Today we're used to amber one or two-faced flashing or steady-burning battery-operated warning lights mounted on barricades or barrels to warn us of construction sites and guide us around them but in the earliest days of motoring drivers were lucky if their night-time travels brought them to a construction area that was even protected by some old kerosene barn lanterns.
Actually these lanterns, more properly described as tubular hot-blast or cold-blast lanterns, were originally designed for illumination purposes, not signals. They required constant attention due to their use of fuel (unlike railroad signals that used special optical lens to increase the intensity of a smaller flame with a minimal fuel supply).
Any and all types of tall and short globe lanterns were used in this service.
The popular Little Wizard developed large font cousins like the Little Giant and Contractor.
The #100 "special" variation of the Little Wizard and Little Giant is interesting due to its use of a smaller wick burner.
Even Chalwyn from England penetrated New York with their large font Tropic Special and for many contractors and jurisdictions these tubulars remained as either a primary or equal signal source.
(The Dietz Little Wizard #1, the most recent cousin of the Contractor, continues to be manufactured and imported by W. T. Kirkman and Lehman's.)
Yet another early type of lantern in this category was the Dietz #39 (and other similar lanterns) that were originally designed for railroad use but fitted with a rather unusual solid flat metal “bail” attached to the dome and marked with variations indicating they were used by the City of New York. Their specific use is questionable given their small fount capacity.
A small sample of catalog sheets and comparative prices can be reviewed on this page.
One might ask, "How were these devices even effective?" You must remember that the sealed beam headlight wasn't even invented until 1940. Mercury and sodium vapor streetlights hadn't been invented. The streetlights in the cities at the time were arc or low-wattage incandescent, when they existed, if not kerosene-powered themselves. Neither the plastic reflex reflector had been made nor had reflective sheeting been envisioned.
Highway/Traffic/Utility Lanterns in General:
The solution was to develop a lantern similar to those in railroad service but with a longer burning capacity. A standard railway lantern would have its font/fount and bell or wire bottom removed and the remaining top portion was simply attached to a suitable tank and an appropriate dead-flame long-burning burner installed. Embury, fortunately, designed.....
The Embury #40,
which became the Dietz #40,
and inspired the Handlan #57:
The Embury Manufacturing Company of Warsaw, New York, received their patent for the Model 40 Traffic Gard in 1940 with a uniquely-sized optically correct Fresnel globe, large font, and streamlined frame - probably the first "modern" dead-flame lantern designed specifically for automobile traffic control use.
In actual practice this lantern has proven to be a consistent source of a steady signal when the other lanterns discussed further below have been known to be undependable due to many circumstances either external or due to design. Perhaps the size of the globe never before used was a factor.
As indicated only three companies produced variations of this lantern until 1960s-70s and each will be covered separately:
(Click on a label for the Traffic Gard Models or use the links at the top)
(While the term "traffic lantern" is generic, Embury registered Traffic Gard, Dietz acquired it, and Handlan couldn't use the name)
Highway and traffic and utility lanterns were sometimes stamped with generic or specific owner markings in a manner similar to railroad lanterns. Some markings on the Model 40 and 57 lanterns will be found at Marked Variations. Some elusive markings on other lanterns can be found here.
Decline in use:
Even if traffic lanterns ceased to be produced after the 1960s their durability and dependability (the negative comment to the contrary below probably primarily refers to torches) carried them for another ten years. They had always been included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways as an unquestioned traffic control tool up until a final entry in the early 1970s:
6D-7 Lanterns or Torches.
As used in this Manual, lanterns and torches are single-unit, portable, constant-burning, low-intensity type of lights with open or enclosed flame. They provide negligible illumination of other objects, and are not altogether dependable under adverse weather conditions such as high wind or heavy rains. Furthermore, the flammable fuel used in the lanterns or torches may be a hazard to life and property, and their use, therefore, is not recommended
Subsequent editions made no mention of lanterns.
People that help:
Thanks to my father who gave me my very first Traffic Gard at age 8; and to my mother who actually let me light it in the living room.
My special thanks to David Dreimiller, lantern bookseller and author of SIGNAL LIGHTS, who has endured way too much email from me. And also my thanks to Anthony Hobson, author of LANTERNS THAT LIT OUR WORLD. Both unknowingly sent me down this unending trail.
Subsequent to the original goal of a single hand-written html page on the subject that has survived several isps many other people have contributed great information. Unfortunately many of the contributor's identities have been lost in misplaced mail and crashes or in other cases I can't recall who exactly told me what :) But you know who you are and thank you.
If you haven't been there, be sure to check out the Kerosene Lantern Connection. Lots of information and links - it is the connection. A quick composite history of Dietz and Embury can be found at LanternNet, the most complete source of currently available Dietz lanterns and parts. Key, Lock & Lantern is the place to go for railroad lantern information as well as Railroadiana Online. Finally, there's also specific information about marine lanterns.
And if you'd like more information or have information to share visit the
Traffic Lantern Message Board.
Page conceived in 1966, created in late 1997, and last updated on 8/Jan/2008
by and © G. A. Vandercook.
Effective 11 August 1998 this disclaimer is necessary in order to stave off attorneys and appraisers. The data contained herein is informative only. No production figures for these lanterns are available. Production dates are approximate and value should not be attempted from dates alone. What may at first glance seem to be rare may actually be plentiful. Ugly lanterns aren't popular. The inclusion (or lack thereof or of a variation) should not be considered when determining value. Don't count your peanuts before you crack the shells. And you might not even want to face what's inside. Or was that chickens and eggs? You get the drift. Now enjoy.