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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1 Rare Old Antique Railroad Crossing Lantern RR Gate Light Dome Single Yellow A1 Buy Now »

1 Rare Old Antique Railroad Crossing Lantern RR Gate Light Dome Single Yellow A1

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Circuitron 7411 Medium-Output Lamp pkg(12) Buy Now »

Circuitron 7411 Medium-Output Lamp pkg(12)

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Circuitron Miniature Switches SPDT On-On Buy Now »

Circuitron Miniature Switches SPDT On-On

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Circuitron ER-2 External Relay Buy Now »

Circuitron ER-2 External Relay

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Circuitron AS-1 Automatic Slowdown Buy Now »

Circuitron AS-1 Automatic Slowdown

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Circuitron CF-1 Caboose Flasher Red Buy Now »

Circuitron CF-1 Caboose Flasher Red

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Circuitron Miniature Switches DPDT On-On pkg(6) Buy Now »

Circuitron Miniature Switches DPDT On-On pkg(6)

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Circuitron Opto-Sensor pkg(6) Buy Now »

Circuitron Opto-Sensor pkg(6)

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Circuitron Miniature Switches DPDT On-Off-On Buy Now »

Circuitron Miniature Switches DPDT On-Off-On

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Circuitron TC-3 Automatic Tortoise Control Buy Now »

Circuitron TC-3 Automatic Tortoise Control

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Circuitron ML-2 Mars Light Buy Now »

Circuitron ML-2 Mars Light

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Circuitron PS-2 Converter Buy Now »

Circuitron PS-2 Converter

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Circuitron TC-4 Tortoise Direction Alternator Buy Now »

Circuitron TC-4 Tortoise Direction Alternator

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Circuitron Arc Welder Circuit AW-1 Buy Now »

Circuitron Arc Welder Circuit AW-1

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Circuitron Arc Welder Circuit AW-2 Buy Now »

Circuitron Arc Welder Circuit AW-2

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Circuitron TD-1 Time Delay Circuit Buy Now »

Circuitron TD-1 Time Delay Circuit

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Circuitron TC-1 Automatic Turnout Control Buy Now »

Circuitron TC-1 Automatic Turnout Control

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Circuitron PS-2A Converter & Regulator Buy Now »

Circuitron PS-2A Converter & Regulator

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Circuitron AR-1CC Reverse Loop Controller Buy Now »

Circuitron AR-1CC Reverse Loop Controller

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TCS Type 0603 Surface-Mount LED Mounted On Circuit Board 10-Pack Golden White Buy Now »

TCS Type 0603 Surface-Mount LED Mounted On Circuit Board 10-Pack Golden White

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Bolton Furniture Country Cottage Coat Hook with Storage Cubbies, Blue Antique Fi Buy Now »
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Bolton Furniture Country Cottage Coat Hook with Storage Cubbies, Blue Antique Fi

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ANTIQUE VINTAGE HIRAM PIPER RAILROAD LANTERN CPR WITH ORIGINAL GLOBE ADKAKE 400 Buy Now »

ANTIQUE VINTAGE HIRAM PIPER RAILROAD LANTERN CPR WITH ORIGINAL GLOBE ADKAKE 400

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Antique Dietz ACME Inspector Lamp Railroad Lantern New York USA Fitzall Globe Buy Now »

Antique Dietz ACME Inspector Lamp Railroad Lantern New York USA Fitzall Globe

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Vintage WRR and CO Railroad 4 Way Switch Light Lamp 1880-1 Buy Now »

Vintage WRR and CO Railroad 4 Way Switch Light Lamp 1880-1

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ANTIQUE HEAVY BRASS BRACKET RAILWAY ? CAR GLASS OIL LAMP Buy Now »

ANTIQUE HEAVY BRASS BRACKET RAILWAY ? CAR GLASS OIL LAMP

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4 hrs
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Globe 951-7 Buy Now »
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Globe 951-7

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DRESSEL LOCOMOTIVE, TRAIN, NO. J, VINTAGE RAILROAD SIGNAL, ARLINGTON, LAMP Buy Now »
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DRESSEL LOCOMOTIVE, TRAIN, NO. J, VINTAGE RAILROAD SIGNAL, ARLINGTON, LAMP

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Vintage Kopp Blue Glass Lens 5" 5L 3 1/2 F Buy Now »
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Vintage Kopp Blue Glass Lens 5" 5L 3 1/2 F

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Pair of antique carriage / Auto lantern Gas lamps for restoration or parts. Buy Now »

Pair of antique carriage / Auto lantern Gas lamps for restoration or parts.

