J. Casale - W2NI

Horace G. Martin

Part Three : A Vibroplex in Every Telegraph Office

UEM/Martin Logo Some of the first telegraphers to use Horace Martin's Autoplex in the U.S. were called "Bonus Men". Both Western Union and Postal Telegraph companies had contracts with certain telegraphers who were capable of sending large numbers of messages in the shortest period of time. Bonus Men were paid a premium for each message sent over an agreed upon quota. In turn, the companies provided the telegrapher with the best possible circuit between two cities and kept routine company traffic interruptions to a minimum. This circuit was called the "Bonus Wire". The Autoplex was very attractive to the Bonus Man. He could maintain a high speed for an entire shift and not be subject to the fatigue and strain of using a standard Morse key. The problems were that the companies did not buy the Autoplex; they were owned by the telegraphers. This meant it was necessary for a telegrapher to transport his Autoplex and the required dry cells to each shift. Telegraphers complained to their companies about having to supply their own batteries. They argued that the companies should provide a permanent bonus desk with the ability to connect to a "suitable local arrangement" of the station's batteries. Companies were generally agreeable to comply with this, but they could not agree upon establishing a standard coil resistance for the electro-magnets to be used by Martin and other emerging makers of "magnetic" type keys. Martin's and other inventor's motivation to design a totally mechanical transmitter evolved from these problems.

In May of 1904, Martin filed for his second transmitter patent that included his first attempt at a totally mechanical design by utilizing a vibrating pendulum to produce dots. In this design, a key lever runs parallel to a spring mounted horizontal pendulum, holding it in a position that puts tension on its spring. When the operator moves the key lever to the right, the lever withdraws away from the pendulum allowing it to vibrate. This vibrating pendulum became the basis for the name, "Vibro"- plex. This patent did not go into production, probably for two reasons. Martin appeared to have problems with the vibrating efficiency of this pendulum right from the start. Two of the three design options in this patent still relied upon electro-magnets to help amplify the swing of the pendulum. Also, four months earlier, another telegrapher, William Coffe of Cleveland, filed for a patent that used a similar lever design with an unassisted vertical pendulum.

Martin Vibroplex

An early production Martin Vibroplex, serial # 679.

In Martin's second attempt, he distanced himself from any similarities with the Coffe patent, and greatly improved the efficiency of the vibrating pendulum with a design that incorporated the lever, main spring, and pendulum all in one piece. In this design, when the operator moves the key lever to the right, it immediately strikes a stop, causing the spring mounted pendulum to go into vibration. After the desired number of dots are produced via the contact spring on the pendulum, the operator releases the key, the lever returns to its stop, and the pendulum is arrested by a damper. The dashes are produced by moving an independent (split) lever to the left. This design resulted in Martin's third transmitter patent, filed on April 16, 1906 and today is referred to as the "original" design.

Martin Patent
H.G. Martin Patent # 842154
Click here to see the entire
patent drawing. (111K)
There has been an ongoing debate surrounding the actual introduction date of Martin's Vibroplex. The confusion is generated by the date of Martin's second transmitter patent (1904) shown on labels of early production models of the Vibroplex. There is no evidence supporting that a mechanical transmitter of any type was manufactured or formally introduced by Martin in 1904. In fact, it appears that the very first public introduction of the Martin Vibroplex took place in May of 1905 and it did not occur in New York, but about 750 miles further south in Tennessee. The biggest trade show in the telegraph industry during this era was held during the annual Railway Telegraph Superintendent's Convention. These superintendents were very influential, jointly employed by the railroad and telegraph companies and made recommendations for purchasing telegraph supplies. The convention for 1905 took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee and superintendents from all the major railroads in the U.S. and Canada were present. Having his Vibroplex introduced in Chattanooga had other significance to Martin. Chattanooga was essentially in Martin's home area, 50 miles north of Adairsville Ga. One of the Chattanooga papers stated earlier he had friends and family in Chattanooga and used to be referred to as the "boy wonder telegraph operator". On May 17, 1905 details of the exhibits at the convention show that UEM had on display samples of their batteries and, creating a lot of interest, was the Martin Vibroplex.

Click here to see a UEM testimonial ad directed
to Railway Telegraph Superintendents. (183K)

Back in New York, UEM was expanding their facilities at 53 Vesey St. The offices and store rooms now occupy the second floor while the manufacturing facilities where Martin was building the Autoplex and Vibroplex, were located up in two large lofts that extend the entire depth of the building. UEM's most popular products at this point were not the Martin keys, but the Uneco and Autoplex dry cells, both 2 X 6" in size, sold for various applications. Martin was also advertising that his manufacturing facilities have been upgraded with new machinery and available for contract and royalty work.

