The Horni – Marbelite – GTE Signal Timeline

Preface

The timeline on this page traces the evolution of a specific adjustable (i.e., single-face) signal design that evolved through three different manufacturers (Horni, Marbelite and GTE). Many signal collectors possess at least one adjustable Marbelite signal, and their and my curiosity about the age and sequence of Marbelites are what prompted my research into this timeline.

This preface provides a little historical perspective as to where the timeline fits into the “big picture” of signal manufacture.

The evolution of adjustable traffic signals in the early 20th Century can be roughly classified into three basic design patterns:

  • Generation 1 (Solid Cast) Signals: With many of the oldest designs, the main signal housing is cast as a single piece.   The front face may either have hinged doors or a panel with bolt-on “porthole” style lens attachments.
  • Generation 2 (Open-Modular) Signals: The design evolved to a more easily configurable one wherein each lamp housing is cast as a separate piece with open ends and an access door on the front.  The housings can be stacked together in any number, as required.  The stack (or single housing) is then enclosed by end plates at top and bottom and held together by tie rods through the length of the signal head.
  • Generation 3 (Closed-Modular) Signals: The end plates and tie rods are gone.  Each lamp housing is cast as an enclosed piece with a hinged access door on the front. The housings can be stacked and bolted together in any number, as required.  The stack (or single housing) comprises the signal head.

The timeline below follows the history of the 3rd Generation design that was originally produced by Horni Signal Mfg. Corp. in 1938.  The same basic design was then massively produced by The Marbelite Company after their takeover of Horni’s traffic signal division, from 1947 to 1978.  After about a 20-year break, the same design was resurrected in the late 1990s by GTE Corp.

Note that this timeline does not document all the signal designs ever offered by Horni, Marbelite and GTE.


1938-47 : Horni Closed-Modular Signals

In 1938, Horni Signal Mfg Corp. introduced their closed-modular signal design, replacing the previous open-modular design that used end plates and tie rods (e.g., The Hoboken Horni).

This is the first model that used sheet metal visors, rather than cast visors.  The access doors are seated in a groove in the housing with a wick gasket. The lens portals are an inch deep.  The Horni script logo is on back of modules.  The term “Flat-Top” is sometimes used for these signals referring to the flush surface of the  housing top and bottom. Cast ID is TD-19143. Modules are bolted together at the three points visible in the photos.  I do not know what the dimples surrounding the bottom wire entrance hole were for. Perhaps Horni made a hardware fitting that mated with these dimples for adjustable positioning, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such hardware.

Reflectors are medium thickness glass with a deep bowl shape.  Reflector frames are 3-spoke casts hinged on the back of the doors. There is a brass retaining wire bolted to the door to keep the reflector frame secured behind the lens.  Frames are embossed HORNI TC-19145 by the socket sleeve.

Early photos of Horni Signal closed-modular heads in service ~ both images above were taken in 1939.  The typical configuration in those days was silver paint, straight and short (7″ , sometimes shorter?) tunnel visors, and pipe hardware with “ball” joints, also used a lot with GE signals.  The photo on the left was taken in Trenton, the image on the right is a screen capture from a documentary called The City.


~1942-45 : Horni War-time Bakelite Signals

bakelite2way

Horni, like other manufacturers, paused their production of aluminum signals for a time during World War II. Horni is the only brand that I know of that produced a war-time signal made of Bakelite. Some other brands, like GE, were known to have used steel or other alloys.  These ultra-rare Bakelite Hornis have been seen by a few contemporary collectors, including this light that still serves in East Rutherford, NJ.  Horni would sell its traffic signal division to Marbelite shortly after the war.


1947-48 : Marbelite Takes Over the Horni Line

In 1947, The Marbelilte Company acquired the traffic division of Horni Signal Mfg. Corp., and continued to produce the pre-War Horni aluminum signal design. This design became Marbelite’s big seller, and surely marked the end of their 2nd Generation design that can be seen in this announcement of the takeover of Signal Service Corp, and this photo detail from Philadelphia.

Except for changes in the markings, these Marbelite-produced signals are virtually the same as the former Horni Signal counterparts.  The logo has been changed to the block-lettered MARBELITE with no other verbiage. Cast ID TD-19143 H.S. is faintly embossed on the inside floor of the housing.  The frames are now embossed TC-19145 by the socket sleeve (the word HORNI has been removed).

