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This Vibroplex model is known as the Champion which was produced from 1939 to 1979. The serial number of this key is 176798 which places this bug as being made in 1952. According to the "Birth dates of Vibroplex keys" by John Elwood, WW7P, he states that in 1952 the following serial numbers were used 174,763 thru 179,232. The base has a black crackle finish. This 1952 Vibroplex Champion model was manufactured at 833 Broadway New York, NY.

The Vibroplex Champion first appeared in 1939 immediately after the Vibroplex Zephyr model. The Champion model is the second Vibroplex model to have the simple "I" style damper. The Vibroplex Zephyr was the first. The Champion looks and feels like a low priced spin off of the No. 6 Lightning bug. No Champion bugs will be found with a circuit closer which was used in land line telegraphy. The Champion was advertised "for radio use only" and was the lowest-priced Vibroplex. An ad that appeared in a 1940 edition of the ARRL handbook has them listed for $9.95 while a Vibroplex Original and the Vibroplex Lightning Bug sold for $13.75. Even though it was the cheapest priced Vibroplex, the Champion handles very well and is probably the second most popular model of Vibroplex sold.

The first Vibroplex company ad for a Champion model appeared in the November 1939 issue of QST on page 114. 

Although I list 1979 as the end date for the Champion model, Vibroplex still had some new old stock on hand and was selling these even after the company moved to Maine.  

  

The Vibroplex company

Founded in 1905 in New York.

In 1907 Mr. Martin briefly moved the company to Norcross Georgia and sold his keys under the name of United Electric Mfg. Co.

By 1910 Vibroplex bugs were manufactured back in New York and were sold under the Vibroplex name and  New York  on the nameplate.  

1979 the company went from New York to Portland, Maine.

In 1995 S. Felton Mitchell Jr., WA4OSR, purchased Vibroplex and moved the company to Mobile Alabama.

In 2009  Scott Robbins, W4PA purchased The Vibroplex Company and relocated it to Knoxville, Tennessee. Currently the company is located at 2906 Tazewell Pike, Suite A2B, Knoxville, TN 37918.

Vibroplex is the oldest continuously operating business in Amateur Radio.  They were founded in New York in 1905 by Horace Martin, the inventor of the semi-automatic or "bug" Morse code key.  After many years in New York and a handful of ownership changes over the 115 year period, Vibroplex has been operating in Knoxville, TN since 2009. Vibroplex keys are manufactured in the USA and they presently manufacture Morse code keys under the Vibroplex and Bencher brands. In addition Vibroplex manufacturers INRAD(International Radio) which is aftermarket crystal and roofing filters for use in transceivers and receivers from the 1960's to the present day. The company also supplies the  OEM filters for the Elecraft K3S transceiver. In 2017 the company introduced the INRAD line of microphone and headset products. To complete a ham station the company also manufacturers the Par Endfedz antennas for both single and multi band operation.

With W7FG Vintage Manuals, Vibroplex creates reproduction manuals for vintage Amateur Radio, shortwave radio, scanners, audio and test equipment.  They have 17,000 titles in stock for both service and operation manuals for equipment dating from the 1930's to the present day.

In addition, Vibroplex is the North American distributor for Spiderbeam, Easy-Rotor-Control, mAT-TUNER automatic antenna tuners, 4O3A Signature Products, and DXPatrol receivers.

If it comes from Vibroplex you known it has to be good! Although I personally prefer their pre Knoxville TN keys as the few that I have examined seem to be built with a touch better quality then their modern day equivalent.

Another way to look at Vibroplex is from a quote by S. Felton Mitchell Jr., WA4OSR, “The Vibroplex name is older than amateur radio and has come to represent the one piece of equipment in the ham shack that symbolizes the interest, camaraderie, and esprit de corps of the world-wide ham radio community.”

  

Where did the name “BUG” come from for this style of mechanical key?

Researching the subject I found a few references which I’ll list below and let the reader decide.

  

According to the Wiki Vibroplex page which anyone can edit and change it states: “The original device became known as a "bug", most likely due to the original logo, which showed an "electrified bug".

  

According to an article by Randy Cole which is found on the vibroplex collector website Mr. Cole states: “In those days a poor telegraph operator was called a “bug,” and some operators bought a key from Vibroplex or a competitor and started using it without much practice. The result was poor sending, and the keys themselves became known as “bugs.”

  

According to “The Origin of the Word Bug" by J. Casale W2NI found at the telegraph-history website.

The first use of the word Bug has its roots as a technical problem(false signals) heard on duplex and quadruplex telegraph circuits. Even Thomas Edison attempted to come up with an arrangement that rendered the false signals insignificant and named his new device a “Bug Trap”. By 1890, the term "bug" in the telegraph industry had evolved to describe a fault heard on multiple telegraphy systems and may have been used in others fields at this time as well.

