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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The Adams & Westlake Co. Adlake Vintage Railroad Swtich Lantern Bid Now »

The Adams & Westlake Co. Adlake Vintage Railroad Swtich Lantern

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Vintage Adlake C&NW Lantern, Fresnel Globe Complete &working Nice Bid Now »

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VINTAGE DIETZ MONARCH BARN TUBULAR LANTERN RED GLOBE RR RAILROAD Buy Now »

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Lot of 7 Lens 4.5 inches Buy Now »

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Antique Star Headlight Co Railroad Lamp Lantern Metal Flashlight battery Bid Now »

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red glass stop light lens ..8 3/8 dia Buy Now »

red glass stop light lens ..8 3/8 dia

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 Battery operated Railroad Lantern  Blue VINTAGE Bid Now »
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The Adlake Non Sweating Red/Blue Railroad Lamp Buy Now »

The Adlake Non Sweating Red/Blue Railroad Lamp

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Original Raco GRS Aluminum Signal Bracket Buy Now »

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Vintage Star Train Lamp Bid Now »

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VINTAGE AT & SF SANTA FE RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »

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ADAMS & WESTLAKE Co RAILROAD LANTERN MARKED "E" INSIDE A DIAMOND- ETCHED GLOBE Buy Now »

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Antique Handlan Consolidated Edison Contractor Kerosene Lantern With Red Globe Buy Now »

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Railroad lens,corning glass,orange Bid Now »

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Star Headlight & Lantern 215 TL Railroad Lantern  100th Anniversary Edition 1989 Bid Now »

Star Headlight & Lantern 215 TL Railroad Lantern 100th Anniversary Edition 1989

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ANTIQUE VINTAGE ESTATE 1920's GERMAN FEUERHAND CANDLE RAILROAD LANTERN. SIX LENS Buy Now »

ANTIQUE VINTAGE ESTATE 1920's GERMAN FEUERHAND CANDLE RAILROAD LANTERN. SIX LENS

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Vintage Star Rail Road Electric Lantern Untested Buy Now »

Vintage Star Rail Road Electric Lantern Untested

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DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD LANTERN-MISSING GLOBE-RUSTY GOLD-NEEDS LOVE-NO RESERVE! Buy Now »

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MOON LIGHT OIL LANTERN-RED PAINT-CLEAR GLASS GLOBE-MADE IN CHINA-NO RESERVE! Buy Now »

MOON LIGHT OIL LANTERN-RED PAINT-CLEAR GLASS GLOBE-MADE IN CHINA-NO RESERVE!

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Vintage Dressel-Arlington,NJ. Red Globe Penna. Railroad Lantern (no contents) Buy Now »
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Vintage Dressel-Arlington,NJ. Red Globe Penna. Railroad Lantern (no contents)

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Vintage Delta Husky Dry Cell Battery  New Old Stock  Buy Now »
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Vintage Delta Husky Dry Cell Battery New Old Stock

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ANTIQUE DRESSEL RAILWAY LANTERN MADE IN ARLINGTON N.J. Buy Now »

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Vintage Lionel Signal Mast Railroad. Made in USA  Bid Now »

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DIETZ 750 751 HIGHWAY FLARE SIGNAL WARNING TORCH SMUDGE POT ROAD CLOSED ORIGINAL Buy Now »

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CONGER LANTERN CO - Vintage NICKEL BRASS & STEEL HAND RAILROAD LANTERN - #1 Buy Now »

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CONGER LANTERN CO - Vintage NICKEL BRASS & STEEL HAND RAILROAD LANTERN - #2 Buy Now »

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adams&westlake carbide coach lights ca 1907 pair Bid Now »

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Antique Vintage Dietz Lantern With Tons Of Patina Fast Free Shipping Buy Now »
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4 7/8 MacBeth 2871-5 Aqua Railroad Lantern Bull's-eye Glass Lens Car Truck Light Buy Now »

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Lanterns That Lit Our World Book Railroad Lights Marine Fire Carriage Farm Buy Now »

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ID Book Lantern Railroad Marine Carriage Farm Fire MORE Buy Now »

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Vintage Adlake Santa Fe embossed glass railroad lantern Adams & Westlake Co. Buy Now »

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Antique VTG Original Delta Electric Company Powerlite Lantern Railroad Mining Buy Now »

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Antique Lantern CT Ham No. 20 Buy Now »

Antique Lantern CT Ham No. 20

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VINTAGE SIGNAL GREEN RAILROAD LANTERN GLOBE (UNUSED) W/CNX TEST LABEL Bid Now »

VINTAGE SIGNAL GREEN RAILROAD LANTERN GLOBE (UNUSED) W/CNX TEST LABEL

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VINTAGE PEAR SHAPED TUBULAR LANTERN GLOBE (H1 or No. 00 Tubular) Bid Now »

VINTAGE PEAR SHAPED TUBULAR LANTERN GLOBE (H1 or No. 00 Tubular)

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Asian Japanese Chinese Paper Lantern Set Bamboo ml-19 S-2504 AU Bid Now »

Asian Japanese Chinese Paper Lantern Set Bamboo ml-19 S-2504 AU

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Antique NYC Railroad Lamp Buy Now »

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ANTIQUE ECOLITE RAILROAD CONDUCTORS WARNING HAND SIGNAL LANTERN LAMP BATTERY OP Buy Now »
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Antique Lantern Buy Now »

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New DIETZ Clear Glass Railroad / Lantern Globe, 4" top,  3 & 7/16 lower openings Buy Now »

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S.A.L.RY. SEABOARD AIR LINE RED GLOBE TRAIN LANTERN Bid Now »

S.A.L.RY. SEABOARD AIR LINE RED GLOBE TRAIN LANTERN

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Vintage ADLAKE Kero Indiana Harbor Belt RR Lantern burner is 300 RED globe Buy Now »

Vintage ADLAKE Kero Indiana Harbor Belt RR Lantern burner is 300 RED globe

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vintage electic train signal light Bid Now » Buy Now »

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Vintage Headlight & Lantern Co. Railroad Lamp Light Lantern Bid Now »

Vintage Headlight & Lantern Co. Railroad Lamp Light Lantern

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railroad signal safetran Bid Now »
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railroad signal safetran

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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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