The Automorse by Hitchcock Bros. Co. Adelaide. Australia 1918
The Automorse, what a key, this complex looking key can operate either as a semi-automatic or fully-automatic key, depending on the requirement and skill of the operator.
It was invented by Mr. Norman Percy Thomas who was born in Adelaide in 1881 and died in the same city at age 56 during a tennis match on Sunday 24 October 1937. Thomas presented his application for the Automorse patent on 11 April 1918 and which was subsequently recognized and awarded the patent number 7023/18, so came into the market the first mechanical “fully automatic” key in the world. Although the Automorse was used by the PMG Offices the officers using them bought them privately. The construction and distribution of these great keys was entrusted to the Hitchcock Bros. Company, located in Flinders Street in the city of Adelaide.
If you look at the key from the paddle end you will see that on the top tier we have, what is essentially a double lever key similar to the “Double Lever Vibroplex” invented by Horace Martin in 1907, where the automatic dots are produced with the left hand lever and manual dashes produced by the right hand lever. That is where the similarity ends as there is a lower tier housing a third lever which is used to produce automatic dashes. In operation the upper left hand lever produces dots automatically by means of moving the pendulum off its stop position allowing it to oscillate. The lower lever differs as it is under constant spring tension and is allowed to oscillate after the pendulum stop is moved away from the pendulum by moving the paddle to the left, commonly called the “tension release” method.
In some publicity at the time, the key was described as being available as standard in right and left handed versions, both initially sold at the modest sum of £5. Then with the rise of his fame, just two years after, the purchase price was raised to £35. The first question that may arise is why the first fully automatic mechanical key was developed in Australia and not in the USA, “the home the bug was born in”? A plausible answer to this question may be in the fact that in the USA, telegraphy by wire was always based on use of the American Morse code, while in Australia the American Morse code was used only until International Morse became compulsory from 1 July 1897. At Eucla in Western Australia, east met west. Telegraphers in one room used American Morse to the west and messages were passed to another room where Telegraphers used International Morse to the east. As is known, the American Morse code has some of the letters formed with dashes of different lengths. The International Morse Code uses the same length of dashes for all characters, allowing Thomas to develop the first fully automatic key, which would not be usable for the American Morse code.
The above key was purchased from Claudio IZ0KRC in December 2016. Claudio is based in the town of Ariccia in the Metropolitan City of Rome. and some of the above information was taken from his very informative description of this key which was published in the “Key Note” which is a magazine produced by the FISTS CW Club and is available to see in Issue 27, Series 2 February 2015. Claudio also has a website can be found on my links page.
Ron McMullen, contacted me to correct information regarding the use of American Morse code in Australia and the fact that it was individual officers who purchased the keys that they opperated, not the P.M.G. Both these points have been corrected and I thank Ron for pointing this out. Ron has a wonderful collection of telegraph keys and related items in Australia. A link can be found on my links page.