American Military Keys

Vibroplex J-36 Bug 1941 order no 5702-NY-41 date 6-6-41 s/n 265
Nameplate. 796 Fulton Street, Brooklyn. N.Y.
The Vibroplex J-36. The WWII semiautomatic key made by Vibroplex for the Army Signal Corps was the military version of the company's Lightning Bug. These are somewhat scarcer than the Lionel version. They have a metal nameplate which occurs in several variations: small and large pre-WWII Fulton Street plates, and two WWII small plates with either Fulton Street or 833 Broadway addresses.
Each plate includes the order number and date, as well as a stamped serial number. Many of the Vibroplex J-36s used for Signal Corps Morse school training will be found with a mounting hole drilled in the base (between the pivot frame and nameplate) and an inventory number painted on the front edge of the base (facing the operator).
Well after WWII, only Vibroplex supplied semiautomatic keys to the military. These were stock keys stamped on the key or the box with the contract information; they carried no special nameplate.
American J-38 Hand Key
These were the standard WWII hand key. The J-38 typically was used in landline set-ups as noted by the secondary set of terminals at the rear of the key marked TEL and LINE. The lever switch must be "closed" for land line reception. The keys were typically built under contract and most contracts went to Lionel but sometimes other contract manufacturers are found. The J-38 is known for its excellent action and feel. They are still very popular hand keys.
American T.R. McElroy re-boxed Lionel J-38 Hand Key.
This J-38 Hand Key is a re-boxed Lionel key supplied by T.R. McElroy Manufacturing Corporation in new unused condition and date packed September 1952. This Lionel Key has the typical 'L' logo marking on the key base just below the shorting arm pivot position, there is no 'L' logo marking on the bottom of the main base  plate as typicaly found on Lionel bases. This key is in unused condition and is supplied by the T.R. McElroy Corporation complete with its box. Unfortunately the box has a torn area on the rear flap, obviously where someone was over eager to get it opened.
American J-41 Hand Key.
This is a scarce key since it was used on only one device, the TG-5 (and TG-5A, TG-5B) field signal telegraph set. It has both normally open (front) and closed (rear) contacts, and has a third binding post near the tension adjustment screw. The wire terminals are: Front right, front (NO) anvil contact. Rear left, back (NC) contact. Rear right, main lever (common).
A 1944 Winslow TG-5B unit (CAKU maker code) has been found with a factory-modified J-37 key. This J-37 (so marked) replicates a J-41 with a closed contact added at the back of the key, with the NC wiring direct to the contact (a common screw). This may demonstrate the exigencies of wartime.
The J-41 model was used in the TG-5 and TG-5A sets. The J-41A key used in the TG-5B set differed in that is "has a raised platform underneath the rear contact. This is to prevent dust particles from creeping underneath the rear contact, separating the contacts and thereby opening the line" (as stated in Technical Manual TM11-351, issued 1943).
American Signal Corps. J-44 Hand Key.
This key was used with radio sets SCR-178 and SCR-179 (BC-187). It is composed of a J-37 on an engraved Bakelite base. It has a slide switch marked "voice" and "teleg." which shorts the key terminals (it is like the old landline circuit closer lever). This key was made by Alden Products Co. Brockton Mass. U.S.A. it is in near mint condition complete with original box marked with manufacturer and SCR 299.
Signal Corps J-45 Fr leg key.

