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 ANTIQUE RAILROAD LANTERN AS IS PARTS REPAIR ESTATE FIND Buy Now »

VINTAGE ANTIQUE RAILROAD LANTERN AS IS PARTS REPAIR ESTATE FIND

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VINTAGE ANTIQUE RAILROAD LANTERN / SIGNAL AS IS PARTS REPAIR ESTATE FIND Buy Now »

VINTAGE ANTIQUE RAILROAD LANTERN / SIGNAL AS IS PARTS REPAIR ESTATE FIND

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MODERN RUSTIC-LOOKING MASON JAR ELECTRIC LANTERN, SWITCH OPERATION WOOD 16" TALL Bid Now » Buy Now »

MODERN RUSTIC-LOOKING MASON JAR ELECTRIC LANTERN, SWITCH OPERATION WOOD 16" TALL

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HEAVY STEEL ANTIQUE HANDLAN ST. LOUIS RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »

HEAVY STEEL ANTIQUE HANDLAN ST. LOUIS RAILROAD LANTERN

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Vintage Star Headlight Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Star Headlight Lantern

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HONEYCUTT Battery Corp - 3 Bulb Electric Rail Road/Miners Lamp SIGNAL Flashlight Buy Now »

HONEYCUTT Battery Corp - 3 Bulb Electric Rail Road/Miners Lamp SIGNAL Flashlight

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Infinity HY18407A Wood Gray LED Willow Flameless Lantern 34 in. Buy Now »
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Infinity HY18407A Wood Gray LED Willow Flameless Lantern 34 in.

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Vintage Lantern Lamp Buy Now »
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Vintage Lantern Lamp

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VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN BARN LANTERN FAT GLASS GLOBE NO PROBLEMS MK'D WEG Co Buy Now »

VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN BARN LANTERN FAT GLASS GLOBE NO PROBLEMS MK'D WEG Co

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Pendent lanterns, white and silver with bronze hardware, leylas lanterns brand Buy Now »

Pendent lanterns, white and silver with bronze hardware, leylas lanterns brand

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Raco Adjustable Slide Resistance Unit # 603-2 used by Railroad in times past NOS Buy Now »
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Raco Adjustable Slide Resistance Unit # 603-2 used by Railroad in times past NOS

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VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN BARN LANTERN FAT GLASS GLOBE UNMARKED NO PROBLEMS Buy Now »

VINTAGE RAILROAD LANTERN BARN LANTERN FAT GLASS GLOBE UNMARKED NO PROBLEMS

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vintage Smudge Pot Lantern Kerosene Doray Lamp  Chicago Emergency Road Flare Buy Now »

vintage Smudge Pot Lantern Kerosene Doray Lamp Chicago Emergency Road Flare

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vintage dressel adlake kero Buy Now »

vintage dressel adlake kero

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Official TRAINMAN LANTERN Mdl.#992-321 by A.G. Inc. Greenbank WA, - Man Cave Buy Now »

Official TRAINMAN LANTERN Mdl.#992-321 by A.G. Inc. Greenbank WA, - Man Cave

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Antique RR Adlake Lantern 4-Way Railroad Switch Signal. Beautiful. Works Bid Now »

Antique RR Adlake Lantern 4-Way Railroad Switch Signal. Beautiful. Works

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Used 10-3/8" Tall Sconce Glass for Adams & Westlake Railroad Candle Sconce Buy Now »

Used 10-3/8" Tall Sconce Glass for Adams & Westlake Railroad Candle Sconce

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Used Antique Great Western Railway GWR Brass Candle Sconce Buy Now »

Used Antique Great Western Railway GWR Brass Candle Sconce

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Used Adams & Westlake Railroad Car Brass Wall Mounted Candle Sconce Buy Now »

Used Adams & Westlake Railroad Car Brass Wall Mounted Candle Sconce

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Used Vintage Railway Brass Candle Sconce Buy Now »

Used Vintage Railway Brass Candle Sconce

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Vintage New York Dietz Monarch Kerosene Lantern Fitzall Globe  Globe Buy Now »

Vintage New York Dietz Monarch Kerosene Lantern Fitzall Globe Globe

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Vintage Conrail RailRoad Lantern YELLOW Starlite 292 Buy Now »
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Vintage Conrail RailRoad Lantern YELLOW Starlite 292

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Conrail Lantern Flashlight Vintage Starlite 222 Handle Swivel Buy Now »
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Conrail Lantern Flashlight Vintage Starlite 222 Handle Swivel

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Antique C.T. Ham Bell Bottom Railroad Lantern 39 Railroad Pat. 1893 Buy Now »

Antique C.T. Ham Bell Bottom Railroad Lantern 39 Railroad Pat. 1893

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  • Item Location: Twin Lake, MI, USA ZIP 494**
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Julian McDermott Blue RR Marker Light 6 Volt New railroad crossing light safety Buy Now »
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Julian McDermott Blue RR Marker Light 6 Volt New railroad crossing light safety

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  • Item Condition: NewNew Julian McDermott Blue RR Marker Light 6 Volt New railroad crossing light safety  for sale
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Amtrak Vintage STAR HEADLIGHT & LANTERN CO. Railroad RR Lamp Lantern Untested Buy Now »

Amtrak Vintage STAR HEADLIGHT & LANTERN CO. Railroad RR Lamp Lantern Untested

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Vintage Dietz Vesta New York Central Railroad Short Lantern W/ Embossed Globe Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Vesta New York Central Railroad Short Lantern W/ Embossed Globe

