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 Paull  Lantern ~~ No. 0 Buy Now »

Vintage Paull Lantern ~ ~ No. 0

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NEW YORK CENTRAL Short Globe for Railroad Lanterns Lines Macbeth Evans Co 4 3/8" Buy Now »

NEW YORK CENTRAL Short Globe for Railroad Lanterns Lines Macbeth Evans Co 4 3/8"

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JUSTRITE Electric Railroad Lamp Lantern No. 40 - Vintage 1940s - Untested Buy Now »
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JUSTRITE Electric Railroad Lamp Lantern No. 40 - Vintage 1940s - Untested

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Rare Dietz Erie County Highway Dept. 8 Day Lantern With Red Finned Globe. Mint! Buy Now »

Rare Dietz Erie County Highway Dept. 8 Day Lantern With Red Finned Globe. Mint!

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Antique Pyle National Company RR Railroad Caboose Locomotive Light Vintage Buy Now »

Antique Pyle National Company RR Railroad Caboose Locomotive Light Vintage

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ANTIQUE ADLAKE KERO RAILROAD LANTERN WITH N.Y.N.H & H. GLOBE ELECTRIFIED Buy Now »
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ANTIQUE ADLAKE KERO RAILROAD LANTERN WITH N.Y.N.H & H. GLOBE ELECTRIFIED

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Antique Rail Way Linesman Flash Light Signal the star headlight lantern co 222 Buy Now »

Antique Rail Way Linesman Flash Light Signal the star headlight lantern co 222

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Antique Rail Way Linesman Flash Light Signal the star headlight and lantern co Buy Now »

Antique Rail Way Linesman Flash Light Signal the star headlight and lantern co

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Lot of 4 Glass Globes RED & Clear LOC NOB Buy Now »

Lot of 4 Glass Globes RED & Clear LOC NOB

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VTG EARLY 1915  LANTERN DIETZ MONITOR SIDE TAIL AUTO TRUCK LIGHT ANTIQUE OLD Buy Now »

VTG EARLY 1915 LANTERN DIETZ MONITOR SIDE TAIL AUTO TRUCK LIGHT ANTIQUE OLD

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VINTAGE DIETZ D-LITE NEW YORK USA CLEAR GLOBE ONLY RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »
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VINTAGE DIETZ D-LITE NEW YORK USA CLEAR GLOBE ONLY RAILROAD LANTERN

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Railroad Signal Red Lens  -7.50 IN.BY KOPP GLASS, U.S.A.  B. Buy Now »
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Railroad Signal Red Lens -7.50 IN.BY KOPP GLASS, U.S.A. B.

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Kero adlake Antique Railroad Latern sour.r.y. Bid Now » Buy Now »

Kero adlake Antique Railroad Latern sour.r.y.

Antique railroad lantern kero adkline
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UNMARKED SMALL CLEAR GLASS GLOBE SHADE for RAILROAD SIGNAL LANTERN Buy Now »

UNMARKED SMALL CLEAR GLASS GLOBE SHADE for RAILROAD SIGNAL LANTERN

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 Railroad  Light Signal and bell Buy Now »

Railroad Light Signal and bell

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AT & SFRY Laddle Vintage Railroad Trains Collectible Buy Now »

AT & SFRY Laddle Vintage Railroad Trains Collectible

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Working *VINTAGE* Railroad Handheld Lantern by:Star Headlight & Lantern Lamp Co Buy Now »

Working *VINTAGE* Railroad Handheld Lantern by:Star Headlight & Lantern Lamp Co

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Baldwin Reserve 9BR7020001 Flush Bolt Venetian Bronze Finish Buy Now »
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Baldwin Reserve 9BR7020001 Flush Bolt Venetian Bronze Finish

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Dietz Electric Lantern Light Buy Now »

Dietz Electric Lantern Light

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Vintage Star Head Light and Lantern Co Rochester NY Railroad Lamp Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Star Head Light and Lantern Co Rochester NY Railroad Lamp

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Vintage Ecolite Battery Operated Railroad Lantern, Economy Electric Lantern Co. Buy Now »
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Vintage Ecolite Battery Operated Railroad Lantern, Economy Electric Lantern Co.