This J 45 Fr key is the rarer version of the J 45 keys and is due to its suffix of Fr which denotes that it was manufactured in France there is also a known example of one with a suffix of Gr. which denotes being made in Germany. On checking the threads of this key, which are all of metric form, confirms its country of manufacture. The date of manufacture or the date of entry into service is code painted in red on the flat plate and reads 09 58 which I believe to read September 1958.
It is essentially a J37 key mounted on a steel leg clamp for mounting on the operator’s thigh. It is quite a strong clamp and if used for long periods could become uncomfortable, especially over heavy battle fatigues or for people with a large thigh. The J45 was superseded by the  KY-116/U
American Lionel J-47 Hand Key.
Army Signal Corps J-47 by the Lionel Corp, known better as the maker of model railroad trains. This uses the same Lionel key as the J-38, but without the circuit closing lever. It also uses the same basic Lionel key base ("L" variation), but drilled and marked J-47.
American Navy Key C.L.T. 26001-B manufactured by Lundquist Tool & Mfg. Co.
Between W.W.I and W.W.II (most likely the early 30s), the numbering scheme was not able to keep up with the exploding inventory of communications equipment, so the scheme was modified. The prefixing letters were retained to identify the contractor. However, the rapidly growing serial number gave way to a 'classification' of the equipment. There were dozens of classifications. For example, the numbers '19' denoted batteries, the number '61' insulators and the number '26' denoted 'keys - telegraph: manually operated.' Three numbers following the classification denoted the specific model. A letter following the number denoted a modification to the original contract.
Let's take apart the C.L.T. 26001-B in the above key. The 'C' is the common Navy prefix for Contractor. The 'L.T.' denotes Lundquist Tool & Mfg. Co. as the maker. The '26' denotes this is a telegraph key. The '001' is the first model in this numbering scheme. The 'B' denotes a modification to the original design.
Founded in 1945 as Lundquist Tool & Manufacturing Co., the company was originally a contract metal stamping vendor of parts for military machinery during World War II.
American Navy Key CAM 809 circ 1916 Manhattan Electric Supply Company, New York. MESCO.
U.S. Navy Telegraph and Wireless Keys
The Navy "Type Number" system of equipment nomenclature was introduced by the Navy's Bureau of Steam Engineering in 1915 or 1916. (References do not agree on the date.) The scheme is basically a sequence number with other numbers and letters before and sometimes after.  It was designed by noted Naval radio engineer George H. Clark.  The actual implementation and assignments were left to A. M. Trogner, the chief draftsman of the Navy's Bureau of Steam Engineering.  Clark's scheme was called "The U.S. Navy Type Number System."

The first use had a two or three letters followed by the sequence number. The letters always started with a 'C' if the key was designed and made by a contractor. This was followed by one or two letters denoting the manufacturer of the key. The letters 'CL' denoted Fritz Lowenstein and 'CAM' denoted Manhattan Electrical Supply Co., for example. Both of these names are familiar to key and wireless collectors. See the table below for a full list of codes and makers. Most keys labeled with this scheme have little or no other identifying marks.  By 1943, the large number of contractors made it necessary to go to four letter combinations, such as 'CAQZ' for Brelco.
Because the numbers are sequential, it is possible to estimate the date of design. The 'SE' sequence number had passed 1,400 by 1918. In the above example, 1916 is the date of manufacture. The sequential number reflects the date of design. Note that the number applied to all Navy communications equipment, not just keys, so the 'SE' numbers grew large quickly.  'SE' numbering was abandoned in 1925. 
Chesson, Fred W. Navy Electronics Directory. Antique Wireless Association Review, Vol. 8, 1993
Howeth, L.S. Captain, USN. History of Commuications-Electronics in the United States Navy. Washington D.C., 1963
Old Timers Bulletin, Vol. 22. No. 3, December 1981, The Collectors Choice - The SE-1420/IP-501 Receiver. (Notes on Navy type numbering system from 40 years previous by George Clark, RCA historian)
Mote, Ray. World War Two Nomenclature Systems. 1994, (Unpublished manuscript)
Chesson, Fred W. Navy "C" codes: "Electronic Military Equipment, Naval Equipment Manufacturers". Antique Wireless Association Review, Vol. 7, 1992
Burlingame, Lynn, N7CFO Email to Neal McEwen, March 1996
For more information, visit the Telegraph Office home page Neal McEwen,
This Key was a widely used flame-proof Navy key used throughout WW-II with the "Navy Knob", a doorknob style knob with flat base under it. It was made by Moulded Insulator Company (CMI) although it was made for the navy by several manufacturers whose code letters precede the model number. The contacts are totally enclosed allowing it to be used in explosive environments without the danger of sparks. It was apparently copied from the German Luftwaffe Key of very similar design.
This example is in as new, unused condition and is complete with the red U.S. Navy anchor stamp on the underside of the base.