The Captain’s Chair
It is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the original STAR TREK series: the Captain’s Command Chair. It was originally built in 1964 for the first pilot episode “The Cage” and was subsequently seen in all 79 original episodes though it went through several modifications throughout the series. The chair was located in the center of Bridge command center; designed so that the captain could get a 360 degree view of what was happening around him on the nerve center of the fictional ship. The chair itself was actually built around a commercially available Madison office chair. A pedestal and cradle were built around the original chair which included arms with various controls and switches on each side.
An original Madison Chair which was the basis of the Captains Chair (photo courtesy of Mike Paugh)
In the pilot episodes each arm of the chair had a single control panel at the front edge of the chair. The right-hand part of the cradle arm had a “goose neck” viewer attached to the side surface. The control panels were basically the same shape and configuration as those seen throughout the series but did not have any of the push buttons or prismatic resin buttons seen during the series. The right-hand side of the chair had two rows of domes in the pilot episodes. All of the domes were green, except for the last dome on the left side which was yellow. The left-hand side controls had three domes across the front (green on each side and yellow in the middle) with surplus aircraft-style buttons in the other positions which were used extensively on the bridge set in the two pilot episodes. Three of the aircraft indicator lights were white and probably had labels on them, like the others on the bridge. The other indicators were solid red, and a combination of yellow and either red or blue.
The very first Captain's Chair from the first pilot episode "The Cage"
The Layout of the Control Arms of the Pilot version of the Captain's Chair
This is the best view we see of the left arm during either pilot. This scene is from "Where No Man Has Gone Before"
Interestingly, the base of the chair was at the same level as the navigator and helmsman in the first pilot. However, in the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the chair was raised about 9 inches with its own base; bringing it higher than it had been before. The “goose neck” viewer was relocated and signage was attached to the right side of the chair. This sign was removed once the series went into production but would later be repurposed as the cabin room number for Yeoman Janice Rand. One additional change happened during filming of the second pilot which was the replacement of one of the green resin domes on the RH control panel. It appears that towards the end of Bridge filming; one of the green domes fell off and was quickly replaced with what they had on-hand which was a misshaped red dome. This red dome was replaced again with a green dome once production began on the series. Of note on the last scene is that data cartridge slot was apparently added on the right arm but it was most likely a fake slot simulated with a cut-off data cartridge; making appear there is a slot there. It's hard to imagine in the middle of filming that they would take the time to cut a slot and put a stop inside (to keep the tape from sliding down all the way). Clearly there was no slot in most of the Bridge scenes
"Where No Man Has Gone Before" showing the original right hand control panel configuration with all green domes
This scene shot towards the end of filming on the bridge set clearly shows a red replacement dome located on the outer row on the right hand control panel. The was removed and replaced again by a green dome once production on the series began. Also of note is the fake data cartridge slot which was probably simulated by cutting a data card in half and making it appear to be in a cut-out
Chair configuration with the replacement dome added
A great view of the changes to the control arms from the first season episode "The Enemy Within"
This is the control arm configuration during the first 12 episodes of the series. The rockers switches were white in the first two episodes
Some great views of the right arm showing the original series control panel configuration from the episode "The Galileo Seven"
Another scene from "The Galileo Seven" showing a rare view of the chair from above
When the series began production, changes were made to the chair along with every other console on the bridge. On the right-hand arm, a tape slot and an intercom were added. The yellow dome on the left side of the control panel was removed and a push-button switch added which activated the intercom located at the back of the right-hand arm. The “gooseneck viewer” was removed and the holes patched. On the left-hand side, the aircraft-style indicator buttons were replaced by the prismatic buttons commonly used throughout the bridge in the first season. And the front domes were changed to a different configuration (this time it was red, green, and yellow, from right to left). In addition, a rocker switch bank with a black flat bezel surround was added behind the left-hand control panel. The rocker switches were white in the first two filmed episodes but were painted different colors (as were all of the rocker switches on the bridge) prior to the third filmed episode “The Enemy Within.” This configuration on the arms of the chair remained for the first 13 episodes filmed.
The most famous view of the right arm controls from the episode "Court Martial" which shows the modifications made to the control panel
Graphic showing the layout of the control arms. The chair arms would remain in this configuration except until the very last episode filmed
A great view of the left arm from the episode "A Taste of Armageddon" This side of the chair remained the same almost the entire series
One of the most recognizable features of the chair was that it would spin and could be turned to face any point on the bridge. In reality this feature was not added until the eighth filmed episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which is when we see the chair pivot for the first time. Prior to that episode the chair was stationary; only facing forward towards the view screen. The next modification came about as part of a plot device needed for the episode “Court Martial,” where we see a close-up of the right-hand control panel. This by far is the best view we get of the right-hand control panel and it’s what everyone remembers since it was prominently featured during a climactic moment in the episode when Kirk allegedly jettisoned the pod containing Ben Finney. The modifications included removing the 4 remaining green domes on the left side of the control panel and replacing them with the familiar black and white push buttons which were also used throughout the Enterprise set. All of the domes on the right side of the control panel were replaced with the exception of the center one, which remained green. Two push buttons are seen operating the adjacent lights on the right side of the panel for the yellow “Alert” indicator and the “Jettison Pod” indicator.
