Stewart Johnson (Pre – Speed-X Les Logan) 1930’s Bug

Photo by Bill, W2CQ

The Les Logan 510 Speed-X Bug prototype (actually a Stewart Johnson Bug)

These were made in either Fresno or San Francisco in the 1930’s not long after the Great Depression – and they did not have plates on them. This one has wiring on the base – not the usual metal strap connectors that were put on the “commercial” versions that did have the plate attached – so this one was an earlier model – possibly made in Fresno and just before Stewart Johnson moved the company to San Francisco in 1934 – and perhaps could have been one of the very first one’s made in San Francisco!

The minute I took it out of the box – I fell in love with it. It is smaller and narrower than the Vibroplex bugs – I’ve read it was considered a “Vibroplex Blue Racer Knockoff”. I found this history, and it is so cool because I work in the building where this might have been made on 9th Street and Market in San Francisco. I did find this history on the InterWebs:

Electro Manufacturing Company – Speed-X (1920s-1934)
The Speed-X name (and trademark) is first associated with Electro Manufacturing Co. located in Fresno, California.

Speed-X Radio Manufacturing Company – Stewart Johnson Era (1934-1937)
In 1934, Stewart Johnson bought the Speed-X name and relocated the company to San Francisco.
Johnson changed the name of the company to Speed-X Radio Manufacturing Company and the address was 30 Ninth St. in San Francisco. Johnson built Speed-X keys from 1934 until he sold the company to Les Logan in 1937. Earlier Speed-X bugs have the combination of knob and paddle, but the later Speed-X bugs use two paddles instead. Many parts used are identical to later Speed-X parts, e.g., the damper, the posts and the knurls used on the hardware are all typical of later Les Logan Speed-X keys.

Speed-X Manufacturing Company – Les Logan Era (1937-1946)
Les Logan purchased Speed-X Radio Manufacturing Co. from Stewart Johnson in 1937.
Logan dropped “Radio” from the name, changing it to Speed-X Manufacturing Company and the location was moved to 646 Jessie St. in San Francisco. Les Logan’s name is usually associated with Speed-X from 1937 up to 1947.
Logan changed a few things on his keys compared to those of his predecessor (Stewart Johnson.) Logan finally added an identification tag to his keys along with a model number. Logan’s bugs use two paddles rather than a knob and paddle combination. He also offered a couple of different types of bearing support frames on his different models. The “T” handle was available on the larger Logan bugs and allowed the user to set the bug on its side and use the dash paddle as a straight key. Les Logan’s bugs were well-built and quite popular.

E.F. Johnson Company – post-WW2 era (1946 – 1972)
Les Logan sold the Speed-X line to E.F. Johnson Co. of Waseca, Minnesota in 1947.
Johnson did modernize their versions of the Speed-X bug and later versions used plastic paddles, more modern tags, larger weights and chrome plating rather than nickel plating.
Near the end of this period the semi-automatic “bugs” were discontinued. The market focus was on straight keys and a new dual paddle design for electronic keyers.

William M. Nye Company era (1972-present)
In 1972, Wm. M. Nye, Sr. acquired the amateur radio line of E.F. Johnson Company and formed the WM.M.NYE CO., INC., which has catered to amateur radio buffs for over 35 years. Their commercial market was O.E.M.’s for commercial radio applications in the U.S. and overseas market. They did not revive the Les Logan “bug” designs, as the commercial marine radio/military/line-land telegraph markets were disappearing.
In the late 1990s, Wm. Nye Jr. moved the manufacturing plant to Northern Idaho. They still produce CW keys today.

While the Speed-X bug was no longer made when the company was moved to Priest River, Idaho, its interesting that Nye still makes straight keys – not far from where my brother in law Jim lives. Kat and I drove through Priest River on our way from Sand Point through Priest River and Newport and then to my brother in law’s place just south of there.

The National SW-3 1930’s Regenerative Receiver

There is something about the 1930’s that just hits me. Its the decade that I never knew – but that I am learning about and loving. The world was not in great shape in many ways – but when you see these products that people were trying to manufacture and sell – you can see a sort of “Spartan Pride” – keep it simple, make products that people just after the Great Recession could afford – but also make these products with high quality. Inexpensive did not mean cheap – as was the case in later years.

Now – here is the “Twilight Zone” part of this Blog Post – for the last 6 weeks I have worked on a short contract at Twitter. They are located in the old San Francisco Furniture Mart building, right on the same block that Speed-X would have made my bug – if it was made in San Francisco and not Fresno.

Early 510 – this is exactly what I have, but mine has been restored beautifully . . .

The San Francisco Western Mart (now Twitter) in 1937 – where the Speed-X company was located

The same building in 1955 – and 9th street and Speed-X would have been one of the shops in the shaded part of the building

I will have to take a picture of a picture hanging in the lobby. It says that the radio station there was KSAN – which has a rich history of its own.

So – now you can see why I get excited about “living history” – and I am learning just how much Radio had an influence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Soon I will talk about Oakland – it has a richer history in radio parts manufacturing than I never knew. In fact, the massive and most beautiful transformer in my Collins KWS-1 Power Supply was made in Oakland – and has a great plate on it.

But that is an another era – another place, and another post . . . stay tuned . . .

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