In most cases, the telegrapher’s employer provided a straight key for the telegrapher to use. If the telegrapher wanted to use a bug he (or she — female telegraphers were not uncommon) had to provide his or her own bug. Many carried it back and forth to work with them, and an Original not only weighed four pounds but also took a lot of room on the operator’s desk.
As a result, Martin introduced the fourth Vibroplex in 1914. It had a base that was 2.5” wide compared to the 3.5” of the Original, weighed about a pound and a half less, and had a frame which was a smaller version of that used on the Original. The damper assembly resembled the letter “U” with a damper wheel on one leg. This key was also called the “#4”, since it was the fourth Vibroplex model.
Many early Blue Racers were made with a dark blue base rather than the black base used on the Original. A nickel-plated base was also an option. Any Vibroplex with a 2.5” wide base is a Blue Racer. However, the Blue Racer was also available (by special order) on the standard 3.5” base, and several have been found with a 3” base.
Late in WW2, Vibroplex modernized the design with rounded castings, and the damper assembly was changed from the “U” damper to the modern “L” damper. The Blue Racer was made until the mid-Sixties. Most collectors call the early “U” damper bugs the “#4 Blue Racer” and the later “L” damper bugs the “late Blue Racer.”
Around 1940, the standard base finish was changed to black crackle, and the Deluxe version became available. The #4 Blue Racer was also made in the WW2 Deluxe version. WW2 Deluxe #4 Blue Racers are very hard to find — only ten or fifteen are in collections at the moment.
At the end of WW2, when Vibroplex modernized the frame and damper castings used on the Original, they did the same with the Blue Racer. This newer version is known as the “late Blue Racer.” Many people consider the late model Blue Racers, especially the Deluxe version, to be the best-looking Vibroplexes ever made.
The Blue Racer model was discontinued around 1967. Although Blue Racers are not really scarce, they seem to be very popular among collectors and bug users.