Left-handed Telegraphers


This is a right-handed bug. Note the two black plastic pads at the right end. The larger pad is for

the thumb. By flipping it over places the large one on the other side for the left-handed thumb.


When the telegraph first came into use the telegraph key was the one seen in the western movies, up and down motion. It worked, and still does for many amateur radio operators worldwide. But in the days when Morse code was king, and used by the Postal Service, Western Union, Associated Press, and most newspapers across the nation operator problems surfaced – they developed “glass elbows”.

Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, and a man who depended heavily on good, fast Telegraphers was instrumental in developing the “bug”, a sending device that employed both thumb and index finger in a lateral motion. The dashes were made by actuated the thumb, one-at-a-time. The dots were generated by the index finger and they were repeated automatically by the means of a spring. The speed of these dots was controlled by the position of a weight on the blade, or armature. But this new device brought forth a new problem – the left-handed telegrapher.

At first glance it seems simple enough, just move the bug to the other side of the desk. But this was only a half-solution, because now everything was backwards – the finger was doing what the thumb was supposed to do and the thumb doing the fingers job. The solution was to install the blade upside down.

Since telegraphers furnished their own bugs, they transported them specially designed carrying cases.

Many years later, when electronic Keyers became available, the problem was solved electronically.