May 1906 UEM Ad
From The Telegraph Age May 1906.
One of the first formal evaluations done on Morse transmitters was done by the Postal Telegraph Company in September of 1906. The purpose of the evaluation was not to recommend one particular model over the other, but to compare the use of mechanical and magnetic transmitters in general to sending with a conventional Morse key. The transmitters evaluated were a mechanical and magnetic version of an Auto-Dot, a Mecograph # 4, (derived from the Coffe patent) Martin's Autoplex and Vibroplex, and a Yetman Morse typewriter transmitter. Present for the evaluation were George Conkling, the G.M. of the Delany Telegraphic Transmitter Co., representing the Auto-Dots; D.A. Mohoney, New York sales agent for the Mecograph Co.; Horace Martin; and J.P. Gallagher of the Yetman Transmitting Typewriter Co..

The Yetman produced uniform characters, but was physically demanding on the sending operator, and its perfect machine-like Morse was considered tiresome for the receiving telegrapher. Also, its individual characters could not be slowed down. The Autoplex and the magnetic Auto-Dot transmitters, if properly adjusted and using good batteries, produced the "most reliable signals". The all-mechanical transmitters, including the Auto-Dot, Mecograph and Vibroplex, were all considered capable of producing favorable signals but felt only the Bonus Men and first class press operators were the only ones that were operating them properly. The average operator was criticized for not knowing how adjust them correctly and the cause of many errors on Postal's system.

Martin dealt with the problem of educating and reaching the average telegrapher on several fronts. He became what is known in the Ham Radio ranks today as an "Elmer" (mentor) to many telegraphers. He personally helped telegraphers who were making the transition from a straight key to a Vibroplex. He solicited the aid of some of his telegrapher friends, many of them only in their twenties, to be agents and give demonstrations in various U.S. cities. To encourage home practice, Martin offered for one dollar, his small "Gem" key and sounder set with the idea of using its sounder as a receiver with the Vibroplex. Also, in these early months, he was known to give away many Vibroplexes in order to get them introduced at important offices.

Martin furthered his efforts to make his Vibroplex the first transmitter owned by the average telegrapher by entering into a price war with his two major competitors : Mecograph and Auto-Dot. In the spring of 1906, the Martin Vibroplex was being sold for $12.00, the Auto-Dot for $10.75, and the Mecograph model # 3 for $10.00. By mid-summer, Martin lowered his price to $7.50, but Mecograph countered this by lowering the price of all their models to $7.50 including their newest model #4. Around the time of the Postal Telegraph evaluations, Martin was most likely tired of dealing with the Mecograph Co., and lowered the price of his Vibroplex even further to $5.00. It is hard to imagine he was operating in the black at this price.

Click here to see the UEM ad promoting
the Vibroplex for $5.00. (140K)

Throughout his career, Martin was never preoccupied with making a profit, but rather head strong in achieving a goal. In 1906, he was clearly "determined to place in every telegraph office in the United States and Canada at least one Vibroplex", a goal that no one would dispute that he eventually achieved. Martin has never really received the recognition and credit he deserves in several categories, but especially for his efforts during these early years and the impact he had on the career of the average telegrapher. During the World War II era, it was stated that wherever Morse was spoken in the U.S. and wherever Americans have gone to speed up Morse transmissions in the world, that most likely a Martin Vibroplex was being used. This seems a fitting legacy for the quiet and very modest telegrapher from Georgia.......

To : Centennial of the Martin Vibroplex

Return to the Horace G. Martin home page

Special thanks to the grandchildren and descendants of
Horace Martin for their help with my research.

Copyright (c) by John Casale - W2NI
Troy, New York
Sources for Parts 1-3
1870 U.S. Census, Bartow County, GA.
City Directories: Bridgeport, Conn. 1902-03 ; Brooklyn and New York City, NY 1897-1906
Martin family burial records
Fulton County Probate Court, Atlanta, Ga.
Certificate of Incorporation, United Electrical Manufacturing Co. February 17,1904
The Atlanta Journal, March 1, 1902
The Constitution, Atlanta GA. March 1&2, 1902
The Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tenn., May 17-19, 1905
Bartow History Center, Cartersville, GA.
Draft by Horace Martin Jr., The Story of Rotoplex, 1941
U.S. Patents by Horace G.Martin
Appleton's Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics, 1891
John B. Taltavall, Telegraphers of Today, 1893
James Parton, The Life of Horace Greeley, 1885
Walter P. Phillips, Sketches Old And New, 1897
Oliver Gramling, AP, The Story of News, 1940
J.H. Bunnell & Co., Catalog # 25, 1905-1906
Telegraph Age
Telegraph and Telephone Age
Journal of the Telegraph
Interviews with Horace Martin's grandchildren