Moran Towing Dispatcher shouting orders to tugboats below as late as 1936
Both Captains Star and Zero use megaphones to address and issue orders to their respective tugs. Even Big Mickey’s and Scuttlebutt Pete's operators used one. Did you know that there’s a historical basis explaining why David Mitton and Bob Cardona featured these devices in TUGS?
In the years leading up to the 1920s, before telephones and radios made communications easier, tugboats had to return to their home base after a job to pick up their next work assignment. That lost time often equated to lost revenue to the owners, so many tugboat company dispatchers used megaphones from windows or rooftops to alert their tugs of confirmed or potential clients. The dispatchers also made use of a telescope to catch sight of any vessels coming into port in advance.
One notable example was a Captain Daniel F. Anglim, Dispatcher for the fabled Moran Towing Company headquartered in the Whitehall building at 17 Battery Place, New York City, within a stone’s throw of the fleet’s docking area.
From his vantage point on his office’s balcony the 25th floor, Captain Anglim kept a chart of every Tug’s location and used a spyglass to keep an eye out for anything that had the potential of requiring the services of one or more tugboats. Once he had a confirmation, Anglim would bellow out orders using a six foot long megaphone to the Moran tugs docked below. It is said that the good Captain’s voice could be clearly heard two thousand feet from shore – the man surely must have had a powerful set of lungs! The Dispatcher also had a series of lights to send coded signals to tugs out of earshot or in darkness. By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the company’s use of telephones became commonplace, but Anglim was known to still use his trusty megaphone on occasion.
Tug captain giving orders to his crew
Tugboat captains also used megaphones to issue orders to their crews. Where competition from other tugboat companies was fierce, captains would often use their megaphones to negotiate a price with the captain of an approaching vessel in need of towing services. The winning company’s tug(s) threw a line to the new customer’s boat in preparation to the tow job.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT! THE FAMOUS MEGAPHONE WAS MORE THAN JUST A FILMING TECHNIQUE, IT'S ALSO YET ANOTHER TUGS FEATURE SHROUDED IN REAL HISTORY!
"Compiled from the following sources:
- Tugboats of New York – an Illustrated History by George Matteson (2005)
- San Francisco Bay Crossings magazine - New York Harbor History (hyperlink url = http://www.baycrossings.com/dispnews.php?id=994"
- From the New Yorker 1939-01-21: SHOUTER by H. Reeves
- Photo credit: Popular Mechanics, December 1936, The Dare-Devil Fleet p.828-830