The Vibroplex Bugs

It was in 1904-1905 that Horace Martin's Original Model made its debut. Shortly thereafter, other models were introduced.

double lever

The Vibroplex Double Lever arrived on the scene in 1907. The one pictured here was made in 1920 and sports a "bug" decal which was applied before the logo was placed on the label itself.

model X

1911 saw the appearance of the Vibroplex Model X. The Model X was ingeniously designed to need only one contact for both dits and dahs. This same mechanism would later be employed on the Vertical model.

blue racer

The Vibroplex Blue Racer or No.4 entered the market in 1914. It was the first Martin attempt at a small footprint, space saving bug. The base is considerably narrower than that of all the earlier models. The blue racer pictured is on a nickel base and was made in 1918.

Wirechief's key

The next bug to hit the market was also designed for a small footprint on the operator's desk. It has been called the Vibroplex Vertical, the Wirechief's Key, and the Upright. First available in 1917, few of these remain in collections.


The Midget became available in 1918 and was yet another bug intended to take up little space. Actually, it was advertised to fit in a vest pocket and weighs in at 15 ounces. It originally sold for $15, alot of money to a telegrapher in 1918! It was gone from the marketplace by 1920.

Electric light existed before Thomas Edison, mainly in the form of the bright arc lights that were used to light city squares. But arc lights are too bright for indoor use. While others had also experimented with incandescent light, they had not been able to produce a bulb that would last long enough to be useful. Thomas Edison is generally credited with inventing the first practical bulb in 1879. Perhaps his biggest contribution was the use of a thin filament, rather than bulkier forms of conducting material. He experimented (just as you can above) with thousands of materials for filament, including fishing line, onion skin, leather, macaroni, and a friend's beard! The first practical bulb used carbonized (heat-treated) thread as filament in an evacuated glass bulb and burned for about 48 hours. In 1911, the tungsten filament was introduced and can burn for over 1000 hours. Heat-treated bamboo (in real time!) lasted for about 600 hours, carbonized cardboard 16 hours, and platinum about 10 minutes.

Horace G. Martin Chronology, data from Bill Holly's book 'The Vibroplex Co., Inc.'

lightning bug

The No.6 or Lightning Bug was a very successful model which had its debut in 1927. It sported a redesigned support structure which I believe is thought to have been patterned after the Boulter key. The vibrating arm was flattened.

Martin Junior

The Martin Junior is another narrow based bug which was first advertised in 1934. The Martin Junior was only made up to 1939, but actually was offered for many years before 1934 without being designated a separate model.


John La Hiff, who later bought the Vibroplex Company in 1965, designed a model called the Champion which was one of two bugs to appear in 1939. The Champion is widely considered to be the easiest Vibroplex bug to master.


The Zephyr is the other model which appeared in 1939. It was essentially a Champion on a narrower base. It was offered in at least two finishes, grey and black crinkle.

The Vibroplex Company went on to jazz up the Original with a gold plate over the base, which was called the Presentation Model. The Presentation also had an adjustable mainspring for several years. Thereafter, Vibroplex entered the competition to produce a set of paddles to use with electronic keyers. All in all, no make of bug ever enjoyed the success of Martin's Vibroplex.

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On to Coffe, Logan, McElroy, and Melehan!