Howard Mason

The following is the text of the product review that  appeared in the April 1939 issue of QST magazine:


New Keying Device

Dashes, as well as dots are formed automatically by the Moto-Key, a new keying device which fits in between the semi-automatic key or "bug" and the fully automatic tape transmitter.

The Moto-Key mechanism includes a 110-volt a.c. induction motor which is geared through suitable speed-changing cones to a spindle carrying two pairs of friction discs. Associated with these discs or clutches are two cams, one for sending dots and spaces and one for sending dashes and spaces. One or the other of these cams is released to revolve by pressing the operating lever to the left or to the right. Either cam will continue to revolve and repeat its proper-length dots or dashes and spaces so long as the lever is held over and will continue to revolve to complete its cycle after the lever has been released. An interlock prevents one cam from releasing until the other has finished its cycle.

It is not necessary to hold the lever over for the entire duration of a dot or dash; an instantaneous contact will release either. The human element enters only in spacing. While it is impossible to run characters together by cutting spaces too short, the space length in other respects must be controlled by the operator. Speed is at an enforced even rate adjustable from approximately 18 to 40 words per minute.

The Moto-Key is manufactured and sold by Howard F. Mason, 2709-4th West, Seattle, Wash. -D.H.M.

When I read the product review I remember thinking that it would be wonderful if Mason had named his son "Howard, Junior" and that the son would have some recollection of the Moto-Key.  I picked up the Seattle telephone directory and was surprised to see a "Howard Mason" listed.  I called the number and asked for Mr. Mason, and the lady that answered told me that he was taking a nap.  I (as casually as I could) asked her if her husband had manufactured a telegraph key in the 1930's, and she chuckled and told me "Howard never did much with that".  I nearly had coronary arrest!  I talked to him later in the day, and visited the following day. 

Howard was delighted to have the company, and happily showed me the Moto-Key.  He manufactured a total of three of them. The first was sold to a radio operator in Bremerton, Washington who used it at the Navy station. Its whereabouts are unknown. The second was sold on August 31, 1992 to me.  The Moto-Keys were not serially numbered or otherwise marked.


Mason stated that at the time of production that he was employed by the Puget sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. He designed and built the Moto-Key at his home at the above listed address. He had the aluminum base cast at a foundry in Ballard, Washington, and did all of the machine work on the rest of the key. He purchased the gears in the key from the Boston Key company.

At the time of my visit Mr. Mason was 91 years old, and to say that he has led an interesting life would be a gross understatement! He was born in Indiana, and after the death of his father his family moved to Eagle Harbor, Washington when he was five years old. He had an early interest in radio and was licensed as an amateur radio operator [7BK] in 1917. In the early 1920's he worked on the American Radio Relay League Staff, and knew Hiram Percy Maxim.

Mr. Mason served as a radio operator in the 1927 Detroit News Wilkins Arctic Expedition from February 28, 1927 to June 5, 1927. During this expedition he operated station KFZG from Barrow, Alaska in support of Arctic overflights. [See: "An Arctic Adventure", by Howard F. Mason, QST magazine October, 1927]

He served with Richard Byrd as a radio operator in the 1928-1930 "Little America" Antarctic expedition. Prior to leaving New York on the expedition he worked at the lighthouse depot on Staten Island building the transmitters that were used on the expedition. [See: "Radio On The Byrd Expedition", QST, December, 1928] He also built three battery operated trail sets for portable use in Antarctica. There were 42 men on the expedition, and prior to being selected they took a battery of examinations to determine if they were mentally suitable for the trip.

Mr. Mason had photographs of the Little America Station that show two telegraph keys.   One of the keys, a Vibroplex #6 or "lightning bug" can clearly be identified. It was owned by Malcolm P. Hanson.

Howard Mason operating WFA        hmatwfa.jpg (85938 bytes) 

Carl Peterson operating WFA.         pat wfa.jpg (80864 bytes)  

The other key is a Kilbourne & Clark spark straight key that was still owned by Mr. Mason. The Kilbourne-Clark key was used by Radio Operator Carl Peterson to send the radio message from radio WFA to radio WHD [the New York Times] announcing to the world that Commander Byrd has crossed the South Pole by air. Mason bought this key in the mid 1920's from Mr. Howard Pyle, a friend that he happened to meet on a street car in Seattle, Washington.  Mason used this key on the Antarctic expedition and as a radio operator at the Union Bay cannery and the Nakat cannery in Alaska.  Prior to his death Mason gave me the key for my collection.  I use it as a station key since I feel that it would be wrong to take it off the air after all of these years.   I named it the "WFA Key" because WFA was the call sign used by the Little America expedition. 

                                                                                         wfa-1.jpg (7982 bytes)  


I have printed  a certificate commemorating contacts made with this key and issue it in lieu of a QSL card.

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