Dietz Tall-Globe Lanterns

The R.E. Dietz Company had a long history, commencing operations before the Civil War and finally going out of business only a decade ago. In the intervening years, Dietz made all manner of lanterns, including many for railroad use. The company is probably best known among collectors for its popular line of "Vesta" lanterns, but it produced a number of distinct tall-globe lantern styles as well. In fact, the "Vesta" actually began production as a tall-globe lantern but was subsequently modified to take the smaller, 4 1/4" globe. Among the tall-globe lantern styles produced by Dietz were the "#39" and "#39 Standard", distinguished by a bellbottom base, the "#39 Vulcan", distinguished by round wires for the verticals, the "#39 Steel Clad", distinguished by flat verticals made of steel plate, and the "#6", a lantern that took a special size globe. The company also made a short, squat model called the "X.L.C.R." which nevertheless took a tall globe. These models are by no means a comprehensive list of Dietz tall-globe railroad lantern production, but they do represent some of the major models that collectors are likely to encounter. Examples and discussion of these models are presented below.

"#39" and "#39 Standard Models". The "39" and its successor, the "#39 Standard", appeared to be the Dietz Company's line of brakemen's lanterns with a bellbottom-base. The "#39" was introduced in 1887 according to Barrett and was succeeded by the "#39 Standard" which was in production from around the turn of the 20th century to the 1940's. Over this period of time, the design of the frame underwent substantial changes, so that today's collector can find a number of different variations.

Top Row Right: A Dietz "#39" tall-globe bellbottom lantern (and closeup of top) with no railroad marking and a clear, unmarked globe. The line was introduced in 1887 and succeeded by the "#39 standard" model in the very early 1900's. [photos courtesy of Barry Bock]
Top Row Center: A Dietz "#39 Standard" tall-globe bellbottom lantern with no railroad marking and a red, unmarked globe.  The base can be removed and is secured with a brass retaining clip. This lantern probably represents one of the first of the "#39 Standard" variations. The top and base are shown below the complete lantern. Top Row Right: A newer Dietz "#39 Standard" tall-globe bellbottom lantern with no railroad marking and a clear, unmarked globe. The base can also be removed and is secured with a steel retaining clip which is marked with a December 13, 1910 patent date. The top and base are also shown below the complete lantern.

Both of these "#39 Standard" models reflect the effects of the Dietz Company's purchase of the Steam Gauge & Lantern Company in 1897 after a fire destroyed the Dietz factory. In order to get the business back up quickly, Dietz purchased all of Steam Gauge's assets, including designs and tooling. The top of the "#39" above is markedly different from the tops of the "#39 Standard" models -- the latter lanterns were manufactured after the fire, and their tops reflect Steam Gauge designs. The two "#39 Standard" tops differ primarily in wording and in the presence of the Dietz logo on the newer example. Also note differences in the fuel founts and burners.

Below Left: Another variation on the Dietz "#39 Standard" tall-globe bellbottom lantern is this shorter, squat model with a top identical to the second (newer) "#39 Standard" shown above. This lantern is marked "BA&P" for the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway and has an unmarked blue globe. The base of this lantern is shown at center. Note the greatly reduced height of the fuel fount which is what allows the overall height of the frame to be shorter than the other variations shown above. Below Right: Yet another Dietz "#39 Standard" variation marked "B.R. & P. R.R." (Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad) with a clear cast globe. The bellbottom base is fixed and has an insert fount. This seems to be one of the last variations of the "#39 standard model". It has been completely re-designed with a flatter top and a different profile.

The "Steel Clad", "Vulcan", and "Empire" Models. For those railroads that wanted an especially sturdy lantern frame with vertical frame members made of flat plate steel, Dietz produced the "Steel Clad" model. Like the "#39 Standard", this model came in a number of design variations over the many years that it was produced -- from the turn of the 20th century to the late 1950's. Both twist-off and insert fount versions were made, and the later versions had a more flattened top as compared to the more rounded top of earlier versions (shown below).

The "Vulcan" model appears to have been the name designation for lanterns with non-bellbottom bases and round-wire vertical frame members. Both twist-off and insert fount versions were made. According to Barrett, the "Vulcan" was introduced around the turn of the 20th century and discontinued in 1944. As noted by R.J. McCown, the "Vulcan" name comes from the same source -- Roman mythology -- as that other popular Dietz lantern name, the "Vesta".

