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This Vibroplex model is known as the Original which has been in production for over 100 years. The serial number of the key shown here is 43465 which places this bug as being made some time in the early 1980's. According to the "Birth dates of Vibroplex keys" by John Elwood, WW7P, he states that between 1982 and 1984 the following serial numbers were used 42,078-49,762. So at a guess I'd say it was built in 1982 or 1983. The color of the base is known as Battleship gray. The bug seen on this page is a touch of an oddball. The reason for the oddball status is because the Vibroplex label does not have any patent information or an address for the company. While not super rare as these bugs along with other Vibroplex items without an address or patent numbers do pop up from time to time, nonetheless it is a unique item from the company's history. finish. A Vibroplex Original made in 1942 can be seen HERE for comparison. The large brass weight on the pendulum assembly is not original and was added by the original owner. See text under bottom pictures for more details concerning the brass weight.

The Vibroplex original bug first appeared on page 32 in the June 1905 issue of The Commercial Telegraphers Journal and is still in production today.  

  

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 or not touching the damper at all. 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 found on this Vibroplex Original is known as an "L" damper. It is made from two pieces of cast metal. The lower piece is shaped like the letter L and is secured to the frame by two screws. The upper cast piece is hinged onto the "L" section and contains the damper wheel.

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 is known to collectors as D8. This Vibroplex label which has a serial number of 43465 but it does not have any patent information or an address for the company. While not super rare as these bugs along with other Vibroplex items without addresses do pop up from time to time it is a unique item in the company's history. According to the 2008 3rd edition of the book Telegraph Collectors Guide by Professor Tom Perera(W1TP) two sets of serial numbers can be found on this style of label. These numbers range from 1,000 to 8,000 and from 40,000 to 80,000 and were used between the years 1980 to 1995. But, according to N0UF's website on Vibroplex plates he states the numbers as 4,000 to ???? and 41,117 to 80,502. N0UF goes on to note another style of the D8 label which is called a "Metallic plate" that has a black face with gold lettering. He notes the serial number of that style as beginning at 1,882 and goes to 8,452.

When I received this bug the label  had fallen off inside the shipping box so I took the opportunity to capture a couple of photographs of the underside of the label. We've all see the top of a Vibroplex name plate, but how many of us have seen the back side?

Provenance:

I purchased this bug from Jim Whitlock (WA4QKV) who resides in Georgia. Jim and I talked on the phone a couple of times and he informed me that he is the original owner and purchased the bug from Vibroplex back in the 1980's. I asked Jim about the brass weight and he stated that a former Eastern pilot, Mr. Robert Drawdy built the large brass weight. Jim went on to say that there was nothing that Mr. Drawdy could not build. Sadly, Mr. Drawdy is no longer with us. With Mr. Drawdy's brass weight installed along with the original weight as seen in the pictures at the top of this page, the speed of this bug is between12 and 15 wpm depending on how it is adjusted.

  

So when and where was this Vibroplex produced?

As best as I can tell it was made in Portland Maine between 1982 and 1983.  I am still researching it and so far the only information I have is from two sources. One is an old ebay auction in which the seller claimed the following about a similar item: "It was built by the Peter Roscoe Co, 476 Fore St, Portland, ME 04112 using the Vibroplex trademark.  That trademark officially became his the next year when his filing was approved.  The label, as you can see, is a "generic" label used while the location was changing & still somewhat "up in the air"."

The other source is from the "Birth dates of Vibroplex keys" by John Elwood, WW7P in which he notes Vibroplex products being made in Portland Maine between the years 1979 and 1995. Mr. Elwood’s notes go on to state that in 1995 some Vibroplex products were made in Mobile Alabama. Thus meaning that some Vibroplex products were made in both Alabama and Maine in 1995.

  

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, 9 October 1994

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

  

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