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Dietz No. 8 Air Pilot Lantern   Blue   NEW Buy Now »

Dietz No. 8 Air Pilot Lantern Blue NEW

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  • Item Condition: NewNew Dietz No. 8 Air Pilot Lantern   Blue   NEW for sale
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Vintage Antique Delta REDBIRD Electric Lantern With Duel Reflection - For Repair Buy Now »
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Vintage Antique Delta REDBIRD Electric Lantern With Duel Reflection - For Repair

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VINTAGE LAMP SIGNAL TRAFFIC LIGHT LENS RED KOPP GLASS 5 1/2" Buy Now »

VINTAGE LAMP SIGNAL TRAFFIC LIGHT LENS RED KOPP GLASS 5 1/2"

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Vintage (1950) Dietz Monarch Barn Tubular Kerosene Oil Lantern w/Fitzall Glass Buy Now »

Vintage (1950) Dietz Monarch Barn Tubular Kerosene Oil Lantern w/Fitzall Glass

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Antique Oxweld Model A Union Carbide Railroad Lamp Buy Now »

Antique Oxweld Model A Union Carbide Railroad Lamp

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Antique RAILROAD LANTERN B&O CLEAR LENS ADAMS & WESTLAKE 1908 ADLAKE AS-IS RARE Buy Now »
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Antique RAILROAD LANTERN B&O CLEAR LENS ADAMS & WESTLAKE 1908 ADLAKE AS-IS RARE

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Vtg Dietz Little Wizard Red Globe Lantern Barn Style Syracuse NY USA Buy Now »

Vtg Dietz Little Wizard Red Globe Lantern Barn Style Syracuse NY USA

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Vintage Empire Railroad Lantern Lamp Metal Ware Corp Wisconsin 2 Way Adjustable! Buy Now »

Vintage Empire Railroad Lantern Lamp Metal Ware Corp Wisconsin 2 Way Adjustable!

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vintage adlake railroad lantern 4 way light Bid Now » Buy Now »

vintage adlake railroad lantern 4 way light

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Vintage Original Boston Elevated Railway Railroad Lantern Embury Supreme 210 Buy Now »

Vintage Original Boston Elevated Railway Railroad Lantern Embury Supreme 210

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Vintage Dietz railroad lantern With Original Red Globe Embossed Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz railroad lantern With Original Red Globe Embossed

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 Antique Gas Lamp Lantern Quick Lite Coleman - Wichita Kansas Buy Now »

Antique Gas Lamp Lantern Quick Lite Coleman - Wichita Kansas

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Vintage Dietz Lantern No. 2 D-Lite USA Made NY Oil Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Lantern No. 2 D-Lite USA Made NY Oil Lantern

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2 (Amber & Deep Cobalt Blue) VINTAGE CURVED THEATER GLASS LENS Buy Now »

2 (Amber & Deep Cobalt Blue) VINTAGE CURVED THEATER GLASS LENS

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Railroad Adlake #2545-WS Adams & Westlake Non Sweating Balanced Draft Lamp Buy Now »

Railroad Adlake #2545-WS Adams & Westlake Non Sweating Balanced Draft Lamp

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Red Winged Wheel #400 Lantern Made in Japan Buy Now »

Red Winged Wheel #400 Lantern Made in Japan

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12 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
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Vintage-Antique Canadain National Railroad Oil Lamp Buy Now »

Vintage-Antique Canadain National Railroad Oil Lamp

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12 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
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3 Star Headlight & Lantern Co light flashlight railroad police mining early tool Buy Now »

3 Star Headlight & Lantern Co light flashlight railroad police mining early tool

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Vintage Ecolite Electric Lantern Co. Battery Operated Railroad Lantern Lamp Buy Now »

Vintage Ecolite Electric Lantern Co. Battery Operated Railroad Lantern Lamp

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12 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Bath, NY, USA ZIP 148**
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VINTAGE LAMP LANTERN TRAFFIC SIGNAL BLUE GLASS LENS 5 1/2" Buy Now »

VINTAGE LAMP LANTERN TRAFFIC SIGNAL BLUE GLASS LENS 5 1/2"

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13 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Saugerties, NY, USA ZIP 124**
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ANTIQUE CNR RAILWAY OIL / KEROSENE CAN Buy Now »

ANTIQUE CNR RAILWAY OIL / KEROSENE CAN

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VINTAGE CORNING  RAIL ROAD TRAFFIC SIGNAL RED LENS 5 3/8" Buy Now »

VINTAGE CORNING RAIL ROAD TRAFFIC SIGNAL RED LENS 5 3/8"

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  • Item Location: Saugerties, NY, USA ZIP 124**
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Vintage PAULL’S LEADER #2 cold BLAST LANTERN Kerosene Antique Barn Decor Buy Now »

Vintage PAULL’S LEADER #2 cold BLAST LANTERN Kerosene Antique Barn Decor

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13 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Miami, FL, USA ZIP 331**
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Rare Dietz No.39 Steel Clad Railroad Lantern With Original Embossed Vulcan Globe Buy Now »

Rare Dietz No.39 Steel Clad Railroad Lantern With Original Embossed Vulcan Globe

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13 hrs
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Antique finger lamp Ideal No. 1 tin kerosene darkroom lamp +red amber lens Buy Now »
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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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