Update as of October 2021: Currently closed for renovations.
“Keep sending me the letters from the Archbishop of Silesia sent from Rome to Dresden. The key has been found here so that they can be read just like ordinary writing. But it is necessary to let them continue on their way while copying them exactly.”
While these are the words of Naploean writing to his son, the sentiments, and the games that nations play have remained much the same. The letter above and much more can be found at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland.
Opened to the public in December 1993 to much enthusiasm the museum is the only public museum in the Intelligence Community and covers the history of the National Security Agency as well as America’s cryptology history and legacy.
The museum is located, appropriately, hidden away in the woods and next to the NSA, where much of today’s cryptology work is done. Among the many curious objects are a voice-encrypting phone used by numerous Presidents, a reconnaissance satellite from the 1960s, and the gem for cryptologist enthusiasts an incomparable library of declassified books on cryptology, and original texts including Johannes Trithemius’s Polygraphiae published in 1518.
Museum visitors can also examine such famous machines such as the ENIGMA Uhr created by the Germans to make codes during WWII – and first decrypted by the Polish Cipher Bureau and then by Alan Turing – as well as the TUNNY Cryptographic Machine sometimes referred to by the German military as Geheimschreiber, which can be translated into “secret writer” or “private secretary.”
Visitors can also learn about the cryptologic story behind the Battle of Midway, Native American Code Talkers, the Zimmermann Telegram that played a significant role for U.S. entry into World War I, the Great Seal, and dozens of other stories throughout our nation’s history. Educational children’s programs are also very popular.
The museum also features a NSA Hall of Honor exhibit as well as exhibits dedicated to women and African-Americans who made significant contributions to cryptologic history. Along with the museum, there is an extensive library featuring photographs, catalogs, and other articles relating to cryptography and cryptology.
Know Before You Go
Photos are permitted anywhere inside the museum, however, do not take photos outside the building.