The Marbelite Company

A Collectors’ Reference

This collectors reference was originally conceived after I spoke with Joe LiPari of the Marbelite Company back in the early 2000s. He had kindly looked up for me the years of manufacture of the different housing cast IDs I had found in my collection of Marbelite signals. He also informed me that the original castings were created in 1938 by the Horni Signal Manufacturing Corporation, which Marbelite took over in 1947.

Before 1947: The “Pre-Horni” Years

Marbelite was producing traffic lights for some time before acquiring the traffic division of Horni Signal Mfg. Corp in 1947. The only “Pre-Horni” era Marbelites I have ever seen were two adjustable signals with an open-sectional, tie-rodded design that visually reminds me of a hybrid of GE and AGA signals.

These early Marblites are quite rare. One of the only two signals that I know to have changed hands in all my years of collecting is the single-section lamp shown below, recently found by Ohio collector Gerrit Carstensen.

Note that the reflector frame in Gerrit’s signal appears to be stamped RULETA, which was an “associate” company to Marbelite. Apparently, not only were old Horni molds being used for Ruleta-branded signals, but some of their parts were used in Marbelite signals as well. In the ad seen on the left, the 4-way signal exemplifies the Horni/Ruleta style, while the 2-way cluster is a Marbelite-branded signal, like Gerrit’s below. The photo above on the right shows early Marbelite signals in use in Philadelphia.

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, they ran with that design.

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

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

In 1947, Marbelite adopted the newly-acquired (and more modern) Horni equipment as their main product line, and ostensibly took over many or 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 begin upgrading their entire signal infrastructure, and they decided to go with Marbelite 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. My signal pictured here has blank doors.

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.
  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.
  3. These doors may 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

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 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.
  • 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 adjustable (1-way) signals, the dimples on the back and around the bottom wire entrance were removed at some point during this period.

Second change to the doors:

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 (see images below).  This new door shape carried through the “Model 1058” generation.

{ “Finned” Marbelites of the 1950s }

The early patent pending Marbelite adjustable 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

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 first four images above are of NOS sections (stand-alone and combined with 8″ sections) that 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). The oldest signals of this generation have a flat door, and the newest signals have a raised ridge 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 around this time, 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” was originally coined by John “Signalfan” Reitvelt to refer to an asymmetrical style of visor that is tunnel on one side and cutaway on the other, as seen in the photo on the left (on High Mountain Road in North Haledon). This visor shape was not unique to Marbelite signals.

The other type of visor that is typically referred to as “tunnaway” is the Horni/Marbelite uniquely scalloped style of tunnel visor, as seen on the right. The visors in this photo were actually repros made for me by Steve Tutty in Colorado, so I referred to those as “Tuttaways”.

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.