A great view of the front of the chair clearly showing the Madison chair foundation.
A close-up of the domes on the control panel. Note that the domes are neither perfect hemisphere or equal heights
Along with the bottom button that operated the intercom, three buttons of the five were seen in the series to actually serve a purpose. The other two switches while functional; were not ever shown to operate anything in the series. Throughout the series the chair was repainted several times and it appears that the control panels were not removed during the process. Early in the series the edges of the control panels were black but were painted grey when the chair was repainted certainly because they were not removed and left on the chair arm during the repainting process. Other than in the first season the edges of the control panel remained the same gray color as the rest of the chair throughout the series.
Great cap of Kirk in the chair with the extended back from "Mirror, Mirror"
A very clear view of the chair back extensions
The chair extension as seen on the "Lexington"
M-5 Control panel added to the left side of the chair in the episode "The Ultimate Computer"
You can clearly see the mounting bracket for the M-5 control panel in this scene
The chair remained in this configuration until the second season episode “Mirror Mirror,” when an extended backrest was temporarily added. This backrest was used again in another second season episode “The Ultimate Computer” on the Bridge of the Lexington which of course was the same Enterprise Bridge set redresssed. Also in “The Ultimate Computer” a small control box was added to the left hand side of the Enterprise Command Chair to provide an override for the M5 computer system that was being tested. It was attached to the chair with an angle bracket that was later removed requiring filing of the holes and repainting. If you look closely at photos of the chair today; these filled holes can still be seen as well as those for the gooseneck viewer from the pilot episodes and the chair back extension from “Mirror, Mirror.” The only other modification for the rest of the entire series was done on the very last episode of the series where it appears that a couple of the resin prismatic lenses fell off and their positions were inadvertently switched when they were reattached.
Scene from the very last episode "Turnabout Intruder" which shows the last modification done to the chair during the series. It appears that two of the resin prismatic lights fell off and reattached but the locations were reversed.
Graphics showing the very last configuration of the arms during the series
During the last days of filming the final episode “Turnabout Intruder” the Command Chair along with most of the sets were discarded once filming on them concluded. The famous chair however and a few other bridge pieces were salvaged by a friend of one of the studio workers. By the time the Command Chair was retrieved, the controls on the right-hand side and the intercom had already been stripped from the chair; presumably by another worker at the studio. The new owner tried unsuccessfully to “restore” that side of the chair using other salvaged parts from the bridge. Unfortunately, little effort was taken to return it to the correct configuration. Since the control panels on the right-hand arm were missing, the new owner of the iconic chair filled in that area with a piece of wood and repainted the chair a darker “battleship gray” color. He actually installed what most likely was the salvaged button bank from the bridge science station on the right-hand side. Also, some resin parts were added to the front of the left-hand control panel. These replacement resin parts which were oblong in shape did not have the correct profile of the original domes. Although the rocker switches on the LH side of the chair appear to be the original switches; the raised, tapered bezel is not and appears to be another salvaged part from another part of the bridge (probably from the Science or Communications stations which both had the tapered plywood bezels). Those modifications were the extent of the owner’s attempt to restore the chair. The Command Chair along with other bridge pieces remained in his possession until he died. The Chair along with the rest of the rescued set pieces were sold at the Profiles in History “Bob Justman” auction in June of 2002 and were subsequently displayed at Paul Allen’s Museum of Science Fiction in Seattle, Washington.
The chair as displayed at the Seattle Science Fiction Museum (photo courtesy of Mike Paugh)
Current configuration of the chair arms
The condition of the famous chair has remained the same, with the failed restoration that the original rescuer of the chair attempted still a part of it. The whereabouts of the right-hand control panel with its push-button switches has remained a mystery since 1969 -- UNTIL NOW!! In August 2015, I was contacted by my friend “Trekkerguy” as he is known on the various forums, who sent a photo of himself holding what certainly looked like the long-missing right-hand control panel. Trekkerguy was considering a purchase of iconic control panel. It was reported to be the original, and it was said to be lifted from the struck STAR TREK set before the Chair itself was rescued. This “Jettison Pod” panel was handed down from a grandfather to grandson, and then to a Los Angeles collector who was ready to sell.
The recently discovered right arm control panel! (photo courtesy of "Trekkerguy)
Needless to say, I rolled my eyes at the story and was naturally skeptical about the authenticity of the piece. But Trekkerguy was interested in purchasing it -- if it was the real thing. I asked him to send some good photos so that I could have a look at it and see if there were any telltale signs that could verify the panel’s authenticity.
