Vintage lighting control photos you didn’t know you needed in your life

Vintage lighting control photos you didn’t know you needed in your life

Welcome to the latest edition of the Monthly(ish) Museum, where we explore the storeroom of vintage lighting industry equipment and ephemera in ETC’s collection.

This entry doesn’t focus specifically on gear; in addition to equipment, we have boxes full of manuals, drawings, and printed promotional material from companies throughout the the lighting industry, dating back as far as 1892. Some of those promotional materials are product brochures, and some of those product brochures contain amazing vintage images of people using – or at least posing with – lighting equipment. These photos were just too good not to share. Sit back and let the old-school lighting cool wash over you:

Back in time…

We’ll start with the Q-File brochure from Thorn Electrical Industries Limited, published in February of 1970…

…in which a woman programs an early memory lighting console and rocks an awesome mod haircut.

Next, we’ll hop back in time to the mid-1960s Solitrol Lighting Systems brochure from Ward Leonard Electric Co.

If you’ve ever wondered what Joan Holloway from “Mad Men” would look like as a console programmer, well, now you have your answer. The product advertised here is the “Solitrol 200,” a 30-channel, 2-scene preset desk marketed to small theaters.

I, for one, am always this happy when I use a wall station.

She’s also pretty excited about dimmer racks.


The full-scale setup involved two operators and a lot of Star-Trek realness. Apparently, they sometimes even let men use this one.

Here we have a well-dressed gent operating a remote station in a studio. There is something ominous about that yellow light.

Finally, we visit the Metropolitan Electric Lumitron brochure from the late 1950s:

Snazzy heels: the perfect tech week accessory.

Here’s another view of the same console, found in the 1958 pamphlet “Lighting Control Equipment for Theatre and Television” by Stephen J. Skirpan, who worked in Metropolitan’s Lumitron division before founding Skirpan Lighting Control Corporation.

This woman is my favorite. Don’t we all secretly hope we look this cool when we stand next to a light board?

These consoles were manual preset boards, but, in the event that you couldn’t find a snappily-dressed board op, some models did offer a way to “pre-program” cues. How, you might ask?

Scantron sheets!

Do you have stories to tell about the gear in this post, or your own stories of lighting history to share? Let us know at

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  1. Francis Stevenson

    Blimey, I was at White Light when they were still hiring out Thorn Qfiles, they were terrible desks! I never looked that cool either..

  2. I love that they used so many female operators! I wonder why though? Was it common? Were controllers seen as the secretaries of lighting designers? Hmmm…

    • Susan Diane LaBrie

      Jen: Certainly not; Though female board ops were few and far between, I was one of the few ” to be allowed” to learn lighting design and operation in the mid 1970’s at my university’s theatre department. The sad fact is that many women of my generation felt that expressing their desire to know more about the latest technology would make them seem less attractive to men. I went on to learn how to operate radio boards and sound boards and became a floor manager at my local TV station when I was 20. Of course, I was paid less than a man who did not have a college degree. I had an attitude of gratitude and appreciation for what I could accomplish and because I did not realize I was being treated unfairly, I was able to make inroads in what was then an exclusively male domain. Our generation were pathfinders for yours, as is every generation before yours and mine. I learned not to fight for my rights but to accept that I had equal opportunity and to work within the parameters of my situation. My daughters have different challenges as I am sure their daughters will.

  3. Kathryn Hester

    Loved these photos and especially the commentary! That’s for the history lesson on lighting, interesting.

  4. Steve Boone

    Great pictures! I remember working in theatres with older auto-transformer boards, wishing for these very control desks when they were new and being advertised in Theatre Crafts. Then a few years later, great horror stories would emerge that definitely framed some of the new consoles in a whole different light.

  5. Holly Sherman

    As a wench with a wrench, i wouldn’t be caught dead in heels, skirt and makeup. Our working gear was jeans and blue workshirts. Marketing men selling gear. Sigh. He’s running the submasters and masters. She gets the heavy labor of revolving preset duty.
    We were few and mighty!

  6. Way cool gear and ‘gals’ from the ’50’s.

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