Located adjacent to NSA Headquarters at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, the National Cryptologic Museum houses thousands of artifacts that collectively serve to sustain the history of the cryptologic profession. Here visitors can catch a glimpse of some of the most dramatic moments in the history of American cryptology: the people who devoted their lives to cryptology and national defense, the machines and devices they developed, the techniques they used, and the places where they worked. For the visitor, some events in American and world history may take on a new meaning. For the cryptologic professional, it is an opportunity to absorb the heritage of the profession.
Originally designed to house artifacts from the National Security Agency, the NCM quickly gathered a priceless collection of artifacts of the nation's cryptologic history, including many rare and important encryption machines from WWII such as: the German Enigma machine, used by the German Army, Navy, and Luftwaffe throughout WWII. The Germans considered the codes generated by Enigma as unbreakable; the U.S. Army's Sigaba cypher machine, used by the Armed Forces of the United States. This machine was never known to have been broken by its foes during its service life; and, the history making Bombe. First developed by the British, this machine broke the German Enigma codes. Later versions were used by the U.S. to crack messages sent to the German military, significantly impacting the outcome of the war. These history making machines, along with many other rare historic cryptologic artifacts, can now be found into the NCM's collection.
As the gateway to the stories of America's secrets, the National Cryptologic Museum allows a peek into the people, equipment, and events that have played a role in cryptologic history. From America's first spy ring under George Washington to breaking the German's WWII Enigma machine, from the Hotline to Moscow through the development of supercomputers, from Native American code talkers to modern secure telephones, the NCM brings it all out from the veil of secrecy and into the open. Interactive displays, interesting exhibits and artifacts, and knowledgeable guides help explain the secrets behind the secrets.
Being one of the first public museums in the Intelligence Community, the NCM hosts approximately 70,000 visitors annually from across the country and throughout the world, allowing them a peek into the secret world of codemaking and codebreaking.
The museum is also an invaluable educational tool, benefiting thousands of students and teachers every year. Staff and docents provide students of all ages the chance to learn about cryptology's impact on history and the possibility of exciting jobs in an area they may not have thought possible. It has also been featured in a plethora of international TV, print, and radio media and has hosted visitors and dignitaries from around the world.
The National Cryptologic Museum has had a reference library since it opened in 1993. The library complements the exhibits and displays and encourages visitors to research various areas of cryptologic history. Over the years, the library has become an important resource to students, scholars, and those with an interest in reading about and researching this once secret world.
The Museum Library maintains an interactive database of the Museum's collection, including photos of its artifacts and the library's collection of unclassified and declassified books and documents relating to every aspect of cryptology. The books and records complement the museum exhibits and artifacts, but also offer unique and in-depth sources of information for researchers.
Some of the most sought after items in the library include declassified documents. The Museum Library holds all of the released VENONA documents as well as a subset of the oral histories taken by NSA's Center for Cryptologic History. The library also has a large collection of commercial codebooks. These codebooks were used by all manner of businesses to reduce the costs of cable communications and to provide a measure of security for trade secrets. Modern communications and encryption methods have made these books obsolete and they are mainly of historical interest.
NSA’s Special Research Histories (SRH) arose from a massive declassification effort in the 1970s and 1980s and provide documentation of NSA’s predecessor organizations in the U.S. Army and Navy’s cryptologic services. The SRH collection (available in its entirety at the National Archives in Record Group 457) consists of declassified reports dating predominantly to World War II but including material well into the Cold War. The library has begun digitizing the SRH collection to make it more accessible to researchers and currently has over 300 of the reports available at SRH Repository.
A few select, unclassified monographs are also available to the public from the Museum Library. They cover a wide range of cryptologic subjects from early American ciphers to the Vietnam War. Most of the monographs were written and published by NSA's Center for Cryptologic History. These monographs go into greater depth than the museum exhibits or museum pamphlets and help to provide a greater understanding of the events in which cryptology played a role in world history.
The collection nearly doubled by the gift of the leading historian of cryptology, David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers. The works range from the first printed book on cryptology, the 1518 Polygraphiae Libri Sex by the German mystic Johannes Trithemius, to Kahn's notes of his interviews with modern cryptologists.
In June 2010, the library received another gift of the archives of the late John Byrne who invented what he called "Chaocipher" in 1918. Among these papers are an enciphered excerpt from a speech by General Douglas MacArthur, Chaocipher - The Ultimate Elusion, worksheets for Chaocipher Exhibit 2, blueprints of the Chaocipher, Preliminary Instructions for Chaocipher II (a computerized version of the Chaocipher developed by Byrne's son John Jr.), correspondence between Byrne and the RD Development Company, and letters from Byrne to U.S. Navy Capt. J.M. Irish and Greg Mellen.
The Museum Library is open to the public on Tuesday through Saturday. Please call ahead to ensure that a staff member will be present to assist you (301-688-2145). The library is non-circulating, but photocopying is permitted.
Artifact Loan Program
The National Cryptologic Museum will loan artifacts to not-for-profit or government museums and institutions. Click here to see artifacts that can be borrowed. The receiving museum designs and builds the display to house the artifact. The NCM will provide background information to accompany the artifact, but will not reproduce photographs or captions for use by the receiving museum. The borrowing museum will provide acceptable transport of the artifact either by an approved fine arts shipper or courier and incur any accompanying fees. Both parties will sign a loan agreement and are expected to follow all specifications listed in the agreement. Contact us at (301) 688-5849 for more information.