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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Dietz Vesta P&LE RR Pittsburgh Lake Erie NY Central Lines Train Lantern CNX Buy Now »

Dietz Vesta P&LE RR Pittsburgh Lake Erie NY Central Lines Train Lantern CNX

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Dietz Vesta NYNH&H New York Haven Hartford Central Lines NY Train Lantern CNX NH Buy Now »

Dietz Vesta NYNH&H New York Haven Hartford Central Lines NY Train Lantern CNX NH

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Adlake Kero B&O RR Railroad Train Lantern Oil Lamp Kerosene Light Baltimore Ohio Buy Now »

Adlake Kero B&O RR Railroad Train Lantern Oil Lamp Kerosene Light Baltimore Ohio

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Washington Terminal Co Traction Dressel Railroad Train Lantern Red Globe Lamp Buy Now »

Washington Terminal Co Traction Dressel Railroad Train Lantern Red Globe Lamp

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Adlake Penn Central Red Globe RR Railroad Train Lantern Oil Lamp Kero Light C Buy Now »

Adlake Penn Central Red Globe RR Railroad Train Lantern Oil Lamp Kero Light C

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Vintage Keystone "The Casey" PRR Railroad Train Lantern Kerosene Lamp Light RR Buy Now »

Vintage Keystone "The Casey" PRR Railroad Train Lantern Kerosene Lamp Light RR

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Adlake KERO PRR Pennsylvania Railroad Lantern Train Lamp Ruby Red Globe PA RR C Buy Now »

Adlake KERO PRR Pennsylvania Railroad Lantern Train Lamp Ruby Red Globe PA RR C

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Vintage Dietz little wizard 12" blue lantern clear globe Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz little wizard 12" blue lantern clear globe

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Antique Rare  Safety Red Glass Dietz Globe Lantern 13.5" Tall Tubular Buy Now »

Antique Rare Safety Red Glass Dietz Globe Lantern 13.5" Tall Tubular

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csx transportation collectible Golf Towels Bid Now » Buy Now »

csx transportation collectible Golf Towels

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RARE ANTIQUE “THE LLOYD NO.2” RED GLASS LANTERN W/GLASS Buy Now »
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RARE ANTIQUE “THE LLOYD NO.2” RED GLASS LANTERN W/GLASS

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Adlake USA Embossed Globe RR Railroad Train Lantern Oil Lamp Kerosene Light Buy Now »

Adlake USA Embossed Globe RR Railroad Train Lantern Oil Lamp Kerosene Light

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Vintage Red Glass Globe-*Star Headlight & Lantern* No. 2047* RR Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Red Glass Globe-*Star Headlight & Lantern* No. 2047* RR Lantern

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Vintage Red Glass Globe-*DIETZ* Loc Nob 4" diameter-RR Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Red Glass Globe-*DIETZ* Loc Nob 4" diameter-RR Lantern

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chicago lantern # 3 with clear lens works "no leaks" Bid Now » Buy Now »

chicago lantern # 3 with clear lens works "no leaks"

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ANTIQUE C.T. HAM LANTERN N0 2 COLD BLAST WITH CLEAR UNMARKED GLOBE NO FUEL CAP Buy Now »
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ANTIQUE C.T. HAM LANTERN N0 2 COLD BLAST WITH CLEAR UNMARKED GLOBE NO FUEL CAP

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VINTAGE CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY (CNR) LANTERN BY ADLAKE Buy Now »

VINTAGE CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY (CNR) LANTERN BY ADLAKE

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Vintage 5 1/2" Yellow Kopp lens w/Clear lens Railroad Assembly Buy Now »

Vintage 5 1/2" Yellow Kopp lens w/Clear lens Railroad Assembly

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Vintage 5 1/2" Green Kopp lens w/Clear lens Railroad Assembly Buy Now »

Vintage 5 1/2" Green Kopp lens w/Clear lens Railroad Assembly

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New York Central Railroad Lantern  Dietz Vesta  ND3542 Buy Now »

New York Central Railroad Lantern Dietz Vesta ND3542

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I.H.B. INDIANA HARBOR BELT ADLAKE KERO RAILROAD LANTERN Clear Marked Globe Buy Now »
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I.H.B. INDIANA HARBOR BELT ADLAKE KERO RAILROAD LANTERN Clear Marked Globe

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DIETZ H7 RED FITZALL LOC-NOB GLASS GLOBE NEW YORK SURACUSE FOR RAILROAD LANTERN Buy Now »

DIETZ H7 RED FITZALL LOC-NOB GLASS GLOBE NEW YORK SURACUSE FOR RAILROAD LANTERN

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Vintage railroad DELTA POWERLITE DOUBLE LAMP LANTERN  MARION IND. Buy Now »

Vintage railroad DELTA POWERLITE DOUBLE LAMP LANTERN MARION IND.

