The Marbelite Company & The Ruleta Company

The Marbelite Company and The Ruleta Company were both owned by Charles Lenz. I’m not sure why he owned two ostensibly competing traffic control equipment companies, with Ruleta advertised as an “associate company” of Marbelite.

Marbelite’s website states, “Marbelite Co., Inc. has been serving the transportation industry needs since early 1940“. At least one Marbelite ad (below) was published in 1939. Some other published ads from the 1940s state that Marbelite began back in 1923, though I haven’t seen any evidence of Marbelite products or ads existing before the late 1930s.

Ruleta, which appears to have only done business in New York City, seems to have folded by 1950, while Marbelite, which apparently made its first foothold in Philadelphia, went on from there to be one of the most prolific traffic control companies – including being the sole supplier to NYC – until the late 1970s. Marbelite went under in 1978 and was revived in more recent years more as a supplier and distributor of traffic control equipment.

The Chronology

Years of Manufacture by Logo and Housing Cast ID

As a quick visual guide, the five logos found on the back of Marbelite adjustable signal sections are shown below with their housing cast IDs and years of manufacture. Some of this information was given to me in a conversation with Joe LiPari of Marbelite in the early 2000s:

1940*-1947 : circle logo
Housing ID: none

1947-1950* up-parallelogram logo without PAT. PEND.
Housing ID: TD-19143 H.S.**

1950*-1965 up-parallelogram logo with PAT. PEND.

  • 1950*-1953 (flat top housing, no rain notch)
    Housing ID: TD-19143 H.S.**
  • 1953-1965 (recessed top housing with rain notch)
    Housing ID: TD-19260

1965-1971* down-parallelogram logo
Housing ID: TE-19408

1971*-1978 “traffic light” logo
Housing ID: TE-19408

* = Year is approximated
** = Housing originally produced by Horni Signal in 1938

1938 to 1947: The Marbelite-Ruleta Years

(before the takeover of Horni Signal)

The Marbelite Company was producing traffic lights for some time before their acquisition of the traffic division of Horni Signal Mfg. Corp 1947. As seen in the ads below from 1939 and 1940, they were originally producing signals under two company brand names; Ruleta and Marbelite.

The 1939 ad shown above on the left only depicts Ruleta heads, while the 1940 ad to the right depicts both a Ruleta 4-way and Marbelite cluster in the center. My assumption is that Ruleta signals were first made in 1938 or ’39, when Horni retired their corner-hinge style signals, which Ruleta then acquired and produced under their name. Horni was still in business at that time manufacturing a new line of sectional signals, until Marbelite finally took them over about 8 years later. For more of the “prequel” history of Ruleta signals, please check my Horni Signal page.

The Marbelite-branded signals that were first produced in 1940 (left and above) were not acquired from Horni. However, both Ruleta and Marbelite used the same retired Horni reflector assemblies. You can see the RULETA CO. stamp on the reflector frame of Garret’s Marbelite above.

Horni 3-rod molds (like the Hoboken Horni) were either not acquired by Charles Lenz, or they were replaced very soon by this new design using two tie rods instead of three.

Philadelphia is the only city I know of that used these early Marbelites (see b/w photos above, thanks Matt Cornely). And, I have only seen two of these surface in collections in the last 20+ years. One of them is the single-section lamp shown above, acquired by Ohio collector Gerrit Carstensen.

Marbelite-branded lights from Signal Service Corp. (1946-47)

To add to the confusion of Marbelite’s history, one year before taking over Horni Signal, Marbelite had taken over Signal Service Corporation of Elizabeth NJ. Marbelite did not produce the SSC style signals for very long. Once they took over Horni in 1947, they switched to their more modern, modular design. But if you are lucky enough to find a traffic light like the one in the Worthpoint ad above, it could be tagged as American Gas Accumulator, Signal Service Corp., or Marbelite.

The Marbelite controller cabinet that I have in my collection is embossed with AGA cast IDs.

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

a.k.a. the first Marbelite “Flat Tops”

In 1947, when Horni Signal went belly-up, Marbelite acquired Horni’s more modernized equipment as their main product line, and ostensibly took over Horni’s surviving accounts, thereby becoming one of the biggest brands in traffic equipment; on the level of big competitors such as Crouse-Hinds, Eagle and GE. By the early 1950s, New York City began modernizing their entire signal infrastructure, and they decided to go with Marbelite equipment exclusively.

Exterior features:

The Marbelite signals of this period were virtually unchanged from the defunct Horni. The adjustable (1-way) signal modules have a flat top and bottom, and these are often called “Marbelite Flat-tops” by collectors.

