Signal Straight Key

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by NO8J, Sep 27, 2021.

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  1. NO8J

    NO8J XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    At the Cleveland Hamfest I picked up a Signal Key in the original orange box with a blue diagonal stripe on it. The box is labeled:

    Signal Transmitting Key
    Type CWS-274N11

    Manufactured by Signal Electric Mfg. Co.
    Menominee, MI

    I haven't been able to find any information on this key and was hoping to find the year it was manufactured and what the cost was when it was sold.

    Anyone able to help here?

    Thanks and 73, de NO8J
  2. WB4BIN

    WB4BIN Ham Member QRZ Page

  3. WA1GXC

    WA1GXC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Refer to super web site for WW II military telegraph and radio--"Western Historic Radio Museum"

    Your key is likely the same one in photograph pictured--Signal Electric box, with widely-produced Joint Army-Navy "J-38" pattern key
    It is described as a Sig.Elec. Model M-100
    Page down until you see it

    However there's an oddity, and I have only a theory, not anything authoritative.
    It immediately hit me when I saw the model number, that's not really a Signal Electric type number, the "CWS-xxxxx" is a US Navy WW II contract-manufacturer designator.
    "CWS" is contractor identifier for "Stewart-Warner Corp.".
    My theory is your key was sold to the US Government by Signal Electric under contract, and Signal Electric farmed out some or all of the production to Stewart-Warner because they
    couldn't keep up with demand. This happened all the time with electronic components and indeed, entire radios.
    RCA and Collins got all kinds of contracts for entire radio receiver and transmitter sets, took their 10% or whatever cut off the top, then distributed the work and the liability.
    RCA-designed and contracted BC-348 "Liason" receiver, made by the tens of thousands for aircraft, actually built by Stromberg-Carlson, Belmont Radio, Wells-Gardner, RCA.
    Collins TCS- group equipment designed by Collins but contract fulfilled under Hazeltine and Stewart-Warner as well.
    Another big name for RCA farm-outs was Andrea Radio of New York--same company as consumer "FADA" brand - 'Frank A. D'Andrea.'
    All kinds of crazy stuff from odd factories. The magnetic compass binnacle (the big vertical stand with iron spheres for magnetic compensation) seen in the wheelhouse on bridge of
    big ships--some manufactured by Lionel Co., who also made many WW II J-36 Lightning-Bug clones for all services.
    I have a flight crewman's radio jack-box installed in bombers made by Wurlitzer Organ Co.

    Again, this only a guess, but I wonder if "CWS-274N11" type-number referring to [part of]
    Radio Set SCR-274-N, the "Command Set" radio standard on all US WW II heavy bombers.
    This J-38 type is what you see bolted to the radio operator/gunner's desk at his in-flight
    crew station. USAAF/Navy distinctions don't mean much in a lot of settings for components.

    Last edited: Sep 28, 2021
    WN1MB likes this.
  4. NO8J

    NO8J XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    This definitely is the M-100 key. I've attached a few pictures. You just might be right on this being part of the Radio Set SCR-274-N. Wish my father (SK W8MAF) were alive - he flew on the Consolidated Liberator B-24 and was a radioman/gunner.

    I plan on doing some more research. Thank you!

    73 20210927_224418_resized.jpg 20210927_224427_resized.jpg 20210927_224436_resized.jpg
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2021
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  5. WA1GXC

    WA1GXC Ham Member QRZ Page

    I bet my theory as I explained it is bass-ackwards---

    Makes more sense this is a Signal Electric component made for a Stewart-Warner production contract with the USN for an entire radio set.

    Thanks for the beautiful photos--and that's an exquisite key. Many are familiar with the Sig.Elec. big-block based heavy duty keys, but they made many, many J-38 pattern open frame keys
    for both civilian and military use.

    The photo on the Museum website shows a M-100 ( J-38) with plug PL-68 on cord--which is standard utilization (unusually) into the mic jack on Navy TCS- [ ] transmitters--Stewart-Warner being
    a subcontractor, licensing production from Collins. I have a Navy parts list for TCS at the bottom of a box somewhere. Let me see what I can find.
    I still think the generic "XXX-274N11" makes sense for the prototype pattern designation; maybe the guy making $1.72 an hour in junior management couldn't be bothered changing the nomenclature and all the
    ensuing paperwork. I'll look at the SCR-274-N manuals I have for minor components and contractors' codes.


    Last edited: Sep 28, 2021
  6. W4HAY

    W4HAY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    That's a choice find!

    So when are you going to put it on the air?
  7. NO8J

    NO8J XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I plan on putting it on the air this weekend. You'll find me at the lower end of 40 - where the operators are!

    I am trying to decide if i should restore this key to new, bright and shiny, OR leave it as-is - it is 70+ years old!

    Then should I mount it to a nice solid block of brass, lacqueered OR on a nice piece of stained oak.

    Decisions, decisions!
  8. W4HAY

    W4HAY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Leave the key as-is, that's a beautiful patina on the brass. As for the base, use a dark-stained oak covered with satin polyurethane varnish. FWIW, I use the Min-Wax brand of penetrating stains. It's available in 8 oz. cans.

    Lowes has small pieces of 3/8" furniture-grade wood that works well for key bases. The base should protrude about 1" beyone the knob for stability. They also have a good selection of brass flat head screws.

    I put adhesive-backed felt on the bottom of the base and have no problems with the key sliding around. You can find it in the craft department at WalMart or Hobby Lobby.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2021
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  9. EI4HWB

    EI4HWB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    It's a beautiful key in no need of restoration.
    WA1GXC likes this.
  10. AA6P

    AA6P Ham Member QRZ Page

    That key really is a terrific find. I agree that no cleaning or polishing is needed.

    I have mounted keys on a piece of shiny black 1/4" thick plexiglass that looks very nice.

    Here is some historical information on Signal Electric that may be of interest.

    It looks like dating keys from Signal Electric can be quite difficult. I have an R-62 key stamped with Signal Electric that could have been manufactured anywhere from 1919 through the 1950s or 1960s.

    I've been using it on the air recently and it has a wonderful solid feel when adjusted correctly. Thirty meters is also a great band for CW.

    73, Kent

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