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.