This page documents the traffic signals made by Horni Signal Manufacturing Corp. of Newark, NJ and New York, NY. Horni manufactured all sorts of mechanical equipment for civilian traffic control, fire safety, and for military applications from 1924 to 1947.
The Horni Type 250 (mid 1920s)
The Type 250 had tapered single-bulb 4-way sections with 6 3/8″ Fresnel-type lenses. Each socket could be adjusted in height by the turn of a screw on the outside corner of the body. The image on the right is of a recently-found Type 250 next to a circa 1950 GE signal with the standard 8″ lenses. More images of this rare find to come..!
I am not sure if the single-section beacons in the drawings below were referred to as “Type 250” or not, but they are of a similar size and shape. The door/visors are certainly more “trimmed down”. The stanchion in the drawing on the right shows a 4-section stack with an accurate depiction of the lenses – the top section being red all-around, which I assume was used for a night time or ad-hoc all-way flashing STOP.
The Horni Type 950 (mid 1920s)
The Type 950 referred to an entire ornamental signal stanchion with a built-in multi-directional signal comprised of single-bulb sections and unusual, truncated Fresnel-type lenses. The Type 950 had a unique design that appeared like a fixed-face unit, but allowed for adjustable aim. This ornamental design filled a niche for scenic boulevards like Ocean Ave in Asbury Park.
The photos on the right, of what appear to be some variation of a Type 950, were saved from an eBay auction. I don’t recall how much it sold for
The Horni Type 491 (mid 1920s)
The Type 491 also refers to a stanchion set-up, but with adjustable heads which ostensibly could be attached to poles and masts without the stanchion. I am not sure of the lens size, but I believe they were the standard 8 3/8″ diameter. As with the other signals of this period, there lenses were Fresnel-type, with no reflector system behind them.
Horni Corner-Hinged Signals (approx. 1928-1938)
Re-branded as RULETA in New York City
Around 1928, Horni offered new line of signals featuring 8″ lenses on hinged doors. These signals had a unique look with hinges located at the corners of the doors, and hinge bosses radiating at 45 degrees from the lenses to the corners. Each lens was illuminated by its own light bulb centered in a glass reflector, thus ending the era of single-bulb 4-way sections and the use of Fresnel lenses. For the majority of this period, the adjustable signals had a solid, tub-shaped body.
Corner-hinged Horni signals had a widespread distribution in the Northeastern US, and, as evidenced by the 1928 Spanish ad above, an international presence as well. The wonderful factory photos on the second page of the ad (detailed above) show some of the early 2-color Hornis ready for delivery to the City of New York. A big thank you to collector Brian Angrick for providing the scans of this fabulous ad!
American ads above from the early 1930s show Horni’s corner-hinge style signal heads, cateye signs, and electromechanical controllers, including the super-modern Vehitrol actuated control system. Collector Mike Kuklinski owns the wonderful Vehitrol cabinet on the right that was used in Cicero, IL.
During this period – my best guess is by 1936 – Horni modified their adjustable heads to a triple-tie-rodded sectional design with a very handsome, scalloped cross-section. I don’t think these rodded Hornis were in production too long; perhaps no more than a couple years. The 4-way cluster shown in Kevin Mueller’s color photos above (now on display in the Hoboken Historical Museum) is the only example of this model I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. The black and white photos were taken in Philadelphia, at 11th & Vine and 16th & Race
A Ruleta Footnote
After Horni released their modular signal design in 1938 (below), they either sold or otherwise passed along their retired “corner-hinge” signal castings to The Ruleta Company, which continued supplying them in New York City for years to come. There is a higher ratio of Ruleta to Horni signals that have been salvaged from NYC over the years. I assume Ruleta is more common because the city’s signalization accelerated greatly across the five boroughs after the brand change.
Horni Modular Signals (1938-1947)
In 1938, probably “copycatting” GE’s new line of Groove-Back signals, Horni created a modular signal design that did away with tie rods and end plates. This was a complete re-design of both the adjustable and fixed-face signals (see ad on left).
The 1940 ad for Horni fire alarms (right) is interesting because it indicates in the footer something about the relationship between GE and Horni traffic signals, both being distributed by Graybar Electric Company. New York City was equipped with GE and Horni signals in it’s first decade of singalization.
The middle photo is from the corner of Pennington Ave (then NJ Route 30) and Parkway Ave on the Trenton-Ewing border in 1939. I have also found photos of another installation of modular Hornis a couple miles north on Route 30 in Ewing Township.
- On both the fixed-face and adjustable signals, “lipless” doors are seated into the housing. The door hinges have been moved from the corners to the side, spaced 1/3 of the door height apart.
- The adjustable housing has a gracefully tapered cross-section. It is bolted to other sections through three drill points on the top and bottom.
- The lens collars are 1″ deep.
- Visors are sheet metal, not cast. They are usually “tunnel” style, although I think a scalloped cutaway style was probably offered too, with a straight profile (not sloping away).
- 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. The frames were trimmed down at some point in time; note the difference in frame thickness between the first two photos above.
- A brass retaining wire bolted to the door keeps the reflector frame secured behind the lens.
Horni Bakelite Signals (WWII aluminum rationing)
While also heavily involved in wartime procurement contracts, Horni Signal continued to produce traffic signals during World War II. While some manufacturers opted for steel in lieu of aluminum, Horni is the only brand that I know of that produced a war-time signal made of Bakelite (with steel visors). 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 aluminum signals when the war ended in 1945, but they would be bought out by Marbelite by early 1947.
Horni Signal Mfg. Corporation was on a successful trajectory while the demand for traffic control equipment was skyrocketing after World War II. So, why did they fold and sell out in 1947 to Marbelite? Undoubtedly, the nefarious habits of its owners contributed to this bad fortune. Credit to Randy Trezak for sending me this 1946 NY Times article about the shady Horni brothers.
After closing down Horni in 1947, I believe that one or both of the Horni brothers started Highway Signal & Sign Company in Newark as a new venture to compete with Marbelite. Although Marbelite had re-branded and was using most of Horni’s old equipment, it wasn’t long before some very “Horni-looking” equipment was being manufactured by Highway Signal & Sign.
In 2023 in Asbury Park, I took the photo below of a cabinet whose door had the Horni script logo above the text for Highway Signal & Sign Co. My theory is that the Horni brothers did indeed own HSS, and they left the Horni logo on this cabinet intentionally, as a signature of family pride.