J. Casale - W2NI

Horace G. Martin

Part Two : The Phillips System and the Autoplex

The First store front on the right is the site of Martin's first shop
in 1900 at 75 Nassau Street in New York City.
Amazingly, today it is a large Western Union agency.
(November 2002)
In 1899, Martin began experimenting with various automatic Morse transmitter designs while working for the New York Stock Exchange as a telegrapher. By 1900, Martin established his first shop in New York City at 75 Nassau St., where he was listed as being an electrician specializing in electrical instruments. For the next two years, while still a telegrapher, Martin was established at this address doing contract work and building an electro-medical shock device designed to treat telegraphers who had lost their grip. It also appears that Martin spent a fair amount of this time with an unsuccessful attempt at developing a Morse typewriter transmitter. It was stated at the time of his passing, and later by his son, Horace Jr., that his very first automatic transmitter design was not the Autoplex, but a "keyboard type - as large and cumbersome as a typewriter". As of this writing, there is no evidence that Martin tried to commercially introduce this transmitter, or was associated with anyone else working on this type. But collectors out there may want to consider the possibility of Martin prototypes.

After the United Press went bankrupt in 1897, Martin's former boss, Walter Phillips, went to work for the American Graphophone Company in New York. In 1902, Phillips was working at American Graphophone's factory in Bridgeport, Conn. as a superintendent of printing and a recording expert. Phillips recruited Martin to be his assistant and Martin relocated with his family to Bridgeport for the majority of that year. In addition to their work as employees of American Graphophone, both Martin and Phillips were working on their own projects in automatic telegraphy. Phillips was promoting his system called the Phillips Morse Automatic Telegraph, jointly invented by Phillips and former United Press engineer Roderick Weiny. His system was considered an accelerated method of sending Morse by hand. Phillips utilized Martin's mechanical talents, and his status as a well known telegrapher, to promote the Phillips system.

The Phillips Automatic Telegraph System
The Phillips Automatic Telegraph System is located on the right.
A telegrapher copies directly on his typewriter (Mill).
J.H. Bunnell & Co. was a sales agent for the Phillips System.

The Phillips system consisted of an embosser, transmitter, and sounder all in one enclosure that resembled a graphophone, only without the horn. The sending operator, using a standard Morse key, would record his messages on an embossed tape. This tape was then fed into a transmitter that sent a group of messages at a high rate of speed over the line. The receiving operator had the same equipment and recorded the incoming messages on his embosser. He could then re-transmit the received messages to himself on his own local circuit, slowing the tape down to any speed he could copy.

In March of 1902 Martin traveled to Atlanta to act as a judge in The American Telegrapher's Tournament. He also made a presentation demonstrating the Phillips' Automatic system and used the system to record all the senders in the tournament. As a representative of the Columbia Phonograph Company, American Graphophone's sales agent, he awarded a phonograph to one of the winning telegraphers. Later that month, Phillips also recruited Fred Catlin ("Catlin Grip") to team up with Martin to promote the Phillips system. Catlin, aged 54, was a well respected telegrapher and a strong proponent of including the merits of traditional Morse sending with any automatic system. Catlin's beliefs may have influenced young Martin's outlook on automatic telegraphy design.

During this period in Connecticut, Martin was heavily involved with his own experiments, and it was while he was living at Bridgeport, that his first successful transmitter was developed.

"Having experimented for some time on automatic transmitters and having
the occasion to observe the very interesting achievements of other workers
in the automatic field. I decided that there was a demand for a small, simple
and portable sending machine which, while being automatic or nearly so, would,
as nearly as possible, retain the merits but not the demerits of the old Morse key."

The demerits Martin was referring to in this historic quote were the thousands of vertical key strokes a telegrapher was subject to that frequently caused symptoms of telegraphers' paralysis. The "merits" became the essence of Martin's key design philosophy and the template for all semi automatic keys built in the future. There is a misconception that Martin designed his keys as "semi-automatic" solely to accommodate "American Morse", the code used by telegraphers that had two characters with extended dash durations. Martin's design philosophy remained unchanged throughout his career and he never mentioned any accommodation to the type of code. Beginning with his first patent, and with incredible foresight, his desire was to simply retain the traditional control that a telegrapher had when using a standard Morse key. He wanted to ensure the sending telegrapher kept his ability to "emphasize" any character at will, giving him the capability to adjust to fluctuating line conditions, adapt instantly to the receiving telegrapher's abilities, and to send different ways to multiple operators on the same circuit.

