The Horni – Marbelite – GTE Signal Timeline

A Collectors’ Reference

When I began collecting traffic lights, I soon realized that a majority of the signals I grew up seeing in New Jersey and New York City were made by The Marbelite Company. Once I had a few Marbelite signals in my possession, I noticed that they were not all exactly alike – incremental improvements and/or cost-cutting measures had been made over time. The timeline I present here really got started in my mind after I spoke to Joe LiPari of the Marbelite Company around 2001-02, when he kindly provided for me the years of manufacture of the different housing cast IDs I had. He also informed me that these castings had originated with the Horni Signal Manufacturing Corporation, which Marbelite took over in 1947.

So, as a reference guide for signal collectors, here is a timeline of “sectional” traffic signals that evolved through the manufacturers: Horni –> Marbelite –> GTE. This timeline does NOT try to document all of the signal models that were offered by these three companies.


Horni “Pre-Sectional” Signals (before 1938)

For historical context, below is a high-level overview of the signal designs that Horni Signal Mfg. Corp. offered prior to introducing their sectional signals in 1938:

Prior to 1928: The earliest traffic signals made by Horni included designs with:

1928 – 1935: Horni developed a signal design with 8″ lenses on hinged doors. The single-face adjustable signals had a tapered solid body. This design was widespread in the Northeastern US, including in New York City, where thousands of Horni (later, Ruleta) and GE signals were installed in the first wave of the city’s signalization. These signals even had international distribution.

1935 – 1938: Horni adjustable signals used an open sectional design with end caps and tie rods.


1938-1947: Horni Sectional Signals

Horni Signal evidently recognized a good idea from their competitor General Electric, which had introduced their sectional/stackable (a.k.a. “Groove Back“) signals in 1937. Horni followed with their own sectional signal design in 1938, which begins the timeline…

Exterior features (single-face heads only):

  • Each section has a gracefully tapered cross-section that remains the same throughout this timeline.
  • The sections are bolted together through three drill points on the top and bottom.
  • There are sixteen dimples surrounding the bottom wire entrance hole.  I’m not sure what they were for; perhaps a hardware fitting mated with these dimples for adjustable positioning.
  • The Horni script logo is on back of each section, with a small dimple above and below.

Exterior features (all heads):

  1. “Lipless” doors have raised hinge bosses and sit into the housing.
  2. The lens collars are one inch deep, which is noticeably thicker than on most signals.
  3. The sheet metal visors are typically “tunnel” style, with a straight profile (i.e., not sloping downward), measuring 7″ at the top of the tunnel and 6 5/8″ at the corners.

Interior features (all heads):

  • Doors are seated in a groove around the opening with a wick gasket.
  • Reflectors are medium thickness glass with a deep bowl shape.
  • Reflector frames are 3-leg cast baskets, hinged on the back of the doors, and embossed HORNI TC-19145 by the socket sleeve. Older frames were thicker (compare the thick frames on the left with thinner on the right).
  • A brass retaining wire bolted to the door keeps the reflector frame secured behind the lens.


WWII Metal Rationing : Horni 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, evidently with steel visors. 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 most likely resumed production of their sectional aluminum signals  when the war ended in 1945, but would sell its traffic signal division to Marbelite by April 1947 (see below).


A note on “Pre-Horni” Marbelites

Marbelite was producing traffic lights for some time before acquiring the traffic division of Horni Signal Mfg. Corp in 1947. “Pre-Horni” Marbelites (see illustration on left and Philly photo on right) featured a tie-rodded design similar to that of some other manufacturers, including older Hornis. These older Marblites are quite rare. I have only seen one for sale in all my years of collecting.


1947-48 : The First “Post-Horni” Marbelites

In 1947, Marbelite adopted the newly-acquired (and more modern) Horni equipment as their main product line, and likely took over most of Horni’s accounts, thereby becoming one of the biggest brands in traffic equipment, on the level of big competitors such as Crouse-Hinds, Eagle and GE. New York City was about to upgrade their entire signal infrastructure, and they would go with Marbelite exclusively.

Exterior features:

The Marbelite signals of this period are virtually unchanged from the defunct Horni.

The immediate change was to simply replace the Horni script logo with the block-lettered MARBELITE logo on the back of the single-face sections, and on the dome/floor of 4-way signals.


Interior features:

  • The reflector frames are embossed TC-19145 by the socket sleeve (the word HORNI has been removed).
  • Cast ID TD-19143 H.S. is faintly embossed on the inside floor of the housing.
  • A Cast ID may be embossed on the upper left corner of the door. My signal has blank doors.

First changes to the doors:

Soon after the Horni-Marbelite transition, probably by 1948, the access doors were changed slightly:

  1. A small lip / flange was added around the perimeter.
  2. The retaining wire mount inside the door was changed to a simpler design wherein a bent piece of wire was hung in place, rather than being bolted onto the door.

