Railroads help build America and long before electricity and computers, railroad workers had to use signal lanterns to coordinate an intricate system of keeping
things moving smoothly along the routes and in the train yards.
We recently had a nice collection of railroad lanterns in our last estate sale as well as the different colored globes and lenses. During the era of steam and diesel engines, it was very noisy and speaking or shouting among the rails was useless. During the day, flags were used but during the night, railroad lanterns had to be used to communicate.
Swinging the lanterns in different ways or using different colored globes or lenses in the lanterns were the understood forms of communication. Kerosene was the choice of fuel for the lanterns which was not only the most efficient way of signaling, but also provided a little heat on cold dark nights. Flashlights were not efficient
because they were too directional and constantly needed new batteries.
Collectors now use these old lanterns in home décor or for outdoor lighting for entertainment. Most lanterns consisted of a black metal cage with a glass globe insert. These globes were fixed, tall or short. Presentation or conductor lanterns tended to be fancier and made out of better metals.
The railroad lanterns we are most familiar with came along after the Civil War. Fixed globe lanterns are generally the oldest of the genre and different lanterns with different colored globes had to be used. The next
evolution of the railroad lantern was the “tall” globe lanterns that had removable globes of several colors that could be interchanged. These globes came in green, red, amber and blue. These were mostly used during World War I.
The lanterns continued to evolve as the globes became shorter. Most globes after World War I are 4 inches tall. These lanterns burned less fuel and were more portable. Imagine what it was like to ride across the country on a
steam locomotive: the sights, the sounds, the colorful lanterns, it really was quite an adventure! Happy Collecting!
Jillinda Falen has been buying and selling antiques for over 27 years and is a licensed REALTOR and
estate liquidation specialist. You can contact her through the Warner Robins Patriot or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org