Horace G. Martin, a New York inventor filed a patent on May 7, 1904 for a completely mechanical semi-automatic morse code transmitting key, which he named the "Vibroplex." The Vibroplex was based on a long horizontal lever that rotated around a vertical pivot. Pushing a paddle mounted on one end of the lever to the right caused a spring-mounted contact further along the lever to vibrate against a stationary contact, making strings of dots. Dashes were made manually by pushing the lever to the left. The speed of the dots could be altered by sliding a weight along the lever. Take a look at this Virtual Bug key by Geoffrey Noles / AE4RV : Virtual Bug Project v.2

070a. ..... A Vibroplex No 4. (Later named the Blue Racer) bug key. A super example of this model with a black japanned base with the gold detailed pinstriping, plus a U shaped damper mechanism. The main arm has been replaced at some time and is longer than normal, but this anables an extra weight to be added to slow the dots down. The label , which is the second Vibroplex label, or C2 label, shows 10 patents and the address of 253 Broadway, New York. A Vibroplex Nr 4 dating from 1919 I think and looking great to this day.


071...... A 1944 Blue Racer No 4 war-time DELUXE model with a grey base and the U damper. Blue racer bases measure 2.5" wide. During WW2 , grey paint replaced chrome bases on the Deluxe model.


072. ...... A Vibroplex No 4 Blue Racer. A nice example of the Blue Racer Standard model - 1962. From the late 1950's the U shaped damper was replaced by the L type of the Original model. The Blue Racer was discontinued in the mid 1960's.


526a...... A scarce 1919 Vibroplex Improved X bug key.
Horace Martins single lever direct point transmitter, later known as the model "x", was introduced in 1911. This Improved model (identified by its round pendulum and weights) appeared in 1919 and was only produced for 2 years. This grand bug has a type c3 nameplate with serial Nr 73007 dating it back to 1919. (With that serial number it should belong to James Bond !). There is also an oval stick-on Bug label that is faded, probably from too much cleaning over the years. The wedge plug on the lead is stamped W.U. TEL. Co.

Vibroplex Nameplates by W1IMQ


526b.A view of the Improved X with case & lead.

  • ..... A scarce Vibroplex bug key with its original case and lead that has found its way over here to the UK ! Well, I have not heared of any others, but I am sure they are out there, so if you own one I would be most pleased to hear from you.

    Previous proud owner Paul R. Cope / G4BNU informs me "This key was used on WU/railway networks and has obviously handled lots of traffic in its time. It was found in a basement somewhere in Ohio U.S.A. In the 1970's I used it for a few years on the British Ocean Weather Ship "Weather Reporter" / MYDN in the North Atlantic when I was a Radio Op, also since then on the Amateur bands". Ocean Weatherships

    "When found, it had very heavy carbon deposits around the contacts that I guess, was made worse as it is a single contact for both dots and dashes. The Guy who sold me it said its owner had passed away but used to be a Western Union Op and had something to do with the railroad, he took it away with him during WW2 and I guess this is where the carbon came from, keying some high power military Tx . So I think the key lay in the basement from 1945 until 1970 and really its amazing its survived. 73. Paul ".

    527a...... A Rare Green Vibroplex Original.
    This bug is shown in "as I got it" years of grime condition, is most rare and to me - awe-inspiring enameled green base with black pinstriping. The label is the D2 type with seven patents and the 825 Broadway, New York, and dates 1924. Vibroplex experimented with colored bases in the 1920s to mid-1930s, using red, blue and green enameled paint on special order.

  • Keen collector Martin / DK4XL states: ...."There are some green ones known in collections. All of them show the same very light green colour but with no pinstripes. They are in the serial number range where all of the colour based "advertised" Vibroplexes were made: between 105,xxx and 106,xxx. I have a green Lightning, and a green Blue Racer". "All in all, 2 green #4, 2 green #6 and 3 green Originals are known now, including yours. Rumours say that a green Junior was known but the owner sandblasted the colour away".
    "There were also red Originals which were made in the time period when yours was made, and Vibroplex made a batch of eventually 50 Originals for Western Union with maroon base just the year before (1923)". Martin DK4XL.

    Vibroplex History by K4MSG & K4LRG.


    527b..... Another View Of The Green Vibroplex Bug.

  • This Vibroplex is currently undergoing a very very careful clean. It can be seen that there are quite a few chips to the green base, but I think this adds to the charm, and I will make no attempt to touch up the paint. The main arm also has visible wear where it touches the damper, that makes me assume it was used in the high-vibration environment of a ship during a large part of its life.


    531..... Vibroplex Twin Lever.

  • Also known as a Double Lever or Dual Lever Key c 1919. A rare key outside of N. America, this key has a short arm for dashes and a long arm for the dots, a circuit closer and 3 & 1/2" by just under 6 & 1/2" black japaned base with gold pinstriping barely visible. Also has a C3 nameplate with its 6 patents and a large cloverleaf type frame.


    073...... A 1959 Vibroplex No 6 Lightning bug with a grey 3.5" wide base. The frame is made up of triangular plates and cylindrical posts. The damper assembly is also supported by posts, this is known as the M type damper.


    074...... A Vibroplex No 6 Lightning bug key with the unusual brown base, dates at 1979. Vibroplex discontinued the Lightning Bug shortly after the company was moved to Maine in 1979. Just before the Lightning Bug was discontinued, some were made with Sienna Brown and beige crackle bases.


    076...... A Vibroplex Champion bug key with grey 3.5" base. Very similar to the Lightning but with the label in a different position and the simple I damper fitted.


    077. ..... A 1943 Vibroplex Original with square shoulder, a War Time Deluxe model with red paddles, a shorting lever and a grey painted base. All Deluxe model Vibroplexes have red finger and thumb pieces plus a small braided wire linking the main frame to the main lever, jewelled bearings for the pivot were introduced after about 1945.


    078...... A Vibroplex Original Standard with grey base made in 1960, the frame is the rounded shoulder type, and with black knobs, a 3.5" base width plus a shorting lever make these keys a true classic.


    079. ..... A Vibroplex Original Deluxe 1958.

  • It is interesting to note also that Deluxe models have a short braided wire that links the main frame to the main lever to inprove conductivity. Jewelled bearings are a nice feature on this model, but they don't conduct, hence the need for the braided wire.


    523...... A pretty scarce and hard to find Vibroplex ZEPHYR c1956.
    The Zephyr was the only modern Vibroplex made on a 3" wide base. Very similar to a Champion model but with an added shorting lever. Not many were made so Zephyrs pretty scarce. Made in standard black crackle finish and later in grey, discontinued in the 50's.


    081...... Vibroplex Presentation with LaHiff adjustable mainspring. A lovely example of this model. A Vibroplex Presentation model that has a gold plated top and a 3.5" wide base, and is the Super Speed Control model too. c 1960.

  • David / N1EA tells me : "The La-Hiff adjustable mainspring was made by cutting into the top of the main lever of the Vibroplex and putting two small machine screws just to one side so that when they were screwed in they would tighten over the channel that was cut for the mainspring (which usually was rivited). By loosening the two screws you can pull out the mainspring, making it longer, and the vibration slower. This of course slows down the speed that the key will make dits and also makes the sending more "flexy" as the mainspring will flex longer - it isn't as stiff as a short mainspring. I don't know when the Presentation model was stopped - but I'd guess it was sometime around 1983 when Vibroplex was made in Maine. When the Presentation model Vibroplex was discontinued, the Presentation FINISH Original key was introduced - it was just an Original model Vibroplex with a brass 24k gold plate on top".