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2 questions about early 1900 theater electrics

Discussion in 'Technical Theatre History' started by Judy, Dec 9, 2017.

  1. Judy

    Judy Member

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    [​IMG]
    Question 1. What might have been the purpose of the rail around this 1903 switchboard? It was located to the right of proscenium arch. Was rail to protect the board, the operator or others on the stage? From what? Please elaborate.

    Question 2. This one requires speculation and I need the speculation of more knowledgeable folks. In new theater construction or renovation in early 1900s, what might have been the difference in input during planning stages between an electrician who daily operated a switchboard and an electrician who worked as a consultant for many aspects of theater coinstruction.

    Am working on the story about the chief electrician on duty in 1903, a fellow named Archie. Thank you for your help.

    http://www.iroquoistheater.com/
     
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  2. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    1 The section of the switchboard on the left side looks like knife blade switches, thus the contacts have exposed electrical parts. It's likely the railing is there to keep people and objects from making unwanted contact.

    2) The very first story I heard about an electrician that was not part of the "house" staff, full or part time, was Louis Hartmann, who worked for NYC Broadway producer David Belasco. Typically such an employee would float from show to show (and still do so) as the head for the electrics department installing the show, as opposed to the house running crew.

    CB's Derek had this comment in a post about the origins of the color Bastard Amber; " I cannot recall the source, but I've read it was Louis Hartmann, David Belasco's Master Electrician".

    https://www.controlbooth.com/threads/odd-gel-names.9981/

    The very first time I had heard of any electrician "type" serving in a consulting basis was Hans Sondheimer, who was not an electrician, but served as the Technical Director for the NYC Opera for decades (among many roles) and who consulted on many new facilities from the 1940's thru the 80's. Supposed to have been a real curmudgeon.

    Not sure that this type of "Production Electrician" would have existed in Chicago at the time. It would take some research to determine if "Broadway" type shows or national tours got their start in Chicago, thus might have required such a person working full time for the producer.

    3) The IATSE has been in existence since 1886, thus and in large cities, it's likely that Archie would have been a member of "Illinois Brotherhood of Theatrical Stage Employees, Inc". Now know as IATSE Local 2.
     
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  3. Judy

    Judy Member

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    Bam! Instant time travel when saw that word Rosco. In 1970s used Rosco gels and dies to produce slide art for AV productions. Haven't thought about those in a long time. Have a clear mental picture of a container of dies.

    Thanks for confirming my supposition about the knife switches being dangerous. Additionally, think if I were operating a switchboard I wouldn't want anything getting in my path. Sounds like a busy job. Thanks too for tip about his union, gives me another bread crumb. Archie was working as an electrician as early as 1891 and was at a theater by 1899 when he was at the Columbia but I don't know when he was first employed by a theater. In 1891 the young Chicago branch of IBTSE put the first pressure on Chicago theaters. Other labor organizations in the city accepted their demands as reasonalbe. Of the four theaters who resisted, three (Hoolesy, Columbia and Haymarket) were owned and managed by men who twelve years later owned/managed the Iroquois. Color me not surprised. [​IMG]

    Archie was house switchboard operator at the Iroquois but 4 years before was a hired electrial overseer for renovation of Coliseum Theater in Bloomington, IL, a good sized house and project. Part of my hope is to better understand the totem pole. Upon completion of the Iroquois, in promotional material, Harry Bissing was cited as having been in charge of "special effects." In fact Bissing was the only one credited then for any of the Iroquois stage electrics. At the same time Archie was working on the Coliseum renovation he was employed by another Chicago theater, an old one named the Columbia, owner/managed by the same guy who owner/managed the Iroquois, fellow named Davis. So I'm wondering why, if Archie was qualified to oversee the Coliseum renovation, Davis didn't have him design the stage electrics at the Iroquois. Bissing was a bit of a hot dogger in those years, building his brand, leading to involvement in productions like the Follies and Ben Hur. I might assume he was somewhat of a celebrity figurehead electrician for the Iroquois project, while Archie did the heavy lifting, but Bissing did patent a few lighting components, wrote an article about switchboards that appeared in an electrical magazine (and at his obituary was credited with having been the first to invent theater signs on Broadway that used switching lights to give the effect of motion, though so far I've not learned anything to corroborate that claim). Would the switchboard in 1903 have been described as part of "special effects"? Trying to guess if the Bissing "special effects" citation means he might have had the switchboard built to his specifications. Read that Kliegl intro'd dimmers that same year. No clue if they were incorporated on that board.
     
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  4. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Very interesting... tba restudy in questions.
     
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  5. dhorn

    dhorn Member

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    Regarding Question #1. That railing is there to keep scenery, props, the cast and crew from running into the Electrician Operators, dimmers and knife switches. Those style panels with exposed knife switches were dangerous and thankfully were not allowed at some point in time, but I do not know when that changed.
     
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  6. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    1900's stage electrics are before what I know of much - by than which I know of they were (the dimmers) above the stage or small enough in scale easily out of the way off stage. On a knife safety switch question... normally there was no live components later - normally at least into the 1910's, what you show is exposed knife switches - probably mostly pre-normal dimmer in concept - note the wheels above and live switches in general - non-dim and a safety rail about it was no doubt a wise thing. Photo does not indicate on stage or above it. Will research some for this purpose. Glad to see a website about this.
     
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