Frank Adam Electric Company of St. Louis, known for its commercial fuse boxes, entered the stage lighting control field in the late teens, when they manufactured for Major Equipment Company of Chicago the first switchboards to feature pre-set ("pre-selection.")  Dimming preset and proportional mastering made their debut in 1931, when the first electronic switchboard was installed at the Los Angeles Theatre, followed the next year by Radio City Music Hall and the Center Theatre.  

To view the older Major catalogs, click here. "Pre-selection" became possible when Major removed the high amperage switches from the stage Switchboard and replaced them with remote-controlled contacters, usually located in the basement beneath the board.  This 1920 trade ad shows that Major-Adam had not yet unified the dimming and switching portions of their Switchboard.

This 1925 ad shows the typical unified Major-Frank Adam Switchboard that was installed in hundreds of theatres, where Major Equipment Corporation furnished the lighting equipment.

Major-Adam would claim title to world's largest (and widest) Switchboard installed at the 1930 Hollywood Pantages.  At 29 feet wide, the machine included two slow motion wheels.

Major-Adam dimmer controls were FULL BRIGHT in the bottom position, the exact opposite of every other make, before or since. This feature was later corrected, when autotransformers replaced resistance plates, but with ambiguous dual numbering added.

Tim Burns of Knoxville contributes the extremely strange "General Operating Instructions" from a 1955 autotransformer board, which make no sense and put the fear of God into the operator.   "FIRST.   See that all DIMMERS are at the BLACKOUT position [top or bottom?]  SECOND.  Operate REQUIRED CONTROL UNIT circuit breakers, or switches, to the "ON" position, indicated by the PILOT LIGHT.  THIRD.  Operate DIMMERS to the required INTENSITY.   FOURTH.  Lights may be switched OFF at any intensity position, BUT must never be SWITCHED ON EXCEPT at the END CONTACTS for either BLACKOUT or FULL BRIGHT.   FIFTH.  FLASHING the LIGHTING FOR ENCORE MUST NEVER be done unless the DIMMERS are on the FULL BRIGHT CONTACTS.   SIXTH.  When the HOUSE lighting is set up to EXTENDED CONTROL from the picture booth or the lobby doors, the HOUSE DIMMERS must be SET-UP on the FULL BRIGHT CONTACTS.    NOTE:  These dimmers are a scientific, mechanical and electrical apparatus and must be carefully and must be carefully used for adjusting the INTENSITY of the lighting.  Burning of the MOVABLE and FIXED CONTACTS is an EXHIBIT of the WRONG OPERATIONS and also LACK OF PROPER MAINTENANCE."

Major-Frank Adam and its chief competitor, Hub Electric of Chicago, continued to supply schools with Switchboards for fifty years after the 1929 crash put an end to Movie Palace construction. All three companies folded circa 1980, unable to keep up with advances in SCR dimmers and memory control.

At least two Adam installations are still in operation, the Masonic Hall in Scranton, PA, photo below courtesy John Cardoni and Rick Boychuk:

and the Tampa Theatre, photo below courtesy William Lloyd Pearson:


In 1958, John Chappell, who graciously donated this catalog, contacted Adam and received the following letter and materials.

"Photographs of recent installations"--

1952 Frank Adam Bulletin #801--

1957 Frank Adam Bulletin #D-2.

To view the Major-Adam catalogs, click here.

February 2016.