Steamboats: The EOT

While much of our work at Fourth Cone Restoration has to do with vintage posters and works on paper, every so often we get unusual projects that challenge our capabilities. Restoring three-dimensional objects forces us to come up with new problem solving methods, which is something we truly like to do.

In recent months we’ve been working with a collector of steamboat memorabilia. His enthusiasm for steamboats has been contagious, and he’s been very generous with sharing the backgrounds of the objects he’s brought in to us.

Here we’ll be discussing our client’s engine order telegraph dial plate, made of milk glass. The lettering on this plate had become scuffed with age, and for us it was simply a matter of filling in some missing color. Below are the before and after photos:


The plate as it looked before.

Telegraph Face_After

Here you can see where we filled in the red in the words “SLOW” and “HALF,” and strengthened the “ED” in the word “FINISHED.” All of these adjustments were done in close consultation with the client and his desired outcome. We made sure to use a more durable type of paint than we might have used in restoring a poster.

This is what the plate will look like once installed in its brass housing:


Note this is not the same plate. This is the opposite side of the telegraph, so “AHEAD” and “ASTERN” are reversed.

Some history:

An engine order telegraph, or EOT, or chadburn is a contraption used on a ship. It enables the pilot up on the bridge to communicate with the engineers down in the engine room. In the 19th and earlier 20th century the EOTs would have looked like the picture above, with a lovely brass fitting and a round dial.

These would have been the height of modernity at the time of their invention. An actual telegraph wire ran from the bridge down to the engine room. Whenever the pilot wanted to give an engine-related command, he’d move the lever on his telegraph. A bell would ring in the engine room, and the engineer would move the lever on his telegraph to the corresponding position, acknowledging the specific order. As you can see by looking at the dial plate, orders could range from full speed ahead, to slowly in reverse, to turn off the engine. In combat the sound of the engine would sometimes give away a ship’s position, so these telegraphs were vital.

When our client first purchased his antique brass telegraph housing, the dial plates it came with were later additions, made from plastic by a New York company called Brelco. He then fitted the housing with original antique dial plates, made of milk glass by Kirk-Habicht of Baltimore. Kirk-Habicht, incidentally, is still in business. Their focus has shifted from ship-related brass hardware to industrial springs. Way to change with the times, Kirk-Habicht! I have been in contact with them to ask about the strange font on the dials, and how the lettering might have been produced. If they get back to me with an answer on that, they deserve an award. Anyway the plate that Fourth Cone Restoration worked on is of unknown origin regarding which boat, but the plate on the reverse side of the housing reportedly came from the towboat Omar, which has since been converted to The City of Clinton Showboat, and lives on land in Clinton Iowa.

The variety of EOTs is astounding, and viewed together I think they’re very pretty:

Engine Order Telegraph

From the Estonian mine-laying submarine EML Lembit. CC BY-SA 2.0,


Captain, possibly W L Smith, taken on the bridge of a steamship. By Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons –, No restrictions,, With levels adjusted from original.


From the grab dredger Anadrian, built for Malta by UK government in 1951. By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5,


From the WWII era tank-landing ship USS LST-325. By Feddacheenee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Engine Order Telegraph

EOT of the steam tugboat St Denys of Falmouth. By Deep silence (Mikaël Restoux) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Engine Order Telegraph

EOT onboard Polish sail training ship Dar Młodzieży, 1982 By Krzysztof Maria Różański, (Upior polnocy) – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Engine Order Telegraph

From the Dutch steamship Christiaan Brunings, used as an icebreaker. By © S.J. de Waard / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA 3.0,

Engine Order Telegraph

From the Russian Naval Museum in Balaclava Andrew Butko [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Engine Order Telegraph

Aalborg Maritime Museum, Denmark   © 2006 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at] – Own work / Picture taken in Aalborg Maritime Museum, Denmark, CC BY 2.5,


While the look of the EOT has become more prosaic in recent times, these systems are still required on all merchant vessels. They are used as an electrically-isolated failsafe in case the pilot’s remote controlled throttle stops working. So the ghost of the EOT lives on with us, quietly standing by if we need it.


Engine Order Telegraph

The engine order telegraph onboard a modern merchant ship. By Xtrememachineuk at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Liftarn using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,


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