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Vintage Dietz Monarch Kerosene  Lantern Great Color Red Globe Lodge Cabin Decor Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Monarch Kerosene Lantern Great Color Red Globe Lodge Cabin Decor

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Electric 3-light Train Crossing Signal Bid Now » Buy Now »

Electric 3-light Train Crossing Signal

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Vintage Antique Corning Glass Flat Red Railroad Signal / Lantern Lens 8 3/8" dia Buy Now »
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Vintage Antique Corning Glass Flat Red Railroad Signal / Lantern Lens 8 3/8" dia

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Antique 20'S Dietz Vesta N.Y.C. LINES Railroad Lantern Very Good Shape GLOBE TOO Buy Now »

Antique 20'S Dietz Vesta N.Y.C. LINES Railroad Lantern Very Good Shape GLOBE TOO

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VINTAGE CHICAGO & NORTH WESTERN RR LANTERN W/ C.&N.W.Ry GLOBE  BY ADLAKE Buy Now »

VINTAGE CHICAGO & NORTH WESTERN RR LANTERN W/ C.&N.W.Ry GLOBE BY ADLAKE

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Pyle National Antique Train Locomotive Spot Light Buy Now »

Pyle National Antique Train Locomotive Spot Light

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AMBER/ORANGE RIBBED GLASS LENS Buy Now »
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AMBER/ORANGE RIBBED GLASS LENS

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Railroad Lantern D&RGRR RR Denver & Rio Grande Handlan Frame Buy Now »

Railroad Lantern D&RGRR RR Denver & Rio Grande Handlan Frame

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The Toledo Torch Pressed Steel Co. Road Hazard Flare, Long WIck, Nice Condition Bid Now » Buy Now »
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The Toledo Torch Pressed Steel Co. Road Hazard Flare, Long WIck, Nice Condition

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Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Kerosene Lantern N.Y. U.S.A. Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Little Wizard Kerosene Lantern N.Y. U.S.A.

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ANTIQUE/VINTAGE DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD LANTERN Red Glass Two Cracks In It Buy Now »

ANTIQUE/VINTAGE DIETZ LITTLE WIZARD LANTERN Red Glass Two Cracks In It

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Vintage Railroad Lantern Buy Now »

Vintage Railroad Lantern

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Vtg Ecolite Economy Electric Lantern Co. Battery Operated Railroad Lantern Lamp Buy Now »

Vtg Ecolite Economy Electric Lantern Co. Battery Operated Railroad Lantern Lamp

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Antique Burlington Route Lantern Railroad Lamp Adams Westlake Buy Now »

Antique Burlington Route Lantern Railroad Lamp Adams Westlake

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Indian Trail, NC, USA ZIP 28079
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Vintage Justrite Portable Electric Headlight Bid Now » Buy Now »

Vintage Justrite Portable Electric Headlight

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Seattle, WA, USA ZIP 98122
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New York New Haven RAILROAD LANTERN DRESSEL RED GLOBE WORKING LAMP Antique Buy Now »

New York New Haven RAILROAD LANTERN DRESSEL RED GLOBE WORKING LAMP Antique

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7 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Bonita Springs, FL, USA ZIP 34135
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Vintage union pacific caboose train wall oil lamp adams and westlake Buy Now »

Vintage union pacific caboose train wall oil lamp adams and westlake

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7 hrs
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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Topeka, KS, USA ZIP 66601
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Vintage Dietz Red Bilizzard Barn/Railroad Lantern No. 2 w/Red Globe Buy Now »

Vintage Dietz Red Bilizzard Barn/Railroad Lantern No. 2 w/Red Globe

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  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Medford, MA, USA ZIP 02155
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DIETZ ACME INSPECTOR LAMP - New York Central Railroad - Fitall NY USA - Latern Buy Now »

DIETZ ACME INSPECTOR LAMP - New York Central Railroad - Fitall NY USA - Latern

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7 hrs
12 mins
  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Holland, MI, USA ZIP 49423
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Vintage Meva No. 865 Glass Globe Kerosene Lamp Lantern Made Czechoslovakia Buy Now »

Vintage Meva No. 865 Glass Globe Kerosene Lamp Lantern Made Czechoslovakia

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7 hrs
21 mins
  • Item Condition: Used
  • Item Location: Franklin, MA, USA ZIP 02038
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Vintage National Company Turret Socket TSA-2 Buy Now »

Vintage National Company Turret Socket TSA-2

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7 hrs
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Marswells Cold Blast No. 200 LD Lantern Red Not Tested Rustic Lanter Buy Now »
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Dietz Fitzall N.Y. Clear Glass Globe USA Lamp Lantern LOC-NOB H11 3-10-14 (10) Buy Now »

Dietz Fitzall N.Y. Clear Glass Globe USA Lamp Lantern LOC-NOB H11 3-10-14 (10)

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Dietz Fitzall N.Y. Clear Glass Globe USA Lamp Lantern LOC-NOB H8 3-10-14 (11) Buy Now »

Dietz Fitzall N.Y. Clear Glass Globe USA Lamp Lantern LOC-NOB H8 3-10-14 (11)

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VTG Clear Convexed Glass Railroad Signal Lens 8.75" for Signals Lantern Etc. Buy Now »
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VTG Clear Convexed Glass Railroad Signal Lens 8.75" for Signals Lantern Etc.

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Antique Railroad Crossing Signal With Glass Lense US&S Co Transportation Buy Now »
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Railroad lights Buy Now »

Railroad lights

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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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