Railroad Signal Lamp Lens Blue 8 by 8 Holophane

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Railroad Lamp Lens Amber 6 3/8" Spreadlite Corning

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Railroad Lantern Lens Blue 6 1/2" Bid Now »

Railroad Lantern Lens Blue 6 1/2"

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Railroad Lantern Red Lens  5" Century Lighting 5 5/8" - 55 Degree Spread Bid Now »

Railroad Lantern Red Lens 5" Century Lighting 5 5/8" - 55 Degree Spread

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Railroad Lantern Lens Blue 8 1/4"

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Railroad Signal Lamp Lens Amber 8 by 8 Holophane Bid Now »

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Railroad Lamp Lens Blue/Purple 7 9/16" Kopp Glass Bid Now »

Railroad Lamp Lens Blue/Purple 7 9/16" Kopp Glass

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Railroad Signal Lamp Lens Red 8 by 8 Holophane Bid Now »

Railroad Signal Lamp Lens Red 8 by 8 Holophane

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Railroad Lantern Flat Red Lens  5" Kopp Glass Bid Now »

Railroad Lantern Flat Red Lens 5" Kopp Glass

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NEW YORK CENTRAL VINTAGE RAILROAD LATERN Bid Now »

NEW YORK CENTRAL VINTAGE RAILROAD LATERN

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Vintage Railroad Crossing Light Bracket that  Holds Bulb # 41404  Louisville Buy Now »

Vintage Railroad Crossing Light Bracket that Holds Bulb # 41404 Louisville

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Vintage Railroad Signal Light Modern Ind. Louisville Kentucky 50" Long 24" Wide Buy Now »

Vintage Railroad Signal Light Modern Ind. Louisville Kentucky 50" Long 24" Wide

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Vintage Lantern Electric Farm Fresh Hazel Atlas Glass Jar Shade Metal Hanger Bid Now »

Vintage Lantern Electric Farm Fresh Hazel Atlas Glass Jar Shade Metal Hanger

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Vintage DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD BLUE LANTERN RED GLASS Globe Kerosene Buy Now »

Vintage DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD BLUE LANTERN RED GLASS Globe Kerosene

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Vintage rustic Dietz lanterns (2) converted into outdoor lights Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage rustic Dietz lanterns (2) converted into outdoor lights

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Vintage rustic Dietz lantern (Monarch) Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage rustic Dietz lantern (Monarch)

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Pair of Delta Powerlite Railroad Lanterns Free Shipping Buy Now »

Pair of Delta Powerlite Railroad Lanterns Free Shipping

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MINI RED RAILROAD LANTERN STROBE LIGHT METRO NORTH MAGNETIC BASE CAR AUTO MAGNET Buy Now »

MINI RED RAILROAD LANTERN STROBE LIGHT METRO NORTH MAGNETIC BASE CAR AUTO MAGNET

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RED & BLUE RAILROAD LANTERN STROBE LIGHT METRO NORTH MAGNETIC BASE 5" SAFETY Buy Now »

RED & BLUE RAILROAD LANTERN STROBE LIGHT METRO NORTH MAGNETIC BASE 5" SAFETY

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Railroad Lantern Paul's Paul Lantern with Dietz Fitall Globe No 0 1900's Buy Now »

Railroad Lantern Paul's Paul Lantern with Dietz Fitall Globe No 0 1900's

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vtg Starlite Headlite Lantern Railroad Torch Lamp Blue Star Wood Handle USA Buy Now »

vtg Starlite Headlite Lantern Railroad Torch Lamp Blue Star Wood Handle USA

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Antique Railroad CRI&P Rock Island RR Signal Light Lamp Lantern  kerosene  #492 Buy Now »

Antique Railroad CRI&P Rock Island RR Signal Light Lamp Lantern kerosene #492

Rock Island RR
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Vintage Antique brass Trains engineer's  torch from the nineteenth century Buy Now »

Vintage Antique brass Trains engineer's torch from the nineteenth century

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Vintage, Antique P. Wall, Pittsburg Mining Lamp / Railroad Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage, Antique P. Wall, Pittsburg Mining Lamp / Railroad Lantern

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lantern,parts,globe,red,glass,part,RR,kerosene,oil. Bid Now »

lantern,parts,globe,red,glass,part,RR,kerosene,oil.