I could tell immediately that none of the four remaining resin domes attached to the control panel were correct. While they appeared to possibly be the correct shape, they were mounted in the wrong positions according to their color and one resin dome was completely missing. This immediately threw-up a “red flag” and seemed to confirm my initial thoughts that it was a fake.
Interestingly the bottom of the black plexi did have “egg crate” sheet metal dividers to separate the lights identical to the construction of the bridge displays. Even more interesting was that the five push button switches were correct (these are very rare and had never been positively identified). It is only through one confirmed example that was auctioned off in 2004 that we know what the entire switch looks like below the visible surface part seen onscreen. Coming up with five of these would be virtually impossible if the aim was to create a fake in order to dupe a collector. Suddenly, this panel was of great interest! Could it really be the original right-hand control panel that someone unknowingly attached the resin buttons that had fallen off in the wrong order? The perimeter of the plexi did have grey paint on it like the original did later in the series and the internal wiring also had gray overspray on them. I was still skeptical, but I was now interested.
Current configuration of the right side control panel
Graphics showing the 5 switches and the metal divider below the plexiglass (wiring not shown for clarity)
Bottom of the control panel showing the Hetheringon switches (photo courtesy of "Trekkerguy)
Bottom side view of the control panel (photo courtesy of "Trekkerguy)
Then there was a breakthrough that confirmed for me that this piece was most likely the real right hand side control panel from the Captain’s Chair. One vital piece of the authenticating puzzle was the wire that was used on the control panel. The wire used during the original Enterprise bridge construction was very distinctive because of what is printed on the wire itself. When I ask my friend if the wire had any markings on it; he said it did. He read to me the text on the control panel wire, and it exactly matched what the wire on the known bridge displays also say. This is a detail virtually unknown, except to a few who have examined the remaining bridge artifacts. That discovery of matching wiring coupled with the correct buttons and dividers would make this piece virtually impossible to fake.
The final piece of the authenticating process was the identification of the vintage bulbs that were installed on the control panel. These long out of production lights exactly matched the lights used on other bridge displays; again, another detail that is virtually unknown. With all of the corroborating evidence; I am convinced that this is the authentic, long-lost right-hand control panel. I told my friend “Trekkerguy” to buy it, which he did immediately. I have no doubt that the original RH control panel from the Command Chair has now been found after its whereabouts for nearly 50 years were unknown.
Most amazing, the right-hand “Jettison Pod” switch panel is still fully functional. When electricity was applied, the heavy-duty switches still function properly and even the vintage light bulbs still operate. The lights throw off a tremendous amount of heat, which account for both the warped plastic and the resin buttons that easily fall off when they get too hot which softens the glue holding them on. In fact, after exposed only a couple of minutes to a glowing 25W light bulb, the resin domes get too hot to touch! It is well documented that the heat generated from these lights melted and distorted control panels and plastic throughout the STAR TREK sets and this control panel is no different.
There are precious few artifacts of the original STAR TREK sets known to exist today. The Smithsonian is restoring the 11-foot Enterprise model. The full-sized Shuttlecraft Galileo used in the show was rescued and restored by Adam and Leslie Schneider and is displayed at Space Center Houston. Bridge displays, control panels and a few set pieces are all that remain from the famed Enterprise Bridge – all in private hands or loaned to museums. And now, we can add the iconic Command Chair control panel with its push-button switches to the list of artifacts once thought lost, but now found – just in time for the 50th Anniversary of the series’ network premiere.
Hetherington switches on the control panel
One of the most mysterious and least known items from TOS was the origin of the white push-button switch with the black collar. There were 5 of these on the captain’s chair but they were also used throughout the Enterprise sets. There have been numerous theories, such as one that suggested the button came from a refrigerator and that the black bezel was a marble holder. Until now there has never been any confirmation of who made the white push button switch with its distinctive spring-loaded action and definitive “click.” Now, I can say with all certainly that the push-button switch was a found item and was a complete unit including the marble holder type bezel surround. The switch itself was a 2-1/2” cylinder that mounted from the face-side and was secured by a nut on the back side. It was manufactured by a Sharon Hills, Pennsylvania Company called Hetherington. Like other switches used in the series, it’s possible and maybe probable that Hetherington switches were purchased surplus aircraft parts. Robert Hetherington was an electrical engineer whose company designed switches during the first half of the 1900’s. Hetherington’s company specialized in mechanisms for electronic switches, for snap action switches, and materials for switch contacts used in severe environments (such as marine applications.) They provided multiple switches to the Army-Air Force in World War II, including parts of the P-51 Mustang and bomb release buttons for the fleet of bombers. Information about the company is limited but it appears that the company no longer is in business and have not produced switches in many years; possibly since the 1950’s. Since all Hetherington switches are scarce it is reasonable to assume that they have been out of production for many years and those purchased for the show were surplus and possibly being phased out when they were originally obtained. In any case, along with the mystery of what happened to the captain’s chair control panel we have also answered the long debated questions on the original push button switches used on the STAR TREK sets.
Hetherington bomb release from the World War 2 era