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 EMBURY LUCK-E-LITE LANTERN RAILROAD TRAIN w/ Dietz no.8 1923 RED GLOBE Buy Now »

VINTAGE EMBURY LUCK-E-LITE LANTERN RAILROAD TRAIN w/ Dietz no.8 1923 RED GLOBE

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Vintage London Rail Road Lantern Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage London Rail Road Lantern

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VINTAGE Dietz Lantern  RAILROAD TRAIN w/ Dietz no.8  RED GLOBE Little Wizard Buy Now »

VINTAGE Dietz Lantern RAILROAD TRAIN w/ Dietz no.8 RED GLOBE Little Wizard

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 Vintage Delta powerlite Army Green railroad lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Delta powerlite Army Green railroad lantern

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Vtg railroad lantern C & NWRy Adlake Adams & Westlake 1913 Bid Now »

Vtg railroad lantern C & NWRy Adlake Adams & Westlake 1913

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1941 Adams & Westlake Co. Vintage Kerosine Oil Lantern Buy Now »

1941 Adams & Westlake Co. Vintage Kerosine Oil Lantern

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46 mins
NYCS RAILROAD LANTERN DIETZ NEW YORK CENTRAL WITH EMBOSSED CLEAR GLOBE. Buy Now »

NYCS RAILROAD LANTERN DIETZ NEW YORK CENTRAL WITH EMBOSSED CLEAR GLOBE.

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VINTAGE JUSTRITE  RAILROAD LANTERN Bid Now »

VINTAGE JUSTRITE RAILROAD LANTERN

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1 hr
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Rock Island Railroad Lantern Adams & Westlake Co Adlake 1920's Dietz Red Globe Buy Now »

Rock Island Railroad Lantern Adams & Westlake Co Adlake 1920's Dietz Red Globe

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Dietz Lantern No 40 Traffic Gard Syracuse NY USA Red Bid Now »

Dietz Lantern No 40 Traffic Gard Syracuse NY USA Red

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Vintage Untested CONGER LANTERN CO. Lantern Lamp Light Free US Shipping Buy Now »
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Vintage Untested CONGER LANTERN CO. Lantern Lamp Light Free US Shipping

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1 hr
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TRIANGIE HT302 UNUSED FARM STYLE LANTERN  534060 Buy Now »

TRIANGIE HT302 UNUSED FARM STYLE LANTERN 534060

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1 hr
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2 VTG THE TOLEDO TORCH PRESSED STEEL RAILROAD KEROSENE FLARE SMUDGE POT RUSTY Bid Now »

2 VTG THE TOLEDO TORCH PRESSED STEEL RAILROAD KEROSENE FLARE SMUDGE POT RUSTY

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Lantern: I.C. RR ADLAKE KERO I-36 with Etched Globe Buy Now »

Lantern: I.C. RR ADLAKE KERO I-36 with Etched Globe

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1 hr
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ANTIQUE DIETZ VESTA RAILROAD LANTERN MAINE & Boston CENTRAL RR Bid Now »

ANTIQUE DIETZ VESTA RAILROAD LANTERN MAINE & Boston CENTRAL RR

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4x Oriental Japanese Chinese Paper Lantern Sakura ml-21 S-2506x4 AU Bid Now »

4x Oriental Japanese Chinese Paper Lantern Sakura ml-21 S-2506x4 AU

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Red Railroad Lantern Replacement Globe Buy Now »

Red Railroad Lantern Replacement Globe

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VINTAGE RED DIETZ RAILROAD LANTERN W/DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD CLEAR GLASS GLOBE Bid Now » Buy Now »

VINTAGE RED DIETZ RAILROAD LANTERN W/DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD CLEAR GLASS GLOBE

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Antique Railroad Ball Flare Torch Bid Now »

Antique Railroad Ball Flare Torch

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2 hrs
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Vintage Warsaw NY Embury No 2 Air Pilot Railroad Kerosene Lantern Red Lense Bid Now »

Vintage Warsaw NY Embury No 2 Air Pilot Railroad Kerosene Lantern Red Lense

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2 hrs
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Dietz Little Wizard Railroad/Barn Lantern Red/Red Glass Buy Now »
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Dietz Little Wizard Railroad/Barn Lantern Red/Red Glass

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CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO PYLE NATIONAL HEADLIGHT COMPLETE ORIGINAL LENS AND REFLECTOR Buy Now »

CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO PYLE NATIONAL HEADLIGHT COMPLETE ORIGINAL LENS AND REFLECTOR

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1920s UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD CABOOSE SWING ARM STOOL, SEAT Bid Now »

1920s UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD CABOOSE SWING ARM STOOL, SEAT

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2 hrs
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OLD ANTIQUE 9.5"h EMBOSSED RAILROAD METAL TRAIN INSPECTION TORCH FLARE LAMP Buy Now »

