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History of Control Rooms

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Old dispatcher control room in Cincinnati Street Railways Company

Old dispatcher control room in Cincinnati Street Railways Company

(Image Source: Popular Mechanics)

Have you ever wondered when and how control rooms emerged?

Factory and Power Station Control Rooms

The rise of control rooms begun sometime in the years the 1920s inside factories with the main purpose of overseeing production from a central office. This allowed manufacturers to enhance communication between units, better coordination of overall operations, and more effective responses to emergencies. Throughout the 20th century, control rooms were a phenomenal opportunity for process control rooms and power plants to greatly reduce costs, gain operational reliability and security.

Old control room of London's Fulham Power Station

Old control room of London's Fulham Power Station (Image Source: Popular Mechanics)

Broadcasting Control Room

In the 1900s, control rooms were often being used in broadcasting studios as well as television production studios. Control rooms in the entertainment industry consisted of monitors, speakers, switching boards, and other equipment, in order to record and edit a program live or as it was registered. Control rooms in the broadcasting studios played an important role in connecting with all of the other segments of broadcast such as the studio itself, the transmitter, and the listeners (e.g., their home radio).

Old control room at a TV station

Old control room at a TV station (Image Source: Pinterest)

Control Rooms for War

Beyond manufacturing and entertainment, control rooms were also being used for war. For instance, during World War II and Cold War, it was a means of war planning and communications about solving one or more problems, mitigating risks, updating everyone’s status in a safe environment where key individuals such as military strategists such as heads of the army, navy, and air force could meet.

Old control room at Stevnsfort

Old control room at Stevnsfort (Image Source: Wikipedia)

Space Station Control Rooms

Control rooms were also crucial for the development of space missions. In 1965, NASA's Mission Control Center was considered one of the most sophisticated control rooms at the time, mainly because it handled large amounts of data and this room contained the biggest set up of televisions: “This system was driven by more than 1,100′cabinets of electronics equipment, 140′command consoles, 136 television cameras, and 384 television receivers. Some 10,000 miles of wire linked this behemoth with more than two million wire connections” (source: E&T).

Old NASA Mission Control Center

Old NASA Mission Control Center (Image Source: ARS Technica)

How has the design for control rooms evolved?

The first control rooms were massive and bulky with many different knobs, buttons, switches, and gauges. This design was tedious and inefficient when performing tasks because it demanded operators to manually manage the control rooms in order to hold, rotate, scroll, switch, and push physical buttons and actuators. Although, at the time it was a significant improvement in efficiency compared to when monitors were previously being operated separately and individually at different stations on the machines themselves.

Old control room of a power plant

Old control room of a power plant (Image Source: Reddit)

In modern days, the physical aspects of control rooms have significantly changed since the 1900s. This new evolution in design for modern control rooms offers the flexibility and durability required for 24/7 mission-critical work environments. In addition to an ergonomic design that makes individuals feel comfortable enough to sustain very long shifts (10 hours and more).

Transit C-300 Console, modern console from Sustema

Modern console (Image Source: Sustema)


Control rooms started around in the early 1900s as enormous machines and equipment meant to oversee and manage production. As the years went by, control rooms served a variety of areas from productions and power plants to war, space missions, and entertainment. Today, control rooms serve even more industries such as traffic control, hospitals, networks, government agencies, and more. Also, their design is now much smaller with a unified multi-purpose function. But what does the future hold for control rooms in the years to come, 2035, 2050, 2100...? Find out in our next blog!

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Barco (2021). The history of control rooms: where did it start? Retrieved from:

E&T (2013). Nasa's Control Centers: design and history. Retrieved from:

International Atomic Energy Agency (1995). Control room systems design for nuclear power plants.

NIOS (date unknown). Mass Communication. Chapter 10.

Smithsonian Magazine (2017). Go Behind the Glass of Churchill's Underground War Rooms. Retrieved from:

Veronika Domova, Maria Ralph, Elina Vartiainen, Alvaro Aranda Muñoz, Adam

Henriksson, Susanne Timsjö. Re-Introducing Physical User Interfaces into Industrial

Control Rooms, In Proceedings of the European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics

2017, 2017, pp. 162–167. ISBN: 978-1-4503-5256-7


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