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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.




The picture on the left is of the  bottom of this bug. Notice the three rubber feet. That is not a manufacturing shortcut but rather done intentionally. Many 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.

The picture on the right shows how I like to set up a 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 picture on the left is a close up of the E.F. Johnson Speed-X name plate. Late examples of E.F. Johnson Speed-X keys will have this type of name plate and weight design as seen on the pendulum. Notice the adjustment mechanism attached to the weight. With a simple squeeze the weight can be placed anywhere along the pendulum. Why move the weight and what is it for? The weight is used to slow down the oscillation of the pendulum which creates the dits. With the weight moved to its most forward position as seen in the picture on the left, the pendulum is set for its slowest speed which is still well above 20 words a minute. As the operator moved the weight towards the center of the bug the speed increases.

The picture on the right shows all the parts cleaned up and ready to be reassembled.



I purchased this bug and a few others from Brian Harrison (KN4R) who stated in the ad that this bug came from a recently-acquired sizable key collection. Brian did not tell me the name or call sign(if any) of the prior owner nor did I pry very hard except to ask about any provenance. All Brian would say was that he acquired a large key collection from a collector. So I started to watch his for sale ads which paid off a few months later. Brian removed the prior owner's call sign from nearly all of his items but on a couple of them it would have caused extensive damage to do so. It was on these 2 items that I learned that the former owner's call sign was K4KP. Someone else uses that call today.  




These next two pictures show the condition of this EF Johnson model 114-520 when I received it. After a gentle washing with soap and water it came out looking like new.






WM.M.NYE CO website:

Tom Perera's(W1TP): Telegraph Collectors Guidebook

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

Morsum Magnificat #44 February 1996

The Vail Correspondent #5 October 1993

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

The Telegraph Instructor” by G.M. Dodge

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



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