1948-1950 : “Phantomless” Reflectors

Marbelite ad, 1948 ~ with some graphics from the 1940 Horni ad

In or around 1948, Marbelite introduced the “phantomless” optical unit to reduce the reflection of ambient light from the signal.  This was accomplished with shallower reflectors. The glass is also thinner than the previous generation’s.  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.

The body of the signals did not change; this was only a change to the door mounts and reflectors. Cast ID TD-19143 H.S. is still embossed on the inside floor of the housing.

A Marbelite fixed-face 4-way from the 1948-50 period is shown on the right.  The doors and reflectors are the same between fixed-face (4-way) and adjustable (1-way) signals.


1950-1953 : The First “Patent Pending” Marbelites

A significant design change occurred in 1950. A patent for a new reflector system was applied for on 25 Feb 1950.  This change is another one that was evidently on the heels of General-Electric, who introduced their own in-housing reflector system in 1949.

  • Reflectors are moved from the back of the door to inside the signal housing. The patented reflector system swivels in the housing on a bent brass wire.  The reflector glass is unchanged, and I believe aluminum reflectors started being offered.
  • Logo change: PAT. PEND. and NEW YORK, U.S.A. verbiage was added.
  • Cast ID remains the same: TD-19143 H.S. is still embossed on the inside floor of the housing.
  • Door change #1: The circular lens “collar” on the door was reduced from about 1″ deep to about 1/2″, and there is a slightly rounder profile to the raised corners inside the lip of each door. All of the mounting appendages inside the door were removed with the new reflector system.
  • Visors (either tunnel or cutaway style) were 7″ or 8″ length with a downward-slant profile.
  • On the fixed-face (1-way) signals, the dimples on the back and around the bottom wire entrance were removed at some point during this period.
1058.door.JoeC
  • Door Change #2 (see image above): 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 front.  This new door shape carried through the Model 1058 generation.

{ “Finned” Marbelites of the 1950s }

The early patent pending Marbelite signals from 1950-1953 could optionally be retro-fitted with decorative end plates and tie rods. This was offered to be in compliance with outdated specs in certain municipalities (e.g., Baltimore).  The end plates were merely attached to the top and bottom sections with a single bolt, and then run through with two tie rods.  These were not a functional necessity, but they do add a graceful touch.  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.


1950s-1970s: Marbelite L Series (12″ Lens) Signals

The 1950s saw the introduction of signals with 12″ lenses. Marbelite called their 12″ signals the “L Series”. The first L Series Marbelites (seen above) were the same shape as the 8″ signals, and had dual welding strips across the back of each section. These early Type Ls are rarely found in service or in collections.

The L Series signal was soon redesigned to a more complex and materially efficient shape, with recessed ends for drainage, rounded doors and a domed back. This design was widely produced starting at least as early as 1963 (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a few years earlier). The older signals of this period have a flat door, and the newer signals have a raised ridge around the perimeter of the door.


1953-1965 : The Marbelite “Model 1058”

  • The term “Model 1058″ is used in the 1963 catalog to denote the fixed-face (1-way) 8” signals. I do not know when this name was first used, or if any other model name came before or after it.
  • This is the end of the “Flat Top” period, as the fixed-face signal sections now have a recessed top and bottom with splined wire entrances, and a rain notch in back for improved water drainage. (see photo on left)
  • The logo on the sections continues to have the PAT. PEND. | NEW YORK, U.S.A. verbiage.
  • The doors continue to have the “deep” profile with no lip, and no hinge bosses across the face.
  • Cast ID has changed: TD-19260 is now embossed on back inside wall of housing.
  • Although three raised drill points were provided to bolt the sections together, it started to become commonplace to fasten the sections together with rings and carriage bolts at the wire entrance holes during this generation.


1965-1970?: A Lighter Cast

  • The basic sectional shape and dimensions remained the same from the previous model, but the cast is slightly thinner.
  • The three drill points on the roof and floor of the sections have been removed; sections are always fastened together by rings and carriage bolts.
  • The logo changed to a down-slope parallelogram.
  • Cast ID TE-19408 is embossed on the 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.

At this time, Marbelite stopped producing fixed-face 4-way signals.

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 slightly damaged tunnaway signal pictured above may still be in service today in North Haledon.  I remember seeing them in other towns, including Metuchen and Berkeley Heights.


1970?-1978 : 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.
  • The cast ID TE-19408 is embossed on the inside wall of the housing (unchanged since 1965).

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 TE-19408 signal casting molds starting sometime in the late 1990s. The housings were practically unchanged from Marbelite, except that the Marbelite logo was replaced by the GTE logo. The doors were still embossed MARBELITE on the inside. A representative of GTE told collector Steven Gembara that they stopped using these molds around 2014.

These modern GTE signals are the end of a long line of history, as they have the same cross-sectional shape as the Horni sectional signals of 1938!


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, including Jay Jenkins, Larry Currie, Bailey Stumbaugh, Steven Gembara, Phil Glick, Lary Brown, and the late Jesse Vallely, for helping identify the minutae.