In Horace Martin's words :
"In practice good Morse senders emphasize their sending as a person does his words in talking.
The condition of the wire necessitates the emphasis of certain letters or portions of letters
at times, the operator relying upon the "feel" of the wire at the instant that a letter or
portion of a letter is to be formed and also on the ability of the receiver. This emphasis
is accomplished almost entirely by the lengthening or shortening the dashes and spaces, the
speed of the dots remaining constant. It is an important feature of my present invention that
this perfect control of the instrument and power to emphasize his sending is retained by the
operator, while at the same time any number of dots may be produced by a single nerve exertion.
As there are all classes of operators, it has been found that better time can be made by sending
in one way to one operator and in another way to others, the different styles of sending not
depending so much upon the variation of the speed of sending as a whole as upon variations
of certain impulses in making dashes and also the ability to vary the speed of words.
These and kindred features have been the stronghold of the Morse key and the cause of the practical
failure of all automatic transmitters heretofore devised."
( And those that were developed thereafter. )

These basic principles of Morse operation, stated by Martin, were incorporated into his 1902 invention of the Autoplex. He considered his invention "auto" or "nearly so" because it produced dots automatically but he kept the duration of the dashes and spaces up to the operator. The number of key strokes now required were considerably reduced and all horizontal.

Two examples of the Autoplex built by Martin.
Left, an early wood-based version made at 62 Cortlandt Street. Right, an UEM version from 53 Vesey Street.
(From the collection of Gil Schlehman, K9WDY.)

The Martin Autoplex was a small, portable instrument that required 1 to 2 dry cells. The design was simple and its operation can be best understood by referring to the early wood-based Autoplex shown above on the left. Looking at the two horizontal levers across the instrument. The one on the right is an armature, which makes an electrical connection to the weighted pendulum on the left, where they both meet at the center. When the operator moves the key lever to the right, current flows through the electromagnets attracting the armature. The armature kicks the pendulum, breaking its center connection and causing it to swing over to the back stationary contact to produce a dot. With the center connection now broken, the electro-magnet releases the armature and it quickly returns to its stop. The pendulum is returned by two springs, and reconnects the two levers. This whole sequence starts over again and will continue to produce dots until the operator releases the key. To produce a dash the operator holds the key lever to the left for the desired length of time. The armature/pendulum circuit path is shunted this time allowing the electro-magnet to attract the armature and hold pendulum for the duration of the dash.
J.H. Bunnell&Co. Autoplex Ad
The Autoplex was also available through J.H. Bunnell & Co.
This ad is from their 1905-1906 catalog.
Click here for a larger view. (110K)

In the Fall of 1902 Martin returned with his wife and three children to Brooklyn and on October 6th filed for his first telegraphic transmitter patent for the Autoplex. Martin assigned one half of this patent to Walter Phillips most likely as payback for the employment arrangement during the past year. Martin is the only inventor listed on the patent. In 1903, Martin set up shop at 62 Cortlandt St in New York City and began to manufacture the Autoplex on his own. His involvement with the Phillips Automatic system continued and in fact, after the death of Roderick Weiny in 1903, Phillips began to rely even more on Martin's technical expertise. Martin seemed to take over Weiny's role, and was now being referred to as an "electrical engineer".

By 1904, a more organized effort became a necessity for the continued manufacture of Martin's Autoplex. On February 17th, Martin, Walter Phillips, and a group of investors, many of them former telegraphers formed The United Electrical Manufacturing Company. The certificate of Incorporation listed four subscriber's : Albert Brown, Lewis Young, Frank Schoonmaker, and G.Lee Stout and stated a start-up capital of one thousand dollars. Martin was the fifth director out of the seven comprising UEM's board of directors for the first year's operation. Even though the company was formed for the manufacture of electrical and mechanical devices of all kinds, their primary product initially was the Autoplex. Martin's position with the company was vice president and general manager in charge of both sales and manufacturing. The company's offices were at 25 Broad St. but the shop where Martin worked was at 53 Vesey St. In March of 1904, both Martin and Phillips traveled to St Louis to place on exhibit both the Phillips Automatic system and the Martin Autoplex at the Louisiana Purchase Fair. It was stated at this point that Phillips System had been "greatly improved" by Martin and Phillips.

To Part 3 : A Vibroplex in Every Telegraph Office

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