Railroad Hand-Signal Lantern, ca, 1860

This railroad hand signal oil lantern was used on the United States Military Railroad by the Union Army during the Civil War from 1862 until 1865. The base of the lamp held the oil font; the wick is inside the glass globe which is protected by the wire frame. The glass globe has the initials “USMRR” stamped into the side.
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 from the train's conductor to the train’s engineer or brakeman 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
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 14 1/2 in x 8 in; 36.83 cm x 20.32 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Civil War
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Railroad
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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