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  • Item Location: Waterford, MI, USA ZIP 483**
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SOLID BRASS CPR CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILROAD RAILWAY HIRAM PIPER MONTREAL LAMP Buy Now »

SOLID BRASS CPR CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILROAD RAILWAY HIRAM PIPER MONTREAL LAMP

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Very Old 11 1/2 Inch Tall Brass Battery Operated Lantern/Light Buy Now »

Very Old 11 1/2 Inch Tall Brass Battery Operated Lantern/Light

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Dietz Warsaw N.Y. U.S.A. No. 210 Lantern Antique Vintage Oil Kerosene Old Lamp Buy Now »

Dietz Warsaw N.Y. U.S.A. No. 210 Lantern Antique Vintage Oil Kerosene Old Lamp

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Vintage, Dietz No. 40, Traffic Guard,  Lantern,  Great Patina Buy Now »

Vintage, Dietz No. 40, Traffic Guard, Lantern, Great Patina

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Vintage Kenlite Made In England BS3143 Red  Light Lantern Converted Buy Now »

Vintage Kenlite Made In England BS3143 Red Light Lantern Converted

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Preco GF20 Kerosene Heater Vintage Maine Potato Shippers Railroad #4126 Buy Now »

Preco GF20 Kerosene Heater Vintage Maine Potato Shippers Railroad #4126

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Antique Train Semaphore Lantern Piper Montreal Decorative Purpose 14.25in L843 Buy Now »

Antique Train Semaphore Lantern Piper Montreal Decorative Purpose 14.25in L843

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Dietz Victor Square Tube Lantern Buy Now »

Dietz Victor Square Tube Lantern

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8 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Salem, NJ, USA ZIP 080**
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Rare Handlan LIRR Railroad Lantern Red Glass St. Louis  Buy Now »
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Rare Handlan LIRR Railroad Lantern Red Glass St. Louis 

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Dietz Original 76 Oil Lamp Burning Lantern Black with Gold Trim Buy Now »
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Dietz Original 76 Oil Lamp Burning Lantern Black with Gold Trim

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Vintage Star Headlight Railway Light Flashlight Utility Blue Untested Buy Now »

Vintage Star Headlight Railway Light Flashlight Utility Blue Untested

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8 hrs
29 mins
  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Cincinnati, OH, USA ZIP 452**
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Vintage Green Ecolite Economy Electric Lantern 82R Battery Railroad Lamp Camping Buy Now »

Vintage Green Ecolite Economy Electric Lantern 82R Battery Railroad Lamp Camping

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8 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Sweet Grass, MT, USA ZIP 594**
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Vintage Commonwealth Edison RR Lantern Oil Lamp Kerosene Lamp Buy Now »

Vintage Commonwealth Edison RR Lantern Oil Lamp Kerosene Lamp

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8 hrs
36 mins
  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Chicago, IL, USA ZIP 606**
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  • Seller: goodolddaysinc   Feedback: 4,905 / 100%
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VERY NICE ELECTRIC DIETZ NO 2 D-LITE ELECTRIC LANTERN, WORKS FINE Bid Now » Buy Now »

VERY NICE ELECTRIC DIETZ NO 2 D-LITE ELECTRIC LANTERN, WORKS FINE

Bid: $10.00
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8 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Wykoff, MN, USA ZIP 559**
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  • Handling Time: 3 business days
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  • Seller: dreamer93   Feedback: 12,267 / 99.5%  Top-Rated Seller Top-Rated Seller
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Old DIETZ Little Wizard Lantern Imperfect Restoration Project Parts See Pics Buy Now »

Old DIETZ Little Wizard Lantern Imperfect Restoration Project Parts See Pics

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8 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Newfield, NJ, USA ZIP 083**
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  • Seller: onwillowgroveroad   Feedback: 126 / 100%
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Dietz Original 76 Oil Lamp Burning Lantern Black with Gold Trim Buy Now »
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Dietz Original 76 Oil Lamp Burning Lantern Black with Gold Trim

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Dietz Original 76 Oil Lamp Burning Lantern Black with Gold Trim Buy Now »
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Dietz Original 76 Oil Lamp Burning Lantern Black with Gold Trim

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Antique Brass Carriage Lantern W Front/Rear/Side Lenses And Mounting Bracket Buy Now »

Antique Brass Carriage Lantern W Front/Rear/Side Lenses And Mounting Bracket

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Sturbridge, MA, USA ZIP 015**
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Antique road lantern. Buy Now »

Antique road lantern.

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  • Item Location: Deansboro, NY, USA ZIP 133**
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DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD LANTERN BLUE WITH RED GOBE CLEAN READY TO LITE UP Buy Now »

DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD LANTERN BLUE WITH RED GOBE CLEAN READY TO LITE UP

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  • Item Location: Milford, CT, USA ZIP 064**
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Vintage Red Dietz Comet Kerosene Lantern H-8.5" Tall Made In USA Buy Now »

Vintage Red Dietz Comet Kerosene Lantern H-8.5" Tall Made In USA

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  • Item Location: Red Lion, PA, USA ZIP 173**
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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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