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News | Feb. 26, 2021

The most prestigious trophy

By David Hatch, NSA Historian, Center for Cryptologic History NSA

One June 2, 1948, Sir Edward Travis, director of the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), sent a letter to “Joe,” Captain Joseph Wenger, of the U.S. Naval Cryptologic Activity, Washington. Both organizations were successors to the wartime units that had cooperated in exploiting the communications of the Axis Powers in World War II.

Travis offered Wenger a “challenge trophy,” as a “small token of my gratitude,” for a series of games between the U.S. Army and Navy cryptologic organizations. This offer was made to American agencies. Travis signed the note with his nickname, “Jumbo.”

Travis suggested a series of different sports, including tennis, golf, football, and chess. The loser in the game would select which game would be played next.

Travis said that he was sending a similar letter to “Dink,” i.e. Colonel Harold Hayes, commander of the Army Security Agency, Wenger’s counterpart.

The first winner of the trophy was the ASA in 1949. However, as far as is known, the trophy was not awarded again for sports contests, and not for anything until 1964. 

In 1963, the trophy was discovered on a shelf in Arlington Hall Station, home of ASA and some elements of NSA, and brought to the attention of the Director, USAF Lt. Gen. Gordon Blake. With the consent of the then director of GCHQ, Blake designated the trophy as an annual award for the cryptologic field station that had made the most significant contribution to operations, management, or administration. 

Within a few years, the Travis Trophy, a symbol of binational cooperation, became the most prestigious award in signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations.