New Zealand-made Morse Code keys: Straight keys

Listed below are Morse Code keys known to have been mass-produced in New Zealand for use in landline telegraphy, commercial radiotelegraphy, the military, or amateur radio.

This page features traditional “straight” keys (sometimes called “pump” keys). Please see the links at the bottom of the page for other types of key made in New Zealand.

If you know of other keys, or have additional information of photographs to share, please contact the editor.

Akrad Radio key

Two Akrad keys
Akrad keys. Photos: CT4SL and ZL2WT

Akrad Radio, based in Waihi, made a key as part of a Morse practice set during World War II. These were described as conventional, inexpensive and fairly robust.

Akrad Radio Corp (the name Akrad stood for Auckland Radio) was founded in 1932 by Mr KM Wrigley. In 1940 there were about 30 staff and by the end of the war this had increased to a little over 100. Akrad made many parts for the ZC1 transmitter/receiver and also the buzzer assembly for army field telephones.

Branch 80 key

In the early 1980s the newly formed Hibiscus Coast Amateur Radio Club – NZART Branch 80 (since renamed the Hibiscus Coast Radio Society) made a production run of straight keys with code practice oscillators.

As explained by club secretary John Bell ZL1FB (SK) in April 2000:

“Apparently it was the brainchild of a founder and past president Trevor Fergusson (ZL1FU, now SK) when the club was founded and there were many CBers wanting to become fully fledged Amateurs. This was evidenced by a good number of the attendees at the inaugural meeting having CB calls. We still have some metal boxes to enclose the oscillators but it seems there is only one key left. These were about the size of the ZC1 key, but copies of the standard brass key, hand-made from square aluminium stock, centre-pivoted with an adjustable spring and a contact towards the handle. The main arm extended past the pivot to a stop. It resembled the Tricity House (Supreme) brass key but had the spring on the handle side of the pivot. A working model with oscillator was mounted on a piece of hardboard, complete with the instruction sheet. Unfortunately it has been ‘pirated’ so that only the key and sheet remain. Some day I shall rebuild it as part of the Club history.”

If you have a photo of the Branch 80 key, please contact the editor.

Assembly instructions for Branch 80 Code Practice Oscillator

Ensign key

An advertisement for the Ensign key appeared in the 1942/43 Lamphouse Annual. The catalogue number was PH2, and the cost 27/6d. I have yet to confirm that this key was made in New Zealand.

Hi-Tec key

Hi-Tec morse key
Hi-Tec morse key

These were manufactured by Hi-Tec Aerials of Christchurch until about 1995. About 30 were made and in February 2000 the Com-Centre in Auckland still had a few for sale. They have a very smooth action, but for some operators the wide wooden knob takes a little getting used to!

Lamphouse Heavy key

Lamphouse Heavy morse key
Lamphouse Heavy morse key

This is an interesting key. The gap is adjusted by a large disc headed screw, which acts as a backstop. The spring tension is adjusted from under the heavy cast iron base. It is not a pretty key, but it has a good action. I am still waiting to confirm that this key was made in NZ. In the 1945 Lamphouse Annual the catalogue number was TH4 and the cost was 13/6d.

Lamphouse Practice key

Described in the 1942 and 1945 Lamphouse Annuals as “Low priced practice keys. Good movements. Steel Fittings.” Catalogue numbers PH4 or TH4. Price 13/6d.

Monarch key

Monarch morse keyAn advertisement for the Monarch key appeared in the 1942/43 Lamphouse Annual. Catalogue number was PH1, cost 22/-d.

I have yet to confirm that this key was made in New Zealand.

A&W McCarthy key

A&W McCarthy morse key
A&W McCarthy morse key

This example of an A&W McCarthy key belonged to a radio amateur who lived near Mahia – a coastal settlement on the East coast of the North Island.

The label on the end of the base under the knob reads:

A. & W. McCarthy.
Dunedin and Invercargill.

Ripley’s Radios key

Ripley's Radios morse key
Ripley’s Radios morse key in collection of MOTAT, Auckland

Ripley’s Radios was a shop in Customs Street, Auckland and may have simply been an importer and distributor of this key which is made of brass on a wood base.

MOTAT describes this key as from the 1930s.

RNZAF Wigram key

Wigram Morse key
Wigram key mounted on acrylic. Photo: ZL1NZ

Around 1941 the RNZAF were experiencing shortages in many areas. Prior to WWII most telegraphy equipment had been imported from England. The standard Post Office key made by Elliott Bros. appears to have been one of the keys commonly used.

To overcome the shortage, trainees in the E&W School made Morse keys as their Trade Test Pieces. (The more usual test pieces were a metal toolbox and a couple of special tools.) The key made by the trainees has become known as the Wigram Key. The base of the key is made from folded sheet metal and the arm is made from steel.

Wigram keys were probably then used by Air Force recruits learning Morse Code.

Supreme key

Supreme morse key
Supreme morse key in plain brass. Photo: SM5LNE

Supreme keys were made in New Zealand by Eric Sorenson (who also made the Supreme semi-automatic key) and sold by Tricity House, at 209 Manchester Street in Christchurch.

In addition to plain brass and chrome versions, you could also choose the colour of disc under the knob. Red, yellow, blue, brown and clear versions have been seen.

Supreme morse key
Supreme morse key in chrome. Photo: ZL3TK

Supreme keys sold for $34.50 in 1986, $39.95 in 1987, $41 in 1989 and $42 in 1990.

Supreme “Improved” key

Improved Supreme morse key
Improved Supreme morse key. Note the different knob and finger disc style, as well as the improved gap adjuster.

In 1993 the price of a Supreme key almost doubled to $99.75 – but this was an improved model. It was described as “The new refurbished velvet touch of the Supreme solid brass Morse key.” It was pictured on the cover of Break-In magazine in March 1993, and looks to be worth every cent of the hundred dollars being asked. This model must be one of the finest NZ production straight keys.

Trident key

A radio amateur living north of Auckland has told me he has a NZ made key called a Trident. Details and a picture will be added to this page, once I receive them.

Ultimate key

NZ-made Ultimate keys
Ultimate keys had the brand name engraved in the top of the lever arm. Photos: eBay 2000 (left) and ZL2WT

The Ultimate key was made by Radio (1936) Limited, an Auckland company. RJ (Jack) Orbell ZL1AX was the Chief Engineer and a Director of that company, and many of its products, including radio receivers, carried the Ultimate brand name.

The description of the key in the 1942 Lamphouse Annual catalogue is as follows: “Heavy brass arm and bridge. Fine adjustment of spacing and tension provided. Wooden knob and finger rest flange, ensuring comfortable operation grip. Mounted on wooden base, finished in varnish. Measures 6 ins long, 3 ins wide, 3 ins high (overall).” Catalogue number PH111, 16 shillings and 9 pence each.

ZC1 key

ZC1 Morse key
WT 8 Amp No 2 Morse key, as used on New Zealand ZC1 transmitter/receiver

This key is more commonly known overseas as the WT 8 Amp No. 2 Key. However, in New Zealand it is usually referred to as the ZC1 key after the World War II ZC1 General Service HF Transmitter/Receiver to which it was fitted.

In 1993 Tony Smith G4FAI published in Morsum Magnificat (edition 28) the initial results of a worldwide survey into the WT 8 Amp key. He reported that there were over 100 known versions of this key. Five of these versions had the markings “NZ” either under the base or on the side of the arm under the knob.

Who manufactured these keys is still a mystery, although many believed that it was Akrad Radio Ltd in Waihi which made other parts for the ZC1. However, Ted Grant, who worked for Akrad, says this is not correct. Do you know where they were made?

More New Zealand keys

Semi-automatic keys (bugs)