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VINTAGE ADLAKE NO. 31-F BRAKEMAN RAILROAD LANTERN ( Adams and Westlake) Buy Now »

VINTAGE ADLAKE NO. 31-F BRAKEMAN RAILROAD LANTERN ( Adams and Westlake)

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pennsylvania rail road dressel lantern Bid Now »

pennsylvania rail road dressel lantern

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Vintage Ecolite No. 301V Economy Electric Lantern Co. Railroad Miners Lite Buy Now »

Vintage Ecolite No. 301V Economy Electric Lantern Co. Railroad Miners Lite

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Antique Pennsylvania Railroad Red Glass Lantern by Adams & Westlake Co Bid Now »

Antique Pennsylvania Railroad Red Glass Lantern by Adams & Westlake Co

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New York Central System Dietz Vista Red Lantern Buy Now »

New York Central System Dietz Vista Red Lantern

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Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Red Glass Lantern by Adams and Westlake Co. Bid Now »

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Red Glass Lantern by Adams and Westlake Co.

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VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN WITH CLEAR GLASS GLOBE N.Y.N.H.& H. R.R.- DRESSEL Bid Now »

VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN WITH CLEAR GLASS GLOBE N.Y.N.H.& H. R.R.- DRESSEL

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Star Battery Operated Caboose Tail Light/ Marker Light Bid Now »

Star Battery Operated Caboose Tail Light/ Marker Light

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Star Battery Operated Caboose Tail Light/ Marker Light GT? Bid Now »

Star Battery Operated Caboose Tail Light/ Marker Light GT?

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EARLY STAR LANTERN COMPANY BATTERY POWERED LANTERN Original Patina Buy Now »

EARLY STAR LANTERN COMPANY BATTERY POWERED LANTERN Original Patina

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Dietz Karosene Outpost 12" Lantern Cowboy Chronicles Marlboro Buy Now »

Dietz Karosene Outpost 12" Lantern Cowboy Chronicles Marlboro

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RARE ANTIQUE ADAMS & WESTLAKE BRASS DOUBLE CHANDELIER LAMP RAILROAD TRAIN CAR Buy Now »

RARE ANTIQUE ADAMS & WESTLAKE BRASS DOUBLE CHANDELIER LAMP RAILROAD TRAIN CAR

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VINTAGE ADLAKE KERO 1-43 RAILROAD LANTERN SOUTHERN RY RAILWAY W/RED SHADE Buy Now »

VINTAGE ADLAKE KERO 1-43 RAILROAD LANTERN SOUTHERN RY RAILWAY W/RED SHADE

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Vintage Orange Lantern with Amber glass globe Buy Now »

Vintage Orange Lantern with Amber glass globe

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Star Battery Operated Caboose Tail Light/ Marker Light Penn Central RR Bid Now »

Star Battery Operated Caboose Tail Light/ Marker Light Penn Central RR

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Vintage Adlake #300 Conductors Railroad Kero Lantern /No Globe Buy Now »

Vintage Adlake #300 Conductors Railroad Kero Lantern /No Globe

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Vintage Railroad STAR Headlight Battery Lantern N & W Rail Yard Norfolk Western Bid Now »

Vintage Railroad STAR Headlight Battery Lantern N & W Rail Yard Norfolk Western

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Early Antique Dietz Loc-Nob Fitzall Railroad Lantern Clear Glass Globe Buy Now »

Early Antique Dietz Loc-Nob Fitzall Railroad Lantern Clear Glass Globe

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Clear Railroad Lantern Glass Globe Buy Now »

Clear Railroad Lantern Glass Globe

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Clear Railroad Lantern Glass Globe H 20 Buy Now »

Clear Railroad Lantern Glass Globe H 20

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Pennslyvannia Railroad Lantern with Red Globe Bid Now »

Pennslyvannia Railroad Lantern with Red Globe

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Vintage Delta Miners Powerlite Lantern - Untested Bid Now »

Vintage Delta Miners Powerlite Lantern - Untested

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Santa Fe Electric Head Lantern Bid Now »

Santa Fe Electric Head Lantern

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Clear Railroad Lantern Glass Globe - Height 6 5/8", Base 3 1/2", Top 2 7/8" Buy Now »
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Clear Railroad Lantern Glass Globe - Height 6 5/8", Base 3 1/2", Top 2 7/8"

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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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