Railroad Hand-Signal Lantern, 1870s-80s

This railroad hand-signal kerosene lantern was manufactured by the Adams & Westlake Company of Chicago, Illinois around 1870. Adlake was a major equipment supplier to railroads during the Westward expansion. The lantern is made of metal with a wire frame protecting the glass globe. The globe has the frosted name “J.H. Barrelle” in the center, surrounded by frosted glass floral designs. J.H. Barrelle was an agent for the Milwaukee Railroad, living in South Dakota in 1881, who likely used this hand-signal lantern.
Before the advent of portable two way radios, train crews communicated via hand signals during the day, and lantern signals during periods of low visibility or at night. Specific motions of the lantern convey precise instructions such as “Clear to Depart;" "Move the train Forward;" "Move the train Backward;" "Slow Down;" "Slow Down Further;" or "Stop and Remain Stopped."
Currently not on view
Object Name
lantern, hand signal
date made
Adams & Westlake Company
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 10 1/2 in x 5 1/8 in; 26.67 cm x 13.0175 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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Work and Industry: Transportation, Railroad
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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