The "Empire" model is somewhat of an oddity. Some examples were made with flat steel verticals while others were made with round wire verticals. Few examples turn up with railroad markings, although they do exist, as shown below. The mystery is why Dietz would produce this model, when the "Steel Clad" and "Vulcan" lines existed. Barrett writes that these were more likely to be used by trolley and interurban operations than steam railroads, so perhaps the reason was for marketing purposes.

Above Left: A Dietz "Steel Clad" tall-globe lantern marked "W. & L.E. R.R." (Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad) with a red etched "W. & L.E. R.R. Co."globe and twist-off fount.The "Steel Clad" model was distinguished by verticals made of flat plate steel. Above Center: Dietz #39 "Vulcan" lantern marked "B.& O. R.R." (Balitimore & Ohio Railroad) with a red etched globe and a twist-off fount. This model was distinguished by the use of round wire to form the verticals, as opposed to the flat plate steel of the "Vulcan".  Above Right: A Dietz "Empire" model tall globe lantern marked "P.&.R.Ry." for the Philadelphia & Reading Railway with a clear cast globe marked the same.[photo courtesy of Doug McIntyre]

dz6.jpg (20946 bytes)The #6 Model. The Dietz "#6" was apparently first made for the New York Central Railroad. A 1917 Dietz catalog even referred to the model as "New York Central style", saying that the model "has been on the market over 30 years and been used by the New York Central System all of that time." Shown at right is a Dietz "#6" lantern marked "New York Central" with a clear cast globe marked the same. Other railroads did in fact use the "#6". However, the New York Central Railroad was by far the biggest user and ordered them in such vast quantities that today they are arguably the most common bellbottom lantern to be found on the railroadiana market. A distinguishing feature of the "#6" was that it used a special globe that was larger than the standard "tall" 5 3/8" globe. Like other lanterns in the Dietz line, the "#6" underwent design changes over the years, notably in the top of the lantern which became flatter. Also at least some later "#6's" used an insert fount instead of the traditional "Sangster" fount which was inserted from the bottom and held in place by spring clips.

The "X.L.C.R. Model. The "X.L.C.R." was marketed to a particular specialty among the railroad trades -- the switchman. Switchman lanterns tended to be shorter than brakemen's lanterns, perhaps for portability, and the "X.L.C.R" was an example of this. The name "X.L.C.R." was shorthand for "Excelsior", meaning excellence. It had a bellbottom base and was substantially shorter than a regular tall globe lantern. However, but it still took a 5 3/8" globe like other tall globe lanterns. In fact it was very similar to the short version of the "#39 Standard" (the one with the blue globe) shown above and likely was made with some of the same tooling. As with other Dietz model lines, the "X.L.C.R." was made in different versions over the period of its production - from 1909 to the late 1920's. Two versions are shown below.

Above Left: Dietz round-top "X.L.C.R." tall-globe lantern with no railroad marking and a clear cast "C.M.& St.P. R.R." (Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad a.k.a. "Milwaukee Road") globe. Note the insulated bail, which was designed to protect trainmen in electrified territory. This particular lantern was found in the Pacific Northwest and was likely used on the Milwaukee Road's electrified Pacific Extension. Above Middle: Dietz flat-top "X.L.C.R." tall-globe lantern with no railroad marking. Later Dietz lanterns tended to have a flat top (shown above right), so this version was likely made at a later date than the round-top version shown at left. Few "X.L.C.R." lanterns were marked with a railroad name. [Eric Thompson collection; photos courtesy of Erik Thompson].

Other lanterns in the Dietz line. Dietz made other railroad lanterns, -- notably the very successful Vesta Model (shown on its own page) and the short globe "999 Model", shown on a page of short globe lanterns. The "999 Model " was designed to compete with the Adam's & Westlake Company's "short-globe" models, and judging by what shows up in today's collectors' market, it never really caught on with very many railroads. The Dietz company itself continued to be owned by the descendents of the original founders and produced lighting equipment of various kinds until 1992, when the name and production equipment were sold to an overseas concern. It is still possible to buy new lanterns (although not railroad-style lanterns) with the Dietz name on them, but the great era of domestic production is now history. Today's railroadiana collectors keep that history alive by maintaining and restoring the Dietz lanterns that were once a vital part of the North American railroad scene.

Notes: Information sources are Barrett and Pearson. Special thanks to those who contributed photos and/or information.