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Railroading Term?

Posted by Bruce Kahl on September 07, 2000

In Reply to: Red-Light District posted by ESC on September 07, 2000

: : Does anyone know where and when the phrase "red light district" originated?
: : Can you tell me when the phrase was first used in print?
: : Any help is greatly appreciated!!

: "RED-LIGHT DISTRICT -- Brothels once advertised their presence by burning electric lights covered with red shades or glass in their windows. This led to the Americanism 'red-light district' for an area know for its houses of prostitution, the term first recorded in the late 19th century."

: "

The term "red light district" is said to have originated with early railroaders. The men carried lit red lanterns when they left the train so in case of an emergency the crew caller would be able to find them. These lanterns were left outside bordellos when crew members stopped to pay the ladies a visit and sometimes were brought inside to be placed in a window.

A railwayman's lit red lantern left sitting in front of an establishment could just as easily have come to signify a saloon or a barber shop as it did a brothel. On the other hand, the lit red lantern quietly residing outside a nondescript building of unclear purpose could well have come to be seen as a discreet advertisement of what was for sale within.