The Marbelite Company & The Ruleta Company

The intertwined history of Marbelite and Ruleta is interesting, if not confusing. Since Ruleta and Marbelite both operated under the ownership of Charles Lenz, I have combined their shared history on this page. As you will see, Horni Signal provided much of the equipment to both of these companies at different points in time.

The Chronology

1939-1947: Marbelite and Ruleta – Associated Companies

Signals installed in New York and Philadelphia

Much of the history of Marbelite and Ruleta can be gleaned from their earliest two ads, published in 1939 and 1940. They were “associated companies” under the same owner, Charles Lenz.

In the 1939 ad (left), the only signal heads depicted are two-lamp Ruletas, which were installed in New York City. These signals were cast from the corner-hinged molds originally made by Horni Signal. It’s not clear to me how an established signal company (Horni) sold or gave their old equipment to a new, competing company (Ruleta). Horni was still doing business at the time, using newer signal designs. The new designs Horni was using in 1939 would later be acquired by Marbelite after Horni went out of business. (See the Flat-Top section below.)

In the 1940 ad (right), a new type of signal, branded as Marbelite, was introduced with a rodded, sectional design. It is depicted in the center of the ad, along with a 4-way Ruleta in the corner. I have only been able to find photos of these early Marbelites in Philadelphia.

Ruletas and early Marbelites in service : On the right is an example of a Ruleta in it’s natural habitat – New York City. Yes, it could be a Horni if it was made before 1939, but it is more likely a Ruleta. As far as I am aware, Ruleta signals were only installed in New York, and nearly all of them were two-color lights, per the city’s specs of the day. There are thousands upon thousands of photographs, movies and other films where you can see Ruletas in service. The left and center photos show rodded Marbelites in service, both in Philadelphia.

The first Marbelite-branded signals were not acquired from Horni, like Ruleta signals were. However, they did use the same reflector assemblies as Ruletas. I did not know this fact until collector Gerrit Carstensen shared the above photos of this magnificent Marbelite beacon he recently found. You can see the RULETA CO. stamp on the reflector frame of Garret’s signal.

I have only seen one more of these surface in the last 20+ years.

Side note: Marbelite-branded lights acquired from Signal Service Corp. (1946-47)

To add to collectors’ 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 “Flat-Top” Marbelites

After the takeover of Horni Signal

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.

I can’t be certain, but I assume Ruleta was gone within a few years of 1947, if not already. NYC was still installing “Ruleta style” signals into the early ’50s, without any manufacturer name embossed inside. My NYC signal is one of these later “no-name” Ruletas, with plastic-insulated (i.e., newer) wiring inside.

Exterior features:

The Marbelite signals of this brief period were acquired from the defunct Horni corporation and were left virtually unchanged, except to rebrand the logos. The single-face adjustable signal modules have a flat top and bottom, and these are the first generation of what are often called “Marbelite Flat-tops” by collectors.

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 (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 (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.

  • 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.

Side Note #2: “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

The early 1950s saw the introduction of 12″ diameter lens signals in all the major manufacturers’ catalogs. Marbelite called their 12″ signals the L Series.

L Series – First Generation

The round-backed 12″ signal sections seen above in the Google Street view from the corner of Union and Paine Avenues in Irvington, were spotted in December 2022 by the sharp eye of Kasey, a member of the Highway Divides forum. Nobody in the forum had ever spotted these 12″ signals before, but the consensus was (and I agree) that these are likely a briefly-produced variation of the Marbelite L Series signal. The 8″ sections they are mated to are early patent pending heads from around 1953, and I assume these are the very earliest 12″ signals offered by Marbelite. There are two of these 8-8-12-12 combos at the same corner – hopefully a collector will be able to get them for us to see some day.

L Series – Second Generation

The next generation of the L Series is relatively rare, but a modest number of these have been photographed in the wild and collected so far. They have a similar cross-sectional shape as their 8″ counterparts, and like the first gen signal, have dual welding strips across the back of each section.

L Series – Third Generation

By far the most common of the L series generations is this more complex-shaped, but lighter, cast. It has recessed ends for water drainage, rounded doors and a domed back. This design is what is depicted in the 1963 Marbelite catalog, and I suspect it was introduced earlier than that – maybe in the ’50s. Older signals of this generation have a flat door, and newer ones have a raised lip around the perimeter of the door. There are still many of these late L Series Marbelites in service, particularly in New York City.

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.

1965-1971(?): 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.

1971(?)-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!

Years of Manufacture by Logo and Housing Cast ID

As a quick visual guide, the five logos found on the back of Marbelite 8″-lens 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

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.