The immediate change was to simply replace the Horni script logo with the block-lettered MARBELITE logo on the back of the adjustable sections, and on the dome/floor of fixed-face (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 adjustable signal housing.
  • A Cast ID may be embossed on the upper left corner of the door.

First change to the doors:

Soon after the Horni-Marbelite transition, probably by 1948, the access doors were changed slightly. This applies to both adjustable and fixed-face (4-way) signals:

  1. A flange was added around the perimeter (see arrow marked “1“).
  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 (see arrows marked “2“).
  3. These doors may (or may not) be embossed “6580” in the corner.

1948-1950 : “Phantomless” Reflectors

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 in the previous generation.  From this point forward, the size of the actual reflector bowls remained unchanged, so if you have one of these “Phantomless” lights in need of reflectors, you should be able to find replacements (either glass or aluminum) fairly easily. It’s not so easy for the older models…

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 adjustable signal 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 and adjustable signals.

1950-1953 : The First “Patent Pending” Marbelites

Marbelite’s in-housing reflector system was introduced around 1950, with the patent applied for on Feb 25, 1950.  As with the housing design itself, this design improvement was made on the heels of a similar one by made by General Electric in 1949.

Big cities like New York and Detroit installed many thousands of Marbelites starting around this time. In fact, New York City was supplied exclusively by Marbelite from the early ’50s through the 1970s. I believe this is when Lenz’s Ruleta Company, which had been supplying NYC with the old, heavy, cast corner-hinge signals, finally shut down.

  • 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 on the adjustable signals: 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 adjustable signal housing.
  • Visors (either tunnel or cutaway style) were 7″ or 8″ length with a downward-slant profile.
  • On the adjustable (1-way) signals, the dimples on the back and around the bottom wire entrance were removed at some point during this period.
  • Door changes were made a two points in this period :
    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.
    2. The overall door shape was changed to one with a deep profile with no lip, and with no hinge bosses across the front (see images below).  This new door shape carried through the “Model 1058” generation.

{ “Finned” Marbelites of the early ’50s }

The early patent pending Marbelite adjustable signals from approximately 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

L Series – First Generation

The 1950s saw the introduction of adjustable 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 do not show up very often.

The green NOS signals above were sold on eBay.

L Series – Second Generation

The L Series signal was soon redesigned to a more complex but 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). Older signals of this generation have a flat door, and newer ones have a raised lip around the perimeter of the door.

1953-1965 : The Marbelite “Model 1058”

End of the “Flat Top” era…

  • “Model 1058″ is the name used in the 1963 catalog to denote the adjustable (1-way) 8″ signals. This is the only instance where I have seen Marbelite use a name for their 8” adjustable signals, so this specific generation is the one sometimes referred to as the Model 1058 by collectors.
  • This is the end of the “Flat Top” period, as the adjustable 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 top left)
  • The logo on the adjustable sections continues to have the PAT. PEND. | NEW YORK, U.S.A. verbiage.
  • The doors on both the adjustable and fixed-face (4-way) signals 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 adjustable housing.
  • Although three raised drill points were provided to bolt the adjustable 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

At this time, Marbelite stopped producing fixed-face 4-way signals, and only produced adjustable and pedestrian signals.

  • 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.

Also in the mid 1960s, Marbelite introduced their LPS-20 pedestrian signal.

What are “Tunnaway” Visors?

Traffic signal collectors often talk about Marbelite “Tunnaway” style visors, and this term has had two different meanings, as I explain briefly here.

The word “tunnaway” is most often used to denote the uniquely scalloped style of Marbelite tunnel visor (originally designed by Horni), as seen on the left. These visors on my blinker were actually repros made for me by Steve Tutty in Colorado – I referred to those as “Tuttaways”.

However, the “tunnaway” term was originally coined by John “Signalfan” Rietveld to refer to an asymmetrical style of visor (made by anyone, not just Marbelite) that is tunnel on one side and cutaway on the other, as seen in the photo on the right from North Haledon.

1970?-1978 : Last-Gen Marbelites

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.

  • 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).

In the 1970s, Marbelite updated their 16″ pedestrian signal to the MPS-20 model, which, unlike the earlier LPS-20, used only two bulbs, with metal reflectors, behind a colored DONT WALK | WALK lens.

GTE – using Marbelite molds (approx. 1997-2014)

In the late 1990s, General Traffic Equipment (GTE) of Newburgh, NY acquired and used the old Marbelite TE-19408 signal casting molds (see immediately above) – as well as other Marbelite castings for parts such as cabinets, slip-fitters and connectors. 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.