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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Antique Adlake Kero Kerosene Lamp Clear Globe Patented 1923  Buy Now »
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Antique Adlake Kero Kerosene Lamp Clear Globe Patented 1923

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Antique Kerosene Dietz Bell System Lantern Red Globe Little Wizard Patented 1913 Buy Now »
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Antique Kerosene Dietz Bell System Lantern Red Globe Little Wizard Patented 1913

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Vintage No 10 Ruby Red Railroad Signal Lantern Lamp Glass Shade Buy Now »

Vintage No 10 Ruby Red Railroad Signal Lantern Lamp Glass Shade

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Vintage Railroad Kerosene / Oil Signal / Flare - Opens - Rusted Buy Now »

Vintage Railroad Kerosene / Oil Signal / Flare - Opens - Rusted

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Ash Flash Railroad Light 6 Volt from the UK 898872 used Buy Now »

Ash Flash Railroad Light 6 Volt from the UK 898872 used

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Lot of 2 Big Beam Lantern Replacement M300 Cup Metal Base 21-9487 SKU A Buy Now »
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Lot of 2 Big Beam Lantern Replacement M300 Cup Metal Base 21-9487 SKU A

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Lot of 2 Big Beam Lantern Replacement M300 Cup Metal Base 21-9487 SKU B Buy Now »
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Lot of 2 Big Beam Lantern Replacement M300 Cup Metal Base 21-9487 SKU B

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Atq Railroad RR 14"H Kerosene Fuel Oil Lamp Filler Can-rare "MP LInes"-Free Ship Buy Now »
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Atq Railroad RR 14"H Kerosene Fuel Oil Lamp Filler Can-rare "MP LInes"-Free Ship

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1923 Rail Road Lantern Adams and Westlake (USA/Canada) Buy Now »
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1923 Rail Road Lantern Adams and Westlake (USA/Canada)

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SUPER RARE ANTIQUE J. B. COLT BRASS ACETYLENE GAS LAMP w WIRE GLOBE ENCLOSURE Buy Now »

SUPER RARE ANTIQUE J. B. COLT BRASS ACETYLENE GAS LAMP w WIRE GLOBE ENCLOSURE

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3 1/4” Antique Vintage Houze Red Railroad Switch Lantern Lens Light Glass #308 Buy Now »

3 1/4” Antique Vintage Houze Red Railroad Switch Lantern Lens Light Glass #308

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Vintage Antique BLUE Glass Railroad Lamp Lantern Lens 3 Railway Train Light Buy Now »

Vintage Antique BLUE Glass Railroad Lamp Lantern Lens 3 Railway Train Light

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CAST IRON RAILROAD TRACK SIGNAL LIGHT and SIMULATOR TRACK and PREDICTOR SIM Buy Now »

CAST IRON RAILROAD TRACK SIGNAL LIGHT and SIMULATOR TRACK and PREDICTOR SIM

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Antique Vintage Adams & Westlake Co. Adlake Kero 1-40 Globe Railroad Lantern Bid Now » Buy Now »

Antique Vintage Adams & Westlake Co. Adlake Kero 1-40 Globe Railroad Lantern

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Tall C&NW Ry Adlake Reliable Railroad Lantern w/ cast Red Globe Buy Now »

Tall C&NW Ry Adlake Reliable Railroad Lantern w/ cast Red Globe

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120V Vintage 1940's Railroad Mining DELTA LAMP LANTERN LIGHT DECORATIVE HANGING Buy Now »

120V Vintage 1940's Railroad Mining DELTA LAMP LANTERN LIGHT DECORATIVE HANGING

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Vintage cobalt blue glass spotlight - National Xray Reflector Co. Steampunk! Buy Now »

Vintage cobalt blue glass spotlight - National Xray Reflector Co. Steampunk!

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 DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN ARLINGTON N.J. ORIGINAL WITH RED GLOBE~INVENTORY #1421 Buy Now »

DRESSEL RAILROAD LANTERN ARLINGTON N.J. ORIGINAL WITH RED GLOBE ~ INVENTORY #1421

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Ash Flash Railroad Lantern Flashlight Vintage Light Red Lamp Collectible Used Buy Now »
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Ash Flash Railroad Lantern Flashlight Vintage Light Red Lamp Collectible Used

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ANTIQUE VINTAGE DELTA POWERLITE LANTERN RAILROAD DOUBLE LAMP 6-VOLT MARION IND Buy Now »

ANTIQUE VINTAGE DELTA POWERLITE LANTERN RAILROAD DOUBLE LAMP 6-VOLT MARION IND

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Replacement BLUE Glass 4 3/4 Inch RR, Nauticle, Aviation, Lanturn, Buy Now »

Replacement BLUE Glass 4 3/4 Inch RR, Nauticle, Aviation, Lanturn,

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VINTAGE DELTA LANTERN BATTERY OPERATED WITH HANDLE. DELTA ELECTRIC CO.  Buy Now »

VINTAGE DELTA LANTERN BATTERY OPERATED WITH HANDLE. DELTA ELECTRIC CO.

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VINTAGE DELTA LANTERN BATTERY OPERATED WITH HANDLE. DELTA ELECTRIC CO.  Buy Now »

VINTAGE DELTA LANTERN BATTERY OPERATED WITH HANDLE. DELTA ELECTRIC CO.

