The semi-automatic telegraph bug seen here was produced by the E.F. Johnson company based out of Waseca, Minnesota. It is known as the Speed-X model 114-520. This EF Johnson Speed-X is very similar to the Les Logan Speed-X bug. The EF Johnson 114-520 incorporates a shorting bar/switch which was used to close the circuit so that the telegrapher could receive the incoming code. In order to send, the circuit closer(shorting bar) must be open. That was typical American landline telegraph procedure. For RF telegraphy(over the air) the shorting bar can be used to place the transmitter into transmit so that the operator cAN tune up his rig. The base on this bug has a black crackle finish.
So when and where was this EF Johnson produced?
The key seen here was manufactured in Waseca, Minnesota probably sometime in the early 1960's or as late as 1967 or so. The example shown here has a number of features found on late E.F. Johnson bugs such as the name plate, weight, and paddles.
The E.F. Johnson company:
In 1937 Mr. Les Logan purchased a part of the Speed-X Radio Manufacturing Company from Stewart Johnson. The two became partners with Mr. Logan being the salesman. Before long Mr. Logan bought out Mr. Johnson interests in the company and changed the name from Speed-X Radio Manufacturing Company to Speed-X Manufacturing Company. Ten years later the company was back in the hands of a Johnson when in 1947 E.F. Johnson acquired the Speed-X Manufacturing Company. By October 1947 E.F. Johnson was advertising their keys to hams in QST magazine. E.F. Johnson continued to produce basically the same type and style of keys. Over time Johnson changed the weight design to the style seen here and went from using a fiber like material for the paddles to plastic. The last QST advertisment for an E.F. Johnson Speed-X bug occured in 1967 according to the October 1993 issue of the Vail Correspondent #5. E.F. Johnson sold the Speed-X company to the Wm. Nye Co. (Nye-Viking) in the fall of 1972. In the agreement the tooling for straight keys, low pass filters, matchboxes, and sounders was included but the tooling to build semi-automatic bugs was not according to Bill Nye Jr.(WB7TNN) The Wm. Nye Co. started in 1972 in Bellevue, Washington but later moved to Priest River, Idaho on May 1, 1995. The Speed-X name is still in use by Nye-Viking.
Where did the name “BUG” come from for this style of mechanical key?
I have found some 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.