Western Union Telegraph Key


This past weekend I attended a local antique toy and model railroad show. Rarely I’ll find someone selling vintage vinyl Kaiju (old grumpy men with Lionel trains don’t care much for Godzilla), but struck out in the monster hunt.  I did find and purchase ($25) this Western Union telegraph key that dates back to the early 1880’s.  The construction is marvelous: brass frame, knobs, electrical contacts and screws, with compressed leather washers, copper trunnions, and stainless steel clickety-clackety pivot thing (armiture?).  The knobs appear to be bakelite. The contacts are some other metal or alloy, possibly steel or nickel.  A spring is missing, which I’ll add later to maintain tension on the key.

Western Union Telegraph Key

The machining is just extraordinary and the device works perfectly after 120+ years. This was the texting tool of the Victorian age and it was built to last.  How many iPhones will be around in 120 years?  Check out the knurling on the copper tensioner knobs or trunnions.

Copper Tension Nut (Trunnion)

So, you may ask what I am going to do with a 120 year old telegraph key?  Actually I am thinking of running a line to the basement, attach an audio device (bell or speaker), and relay a message to my brother to get up and take out the trash.

Telegraphy Museum

Western Union Telegraph Key

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