J. Casale, W2NI

Horace G. Martin

The Forgotten Vibroplex Patent

A Vibroplex bug that has never been seen before was recently (2004) discovered by Vibroplex collectors Randy Cole K6NW, and Martin Odenbach, DK4XL. No other collectors so far have claimed to have seen one which could make this bug even rarer than the elusive Vibroplex Midget. This bug represents the fourth patent by Horace G. Martin (#1,042,457) filed on July 1,1911 and was one of three bugs he invented while he was living in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Previously, it has been generally assumed that no production models were ever produced from this patent. Considering this recent discovery, I thought it would be timely to document some history associated with this patent.

There is significant information available about this patent because it was used by the Vibroplex Company in a lawsuit that I briefly referred to in February's column. The suit was titled "The Vibroplex Co. Inc. vs J.H. Bunnell & Co. Inc. on Patent #1,042,457." This lawsuit provides evidence that will dismiss the claims that this patent was only an experimental design and confirm that a limited number were actually manufactured.

First, some important background on what led up to this lawsuit and why Vibroplex had to resort to use this specific patent in court. On December 23, 1923, The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an injunction against J.H. Bunnell & Co. temporarily stopping them from manufacturing their "Gold Bug" transmitter. Bunnell was ordered to retrieve and dismantle the 24 Gold Bug models known to exist on that date. The injunction was issued based on the Gold Bug's infringement on Martin's patent # 842,154 owned by the Vibroplex company. This patent represents Martin's "Original" bug design issued on January 22, 1907. The injunction was issued with only one month remaining on the 17 year term of this patent.

Vibroplex took advantage of this one month injunction period and saturated the trades with ads titled, "Another Victory for the Vibroplex." They also sent out fliers to their customers and dealers in all the major cities of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico proclaiming victory. Never once did they state, though, that this injunction was good for only one month. This infuriated J.H.Bunnell & Co. After the injunction expired, Bunnell followed with ads telling customers that the Martin patent and injunction expired on January 22, 1924 and to ignore Vibroplex's claims. They also stated they had resumed their production of the "Gold Bug transmitter." Vibroplex was later found to be still sending out these "Victory Fliers" as late as July of 1924.

Vibroplex's arsenal of effective fundamental patents with broad claims was significantly depleted with the expiration of Martin's "Original" patent. But they insisted on stopping Bunnell from competing with them and decided to try again in court. This time they dug deep into their vaults and pulled out a forgotten patent, # 1,042,457, that still had five years remaining on its term. Bunnell's opinion of this patent was simply, "forgotten until now, but now resurrected in an attempt to extend the monopoly five years longer." Vibroplex, relying on arguments surrounding the functions of the coil and vibrator springs, was able to tie up Bunnell in a lower court and appeal trial using this patent, but in the end, lost both cases.

A glaring design feature of this bug are the opposing dot and dash contacts on either side of the vibrator. In Martin's "Original" patent he used a "two-piece, single lever" with a vibrator spring that only had one function, to create dots. In patent #1,042,457, he uses a "one-piece, single lever" with a vibrator spring that had two functions. One, to produce dots and secondly, to "restore the parts to normal" after making a dash. Martin describe's the operation of this bug as follows: "This Machine has a single lever, a pair of contacts for making dots and another pair for making dashes. When the lever is pressed to the right the machine sends short impulses, or dots into the line; when pressed to the left, the lever flexes the main vibrating spring and permits the dash contacts to engage, holding the circuit closed for the length of time desired."

The Martin Patent 1,042,457 Bug
During the lower court case, Martin was called to the stand as a witness for Vibroplex. In this rare testimony highlighted below, Martin documents the production of this bug. The exchange is between Martin and Murray Corrington. Corrington was Vibroplex's attorney who filed this patent in 1911.

