This page can definitely be filed under “esoterica”, but collecting old stuff of any kind can really get one wondering about timelines. Over the years while I have been collecting signals, the collecting community has pieced together much of the history of each of the main manufacturers of the vintage traffic control products that we have gathered. This has mainly been done through deduction by examining our collections vis-à-vis old photos, catalogues, advertisements, and our own memories of what was seen on the street.
As an illustration of my own observations in New Jersey, and just for the fun of it, I present here a timeline showing what I believe is a close-to-accurate ranking of the most popular signal manufacturers used in the state from the 1920s through the 1970s. The graphic displays only the top 5-6 manufacturers. It’s tough to find any other vintage brands New Jersey, but there were others (e.g., TSI/Singer) scattered about. No actual data is behind the rankings; they are just best guesses.
The breakdown remained pretty stable through the period.
- Horni Signal Mfg. Corp. (Newark, NJ / New York, NY) was the original leader
- The Marbelite Company (New York, NY), up-and-coming in the ’40s, bought out Horni in 1947, and immediately became the new leader. Marbelite held the top position in New Jersey (and NYC) until its first demise in the late ’70s.
- Crouse-Hinds (Syracuse, NY) always was the solid runner-up throughout its history in New Jersey.
- General Electric (Schenectady, NY) remained a strong presence just behind Crouse-Hinds, as did it’s successor in the signal biz, Econolite (Los Angeles, CA). Newark and other Essex County municipalities were particularly fond of GE.
- American Gas Accumulator (Elizabeth, NJ) may have been more common than GE in the early years, but I think it was close battle between them for the #3 spot either way.
- Signal Service Corp. (Elizabeth, NJ) acquired AGA in 1932. SSC’s signal division was then acquired by Marbelite in 1946.
- Eagle (Moline, IL) was perhaps the most common brand across the USA in the 20th Century, and was the only manufacturer from outside the northeast US that shows up on the chart until LA-based Econolite took over the GE signal product line in 1957.
- Highway Signal & Sign (Newark, NJ), depicted in red, appears to be a separate “spin off” from Horni, showing up close to the time when Marbelite acquired the signal division of Horni. HSS did not have the original Horni molds, but created something looking like a hybrid of Marbelite and GE. Did someone from the original Horni company (perhaps one of the Horni brothers) create a new brand without using the Horni name for whatever reason? HSS was only found, as far as I know, in a few concentrated areas: mostly in Paterson, a few Bergen County municipalities and in Philadelphia, PA.
- LFE/Automatic Signal (Norwalk,CT) acquired HSS by the ’60s and became very common in NJ by the ’70s, probably surpassing Econolite.