The Door County Maritime Museum’s latest temporary feature exhibit “Telegraphs to the Past” explores the history and development of the Engine Order Telegraph.  Often known referred to as a “Chadburn” in honor of the device’s lead manufacturer in Liverpool, England, these impressive, but relatively simple, mechanical devices have graced the wheelhouse of merchant and military vessels from the earliest days of steam propulsion.

As mechanical propulsion replaced sails as the primary means of moving a ship through the water, it became immediately, and sometimes disastrously, evident that efficient communication with the engine room was essential.  In sea going vessels, navigational officers control the ship’s navigation from wheelhouse, sometimes called a pilothouse or bridge.   Engineering officers control the propulsion plant from the engine room. The officer in the wheelhouse does not know about the condition of the propelling engine and the marine engineer in the engine room does not knows where the ship is heading. Hence, a fail-safe communication is required between the navigation and engineer officer to ensure smooth and safe sailing of the ship. The engine order telegraph efficiently and effectively provides that essential communication link.img007sm

Utilizing a variety of historic engine order telegraphs and other artifacts from its collection, the “Telegraphs to the Past” exhibit explores the evolution of intra-ship communication from the simple voice tube to the direct pilothouse engine control systems found on modern vessels today.

A host of massive Brass Pedestal Telegraphs from the Museum’s collection are definitely the highlight of the exhibit.  Well into the twentieth century, these extraordinary devices were the primary means of communicating orders between the wheelhouse and the engine room.  The exhibit will also allow visitors to attempt to monitor engine commands and properly record the orders in a “bell log.”  Other highlights include video exhibits portraying the engine order telegraph in operation, including aboard the historic steam car ferry SS Badger.  The Badger, which still makes its scheduled route across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc to Ludington each summer, is the last coal powered steam vessel operating on the Great Lakes.  The Badger was constructed in Sturgeon Bay by the Christy Corporation in 1953.

This exhibit ends on October 24, 2017.