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Adlake Antique Early 1900s Non Sweating 4 way Railroad Lamp Switch Red Blue Used Buy Now »
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Adlake Antique Early 1900s Non Sweating 4 way Railroad Lamp Switch Red Blue Used

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Huge 14" RED GLASS LENS Pyrex #HL9151 CROUSE HINDS Frame Train Lens Railroad Buy Now »

Huge 14" RED GLASS LENS Pyrex #HL9151 CROUSE HINDS Frame Train Lens Railroad

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Antique Dressel Arlington,N.J. Railroad Signal Lantern Buy Now »

Antique Dressel Arlington,N.J. Railroad Signal Lantern

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Vintage Clear Glass Lantern Oil Kerosene Lamp Globe 5” Replacement Embossed H33 Buy Now »

Vintage Clear Glass Lantern Oil Kerosene Lamp Globe 5” Replacement Embossed H33

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  • Item Condition: NewNew Vintage Clear Glass Lantern Oil Kerosene Lamp Globe 5” Replacement Embossed H33 for sale
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Clear Dietz Fitzall LOC NOB Blizzard Glass Lantern Globe Tear Drop Bulge 3-10-14 Buy Now »

Clear Dietz Fitzall LOC NOB Blizzard Glass Lantern Globe Tear Drop Bulge 3-10-14

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  • Item Condition: NewNew Clear Dietz Fitzall LOC NOB Blizzard Glass Lantern Globe Tear Drop Bulge 3-10-14 for sale
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Vintage Justrite No. 40 Railroad  Light Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Justrite No. 40 Railroad Light

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Antique Railroad Lantern Globe DIETZ FITZALL NY USA I4H  LOC-NOB REG'D IN USA Buy Now »

Antique Railroad Lantern Globe DIETZ FITZALL NY USA I4H LOC-NOB REG'D IN USA

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Keystone Lantern Vtg The Casey Lantern - No Globe/Burner Buy Now »

Keystone Lantern Vtg The Casey Lantern - No Globe/Burner

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Vintage DELTA POWERLITE Flashing LANTERN Yellow Top Lamp Front Lamp 1950's Buy Now »

Vintage DELTA POWERLITE Flashing LANTERN Yellow Top Lamp Front Lamp 1950's

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11 hrs
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MICHIGAN CENTRAL RAILROAD Lantern A&W COMPANY THE "ADAMS" M.C.R.R. 1897 Bid Now » Buy Now »

MICHIGAN CENTRAL RAILROAD Lantern A&W COMPANY THE "ADAMS" M.C.R.R. 1897

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  • Item Condition: Used
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Pencil sharpener antique lantern die cast metal 3" tall Buy Now »

Pencil sharpener antique lantern die cast metal 3" tall

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11 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Hallstead, PA, USA ZIP 188**
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 Railroad Signal Light wing bolts, N&W & PRR railroad use Buy Now »

Railroad Signal Light wing bolts, N&W & PRR railroad use

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11 hrs
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  • Item Condition:
  • Item Location: Midlothian, VA, USA ZIP 231**
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New York Central Railroad Switch Lantern Lamp With NYC RR Complete Burner Buy Now »

New York Central Railroad Switch Lantern Lamp With NYC RR Complete Burner

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12 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Louisville, KY, USA ZIP 402**
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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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12 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Dannebrog, NE, USA ZIP 688**
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Dressel PRR RR Railroad Train Lantern Red Glass Globe Lamp Kerosene Light Buy Now »

Dressel PRR RR Railroad Train Lantern Red Glass Globe Lamp Kerosene Light

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Enola, PA, USA ZIP 170**
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Dietz Vesta New York Central Clear Globe RR Lamp Train Lantern CNX Light Buy Now »

Dietz Vesta New York Central Clear Globe RR Lamp Train Lantern CNX Light

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Enola, PA, USA ZIP 170**
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Vintage CNR Canadian National Railway Cabin Lantern Font Buy Now »

Vintage CNR Canadian National Railway Cabin Lantern Font

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12 hrs
41 mins
  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Canada ZIP B2N4N7
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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Lantern With Clear Glass Globe Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Blue Lantern With Clear Glass Globe

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12 hrs
43 mins
  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Santa Fe, NM, USA ZIP 875**
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Sante Fe Railroad Handlan Kerosene Railroad Lantern AT & SFRY  Etched Red Globe Buy Now »
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Sante Fe Railroad Handlan Kerosene Railroad Lantern AT & SFRY Etched Red Globe

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12 hrs
47 mins
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Starlite #222 Star Headlight & Lantern Company Switchman Lantern Train Orange Buy Now »

Starlite #222 Star Headlight & Lantern Company Switchman Lantern Train Orange

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ANTIQUE PAIR OF AMERICAN BRASS RAILROAD RR LAMP WALL SCONCES from 1880s Buy Now »

ANTIQUE PAIR OF AMERICAN BRASS RAILROAD RR LAMP WALL SCONCES from 1880s

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Vtg Ecolite Battery Operated Railroad Lantern with Wooden Handle Buy Now »

Vtg Ecolite Battery Operated Railroad Lantern with Wooden Handle

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DIETZ JUNIOR BARN LANTERN Bid Now » Buy Now »

DIETZ JUNIOR BARN LANTERN

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Pennsylvania Railroad Handlan Lantern w/red globe (item#40) Bid Now » Buy Now »

Pennsylvania Railroad Handlan Lantern w/red globe (item#40)

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WR RS Type 1870 train light Buy Now »

WR RS Type 1870 train light

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Handian  AT & SF Badger train lantern Buy Now »

Handian AT & SF Badger train lantern

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2 Vintage Clear Replacement Glass Lantern Shade Oil Kerosene Barn Railroad Buy Now »

2 Vintage Clear Replacement Glass Lantern Shade Oil Kerosene Barn Railroad

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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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