The second meaning evolved from when the first semi-automatic keys appeared around 1904 or 1905, they were advertised and called transmitters. Some time around 1908 telegraphers started to call them by the nickname, "bug," because they sounded like one on a circuit. When telegraphers started using these new transmitters they naturally sent many errors. Their lack of experience and mis-adjustment of the transmitters sometimes resulted in excessive and "clipped" dots also causing what sounded like a "bug" on the circuit.

The article goes on to describe a court battle between The Vibroplex Co. and the J.H. Bunnell & Co. over the use of the word “Bug”. Very interesting and insightful reading that I highly recommend. 

  

The book titled “The Telegraph Instructor” by G.M. Dodge dated 1911 states the following on page 50: “Bug in a wire – A slang phrase frequently used when a wire is in trouble”.

  

The book titled “The story of the key” by Louis Ramsey Moreau(SK) W3WRE copyright 1989 states the following on page 21: “The word bug as used on the wire during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was pure telegraphic profanity. To these men a bug was a lousy operator with a fist that only a mother could love.  

The picture on the left shows how I like to set up the Vibroplex bug. Notice the pendulum is just barely touching the damper. The screw adjustments on the bug allow the operator to adjust the arm from missing the damper completely to slapping it so hard that the damper bounces around. The damper on this Vibroplex Champion is known as an "I" damper. The "I" damper has a U-shaped piece of bent metal that is secured to the frame by a single screw. The opening at the top of the damper contains the damper wheel held in place with a pin.

The picture on the right is of the  bottom of this bug. Notice the three rubber feet. That is not a manufacturing shortcut but rather done intentionally. Many Vibroplex keys are found with three(3) feet on the bottom. The reason why three feet are better than four is because if one of the feet is at a different height from the rest the key will wobble on a desk. With three feet the key will always sit stable when in use.

  

This style of Vibroplex label found on this 1952 Champion model bug is known to collectors as D6. The D6 Vibroplex label found on the bug featured here has a serial number of 176798 and contains no patent numbers, just the word "Patented" in the top left corner and the address of the company at that time which is 833 Broadway New York, NY. The D6 nameplates began in 1946.

The picture on the right is a close up of the markings found on the bottom of this bug. These markings include an anchor with U and S on each side of it. Under the anchor it is inked stamped "Stk. #N17-K-45926-1001". These markings indicate that the key was used with the U.S. Navy. These keys were kept on the ship and were operated by speedkey certified operators. Only 9 of these keys are known to exist(reported so far). The Champion's with black crackle base known serial numbers are 176084, 176312, 176394, 176681, 176700, 176798, 177060, 177117, 177200. These keys were purchased by the Navy in the early 1950's. All of the above serial numbers are 1952 dated keys.

In the middle 1960's a military order was filled with gray based Champions. These had typical military part and stock numbers including "1N 5805-312-2750" stamped on the bottom of the base in red ink.

According to an article by W1IMQ in the The Vail Correspondent #4 July 1993, before 1943 both the Army and Navy had separate nomenclature systems. In 1943 these separate nomenclature systems gave way to the Joint Army Navy nomenclature system(AN System) for all new equipment. Although existing items continued to be made and marked under the old system. The AN nomenclature is known today(1993) as Joint Electronics Type Designation System(JETDS). Under the JETDS nomenclature keys and other keying devices carry the unit indicator KY. 

If you have an unreported black base Vibroplex Champion with the above markings please  me.

  

  

The pictures above are just some additional views of this beautiful Champion model Vibroplex.

  

Provenance:

I purchased this key online in February of 2021 and upon doing so I inquired about the previous owners ham radio call sign or any history of the item. If possible I like to keep any provenience with the key. Below is the reply from the seller.

"Hi John . This item came from a storage unit in Henderson Nevada. It was inside of a box with other knickknack shelf decoration items. It was a man cave like collection. Including die cast cars, old camera, motorcycle memorabilia. that’s really all the information I have. thank you for your purchase. Jason 

References:

Vibroplex company: http://vibroplex.com/ 

Tom Perera's(W1TP): Telegraph Collectors Guidebook

Tom Perera's(W1TP): Telegraph Collectors CD-ROM

Wiki Vibroplex page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibroplex

Vibroplex collector: http://www.vibroplexcollector.net/

Vibroplex Collectors Guide by Tom French W1IMQ

N0UF Vibroplex plates: https://www.qsl.net/n0uf/vibro-plates.htm

Birth dates of Vibroplex keys by John Elwood, WW7P

The Origin of the Word "Bug" by J. Casale W2NI

The Telegraph Instructor by G.M. Dodge

The Vail Correspondent No.4 July 1993

The Vail Correspondent No, 9 October 1994

The story of the key” by Louis Ramsey Moreau(SK) W3WRE  

http://www.navy-radio.com/xmtr-key.htm

  

  

  

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