November 12, 1925, New York -

Corrington : "You are the inventor and patentee of the device set forth in the patent in suit No. 1,042,457 ?
Martin : "I am."
Corrington : "What is the device for, particularly" ?
Martin : Transmitting dots and dashes over a telegraph line or radio."
Corrington : "For Sending messages?"
Martin : "Yes"
Corrington : "Did you manufacture and put out and sell any of the machines shown in
Exhibit No. 2 ? (Exhibit No. 2 being a model of patent # 1,042,457)
Martin : "Yes"
Corrington : "About how many of those machines were put out in actual service" ?
Martin : "I should say 100".
Corrington : "And what satisfaction did they give in practical operation ?
Martin : "They were all right. I never had any complaints on them".
Corrington : "And as far as you know are they still in use ?
Martin : "So far as I know they are still in use".
Corrington : "Do you have any interest whatever in the patent ?
Martin : "None at all."
Corrington : "You have assigned all your interest in the patent to the Plaintiff (Vibroplex) company ?
Martin : "Yes, sir, I have."

Corrington admitted to being a novice when he filed this patent for Martin and stated he made a mistake in claiming that this bug is a single circuit device. Meaning that there was one electrical circuit to produce both dots and dashes. This was disclosed when Martin was cross examined by Bunnell's attorney Philip Farnsworth. When Martin was asked to agree that his device used a single circuit to produce both dots and dashes Martin said: "No, Mr. Corrington did that. I do not agree with it." Martin's disagreement with Corrington worked against Vibroplex and helped Bunnell confirm the similarities of their "Gold Bug" with the dual circuit design of the expired "Original" patent. Bunnell questioned the validity of the patent itself over this disagreement.

"Two Piece, Single Lever,
Two Circuit Design"

"One Piece, Single Lever,
Single Circuit Design"

There is an interesting side note about two of the exhibits used in the case. Vibroplex had Martin modify a stock #1,042,457 bug by moving the fixed dash contact next to the key lever to make it similar in operation as a "Gold Bug". He was also instructed to modified a stock "Gold Bug" by adding a fixed dash contact opposite the vibrator to make it look and operate as in the #1,042,457 design. Be on the look out for the possibility of these two professionally modified bugs to turn up at some point.

Even though "100" were produced, there does not appear that there was any kind of ad campaign to promote this bug. Three months after he filed for patent #1,042,457, on October 27, 1911, Martin filed for another patent that is recognized as being his "Model-X", a true single-lever, single-circuit machine. In November of 1911, J.E. Albright, who at that time was the sole selling agent was advertising a "Single Lever Vibroplex". The ad stated that, "This new 1912 model will carry on wires where other sending machines have been ordered taken off." The ad showed the new "Model-X" which makes one wonder if there was a 1911 model and was it possibly patent #1,042,457. Looking back to April of 1911, a bug called the "1911 Model" was indeed being advertised but the ad shows a Martin Double-Lever bug.

Martin's motivation to go down this design path according to Corrington was that he was "working for a single circuit machine" and that he did not reach that point with patent #1,042,457. The low production number he explained was due to a decision made by Martin and "his associates" sometime in 1911 to focus on producing two machines, a "one-circuit" machine and a "two-circuit" machine. The new "Model-X" was obviously their one circuit machine and they decided on patent # 842,154 (the "original" bug design) over patent #1,042,457 as being their primary two circuit machine, "because there were thousands of them already in use and the operators were accustomed to them."

After Vibroplex's loss in appeal, they still refused to give up and tried to stop Bunnell by using their "Bug" trademark. This final failed attempt is covered in The Origin of the Word "Bug"

Return to the Horace G. Martin home page

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Copyright (c) by John Casale - W2NI
Troy, New York

Sources :
Images of the Patent 1,042,457 Bug courtesy of Randy Cole, K6NW, The Vibroplex Collector's Page
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, January 1927
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, May 1926
The Vibroplex Co. Inc. vs. J.H.Bunnell & Co., on Patent 1,042,457
Journal of the Telegraph, April 20, November 20, 1911
U.S. Patent, 842,154, Horace G. Martin, January 22, 1907
U.S. Patent, 1,042,457, Horace G. Martin, October 29, 1912
U.S. Patent, 1,043,449, Horace G. Martin, November 5, 1912
U.S. Patent, 1,557,155, John J. Ghegan, October 13, 1925