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New DIETZ Restoration Hardware Distressed Oil/Kerosene Lantern Tin Silver Rusted Buy Now »

New DIETZ Restoration Hardware Distressed Oil/Kerosene Lantern Tin Silver Rusted

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  • Item Condition: NewNew New DIETZ Restoration Hardware Distressed Oil/Kerosene Lantern Tin Silver Rusted for sale
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Baldwin Reserve 9BR7024004 3.5" x 3.5" 5/8" Radius Hinge Lifetime Brass Finish Buy Now »
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Baldwin Reserve 9BR7024004 3.5" x 3.5" 5/8" Radius Hinge Lifetime Brass Finish

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Star Headlight /Lantern Power Pack/RP906 - STAR RP996 Buy Now »
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Star Headlight /Lantern Power Pack/RP906 - STAR RP996

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Heavy Vintage Corning 5 9/32" Red Glass Reflector - As-Is Buy Now »

Heavy Vintage Corning 5 9/32" Red Glass Reflector - As-Is

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Antique Large Dietz Monarch Model Railroad Lantern Marked NYC Lines Buy Now »

Antique Large Dietz Monarch Model Railroad Lantern Marked NYC Lines

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Vintage  Oil Lantern  AntiGlobe Brand Red Decorative Cabin Garage Country Buy Now »

Vintage Oil Lantern AntiGlobe Brand Red Decorative Cabin Garage Country

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Vintage ADLAKE KERO 1-59 Rock Island Railroad Lantern Red Globe Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage ADLAKE KERO 1-59 Rock Island Railroad Lantern Red Globe

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GYRALITE Housing for Locomotive * Oscillating Gyralight Housing * Vintage * Buy Now »

GYRALITE Housing for Locomotive * Oscillating Gyralight Housing * Vintage *

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Antique RR Adlake 4 Lens Railroad Train Electrified Switch Lantern Buy Now »

Antique RR Adlake 4 Lens Railroad Train Electrified Switch Lantern

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Pelham, NH, USA ZIP 030**
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Antique DIETZ ACME INSPECTOR LAMP Railroad Lantern. Buy Now »

Antique DIETZ ACME INSPECTOR LAMP Railroad Lantern.

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Aledo, TX, USA ZIP 760**
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Vintage Adlake Non-Sweating Lamp Chicago - RR Railroad Lantern Electrified Lamp Buy Now »
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Vintage Adlake Non-Sweating Lamp Chicago - RR Railroad Lantern Electrified Lamp

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Anderson, CA, USA ZIP 960**
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Vintage JUSTRITE 1941 Railroad Trainmen Electric Lantern Double Bulb Clear Lens Buy Now »

Vintage JUSTRITE 1941 Railroad Trainmen Electric Lantern Double Bulb Clear Lens

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Pana, IL, USA ZIP 625**
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Osnabrücker Metallwerke J. Kampschulte German Railroad Lantern Vintage Buy Now »

Osnabrücker Metallwerke J. Kampschulte German Railroad Lantern Vintage

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Bellport, NY, USA ZIP 117**
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Vintage Yellow Conrail Starlite 222/ Norfolk Southern 292 Railroad Lights Buy Now »
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Vintage Yellow Conrail Starlite 222/ Norfolk Southern 292 Railroad Lights

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: State College, PA, USA ZIP 168**
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  • Seller: pa_finds   Feedback: 1,387 / 99.5%  Top-Rated Seller Top-Rated Seller
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Railroad Tourch Lamp Lvrr Buy Now »

Railroad Tourch Lamp Lvrr

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7 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Bellport, NY, USA ZIP 117**
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Vintage railroad four way signals working condition Buy Now »
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Vintage railroad four way signals working condition

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Vintage - Gulf Coast Blue - Ever Bright Lantern #208 - Made in China - Unused Buy Now »
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Vintage - Gulf Coast Blue - Ever Bright Lantern #208 - Made in China - Unused

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Little Dietz Oil Lantern Red Glass St Petersburg Public Works - Glass Cracked Buy Now »

Little Dietz Oil Lantern Red Glass St Petersburg Public Works - Glass Cracked

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  • Item Location: Saint Petersburg, FL, USA ZIP 337**
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Antique & Vintage Lot Railroad Traffic Circular Square Clear Glass Lenses Shades Buy Now »

Antique & Vintage Lot Railroad Traffic Circular Square Clear Glass Lenses Shades

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rare 1800's antique copper brass bronze red glass railroad oil lantern lamp Buy Now »

rare 1800's antique copper brass bronze red glass railroad oil lantern lamp

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  • Item Location: Scotch Plains, NJ, USA ZIP 070**
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Red Antique Corning 5 9/32" Railroad Reflector Red LENS ONLY Buy Now »

Red Antique Corning 5 9/32" Railroad Reflector Red LENS ONLY

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  • Item Location: Lexington, NE, USA ZIP 688**
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Embury Lantern No 40 Traffic Gard Made in Warsaw New York Buy Now »

Embury Lantern No 40 Traffic Gard Made in Warsaw New York

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  • Item Location: Wisconsin Rapids, WI, USA ZIP 544**
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Dietz No. 40 Lantern Made for City of Milwaukee Buy Now »

Dietz No. 40 Lantern Made for City of Milwaukee

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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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