Did you know that Orville Wright helped create a Bombe?

Did you know that Orville Wright helped build a Bombe? (No foolin’.)

Now, we know what you’re thinking. We didn’t misspell the headline. Orville Wright, during the Second World War, aided a team working at the National Cash Register company in the design, development, and construction of a massive electrically-powered coding machine that would be used to break the communication codes used by Germany during WWII, and to generate future codes for U.S. military communications and security.

That decoding/coding machine was called a Bombe, the name possibly derived from a similar deciphering machine, the bomba kryptologiczna ( “cryptologic bomb”) engineered in Poland at the Biuro Szyfrów (cipher bureau) by cryptologist Marian Rejewski.

In 1926 the German Navy started using the famous Enigma cipher machine to code and decode communication and sensitive documents. The Enigma machine used a series of rotors, set in thousands of different combinations, to create coded communications.

These codes were first cracked by the Polish bomba kryptologiczna around 1938, then later in 1939 by a British Bombe, designed by Alan Turing at the UK Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

The German military soon added additional rotors to their Enigma machine, and the British bombe was no longer successful in decoding efforts.

In 1942, the United Stated Naval Computing Machine Laboratory was established in Building 26 of the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio. A U.S. code breaking team, lead by NCR engineer Joseph Desch, succeeded in making new code-breakers by early 1943. The team built a 7-foot-high, 11-foot-long, 5000-pound electromechanical computer. With this U.S. Bombe, the U.S. forces would soon decode messages nearly as fast as the German ships and submarines would receive them.

Orville Wright was one of the many Dayton, Ohio engineers who contributed to the top-secret project. He developed a prototype code machine that could generate over 11 million codes.

The bombes built in Dayton were credited in reshaping the war. Historians claim that the Allies’ ability to decipher German messages shortened the war by as much as two years, saving thousands of lives.

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