At some point soon after the takeover, I assume in 1947 or ’48, a thin flange / lip was added around the door edge.  The lipped doors have a slightly different mounting for the brass retaining wire, which was changed to a straight piece with a hooked end that is simply seated in, rather than bolted to, the door.


1948-50 : “Phantomless” Reflectors

Marbelite introduces the “phantomless” optical unit, to reduce the reflection of ambient light from the signal.  This is accomplished with shallower reflectors. A deep collar in front of the reflector seats the mirrors farther back from the lens. The frames have a 4-spoke design with “Dzus” fasteners.


1950-53 : First “Patent Pending” Marbelites

Patent applied for 25 Feb 1950.  The main change, again, is with the reflectors. The patented reflector system is mounted to the inside of the housing, swiveling on a bent brass wire, rather than being bolted to the back of the door.  The reflectors themselves have the same shallow shape as before the “Phantomless” ones advertised in 1948.  I believe this was the point when aluminum reflectors started being offered. PAT. PEND. and NEW YORK, U.S.A. verbiage was added to the logo.  

The door shape changed subtly at this juncture; There is a shallower lens portal, since the optical units have been moved backward slightly into the housing, and a slightly rounder profile to the raised corners.  Just to keep things hard to classify…the door shape changed again at some point in this period to a “deep” profile with no lip, and with no hinge bosses across the face.  This new door shape carried through the next generation (see photos in 1953 section further down the page).


{ Finned Marbelites }

During the fifties, decorative end plates and tie rods were optionally offered, ostensibly to comply with outdated specs requiring these parts in certain municipalities (e.g., Baltimore).  The end plates were merely attached to the top and bottom modules, and were not a functional necessity.   Think of it as a 3rd Generation signal adhering to 2nd Generation specs.   The fins came in at least two varieties, a flatter fin with three vertical bars, and a more peaked fin with five bars.  These are known as “Finned Marbelites”, or “Marb-Decos” among collectors.


1953-65 : The “Model 1058”

This model featured the “sink top” (my term) design for improved drainage.

Cast ID TD-19260 is embossed on back inside wall of housing.  The housing has recessed top and bottom with splined wire entrances and a rain notch in back. The deep, non-lipped doors are the same as (or similar to) the doors used at the end of the previous generation.

Although the triple drill points were still provided to bolt the sections together, the use of carriage bolts at the wire entrance holes began at some point during this generation.


1965-70 : A Lighter Cast

The housing shape and dimensions remain the same, but in a somewhat thinner cast.  The drill points for bolts to hold sections together are gone in lieu of carriage bolts.  The logo changed to a down-slope parallelogram.  Cast ID TE-19408 is embossed on the back inside wall of the housing.  The doors have a rubber gasket on the back (no gasket on the housing).  The door shape is a smooth square with rounded corners and squared bases at the visor mounts.  The reflector frames are spring-loaded, rather than sitting on a brass wire.

This is also the time when Marbelite offered visors with a tunnel cut on one side and a full cutaway on the other.  Long-time collector John Reitvelt coined the term “tunnaway” for these years ago on his website.  The tunnaway signal pictured above may still be in service today on High Mountain Ave in North Haledon.


~1970-78 : Last-Gen Marbelites

The logo is changed to rectangular “Traffic Light” design.  The PAT. PEND. verbiage has been removed.  Back plate mounting nibs have been added behind the latch and hinge mounts.
This was the last era of manufacture of Marbelite-branded aluminum vehicular traffic signals.  I believe that Marbelite went out of business at this time, and then re-started at a later date.


~1997-2014 : The GTE Era

General Traffic Equipment (GTE) of Newburgh, NY acquired and used the old Marbelite signal casting molds for a while starting sometime in the late 1990s. These housings looked almost exactly like the Marbelite TE-19408 housing, but with at least one difference; the change in logo to the GTE logo. A representative of GTE told collector Steven Gembara that they stopped using these molds around 2014.


Special thanks goes to Joe LiPari of The Marbelite Company, who looked up the years of manufacture of the cast IDs for me in a phone conversation many years ago.  Thanks also goes to fellow collectors like Jay Jenkins, Larry Currie, Bailey Stumbaugh, Steven Gembara, and the late Jesse Vallely, for helping identify the minutae.