OLD ANTIQUE 9.5"h EMBOSSED RAILROAD METAL TRAIN INSPECTION TORCH FLARE LAMP

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Vintage Delta Powerlite Railroad Flashing Red Top Lantern “works” Buy Now »

Vintage Delta Powerlite Railroad Flashing Red Top Lantern “works”

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2 hrs
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Working Railroad Battery Lantern / Lamp - Starlite Model 292 Buy Now »

Working Railroad Battery Lantern / Lamp - Starlite Model 292

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2 hrs
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Dietz Little Wizard Railroad/Barn Lantern Red Clear Glass Buy Now »
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Dietz Little Wizard Railroad/Barn Lantern Red Clear Glass

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Vintage Magnified Light Spotlight Wayside Searchlight Train Locomotive Railroad Buy Now »

Vintage Magnified Light Spotlight Wayside Searchlight Train Locomotive Railroad

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vintage PRR Railroad Lantern HANDLAN St. Louis USA - Pennsylvania Railroad Bid Now »

vintage PRR Railroad Lantern HANDLAN St. Louis USA - Pennsylvania Railroad

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DIETZ ACME RAILROAD INSPECTORS LANTERN Bid Now »

DIETZ ACME RAILROAD INSPECTORS LANTERN

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DIETZ ACME RAILROAD INSPECTORS LANTERN Bid Now »

DIETZ ACME RAILROAD INSPECTORS LANTERN

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1800's Antique Railroad Horse Buggy Flashlight - Wick & Glass Intact! Aged RARE Buy Now »

1800's Antique Railroad Horse Buggy Flashlight - Wick & Glass Intact! Aged RARE

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3 hrs
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BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE BRAKEMAN'S SAFETY LANTERN, CLEAN Bid Now »

BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE BRAKEMAN'S SAFETY LANTERN, CLEAN

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3 hrs
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Antique Railroad Lantern Oxweld Carbide Lamp Bid Now »

Antique Railroad Lantern Oxweld Carbide Lamp

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3 hrs
13 mins
DELTA ELECTRIC COMPANY POWERLITE RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »

DELTA ELECTRIC COMPANY POWERLITE RAILROAD LANTERN

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3 hrs
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Vintage SIR HUMPHREY DAVEY T.M. Nora Nelson Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage SIR HUMPHREY DAVEY T.M. Nora Nelson Lantern

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3 hrs
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VINTAGE TRAIN THE HANDILITE CO RAILROAD BATTERY OPERATED LANTERN Buy Now »

VINTAGE TRAIN THE HANDILITE CO RAILROAD BATTERY OPERATED LANTERN

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Antique NYCS New York Central System Railroad Oil Lamp Train Caboose Lantern Buy Now »

Antique NYCS New York Central System Railroad Oil Lamp Train Caboose Lantern

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Illinois Central 100 Year Brass Medallion Buy Now »

Illinois Central 100 Year Brass Medallion

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3 hrs
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DR. C. Williams Color Blindness Sense Test Lantern Tested Good Working Condition Buy Now »

DR. C. Williams Color Blindness Sense Test Lantern Tested Good Working Condition

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Antique Railroad Lantern, Adams & Westlake, globe & lantern only, working latch Bid Now »

Antique Railroad Lantern, Adams & Westlake, globe & lantern only, working latch

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ADAMS & WESTLAKE VINTAGE N. & W.  RY. Lantern, ADLAKE #250 KERO , MACBETH GLOBE Bid Now »

ADAMS & WESTLAKE VINTAGE N. & W. RY. Lantern, ADLAKE #250 KERO , MACBETH GLOBE

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Adams & Westlake Wall Lantern w P&A Wick Railroad Caboose Brass Buy Now »

Adams & Westlake Wall Lantern w P&A Wick Railroad Caboose Brass

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railroad Seaboard 1957, 1961 pocket calendars Bid Now »
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railroad Seaboard 1957, 1961 pocket calendars

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Ruby Red Lantern Globe Syracuse NY LOC NOB Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Ruby Red Lantern Globe Syracuse NY LOC NOB

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Vintage Kenyons Railway Oil Lamp, British made, Red Painted, 1963 Bid Now »

Vintage Kenyons Railway Oil Lamp, British made, Red Painted, 1963

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Railroad Conductor & Switchman's Lantern Light, Empire The Metal Ware Co Wiscons Buy Now »

Railroad Conductor & Switchman's Lantern Light, Empire The Metal Ware Co Wiscons

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Vintage Lighting matched pair Pullman Sconces Buy Now »
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Vintage Lighting matched pair Pullman Sconces

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dietz lantern globe lot of 2 Bid Now »

dietz lantern globe lot of 2

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27 mins
Vintage Automobile Brass Green Glass Carriage Lantern Oil Lamp Bid Now »

Vintage Automobile Brass Green Glass Carriage Lantern Oil Lamp

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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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