Spy Museum Launches Limited-Run Pop-Up Exhibit of Extraordinary Codebreaking Artifacts

WASHINGTON - March 23, 2021 - The International Spy Museum (SPY) launches a mini pop-up exhibit, Codes, Ciphers & Mysteries: NSA Treasures Tell Their Secrets, from April 5 through May 31 to showcase a select trove of key artifacts used for codemaking, codebreaking, and secure communications.  The 13 historic objects are first-of-their-kind, one-of-a-kind, and breakthrough pieces, some of which have played a key role in shaping world history.

The artifacts will be on special display in the Briefing Center where guests begin their visit and will expand upon the Museum’s permanent exhibit on Codes.  The remarkable items are on loan from the National Cryptologic Museum (NCM), which collects, preserves, and showcases unique cryptologic treasures and serves as the National Security Agency’s principal gateway to the public.

“At a time when people are glued to their iPhones, locked in endless Zoom meetings, or wondering what personal information will be hacked next, the public is increasingly curious about the machinery that keeps their communications private and protected,” shared Dr. Andrew Hammond, the Historian & Curator at the International Spy Museum. “Partnering with the National Cryptological Museum on this pop-up exhibit allows us to share with our audience some of the secret history of secure communications. Prepare for superstar artifacts, colorful characters, and history-making machines - right here, in the heart of Washington DC.”

Several highlights of Codes, Ciphers & Mysteries are:

  • Cypher Cylinder, late 1700s/early 1800s: Believed to be the oldest existing true cipher device in the world, this wheel cipher is similar to one designed by Thomas Jefferson.
  • PURPLE Analog #1, 1940: The machine built to crack the Japanese PURPLE code. This machine is responsible for decrypting the famous 14-part message telling the Japanese ambassador to end diplomatic negotiations with the US in advance of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
  • JN-25 Depth Analyzer, 1942: Used to help US codebreakers crack JN-25, the main Japanese naval code, which allowed the less experienced US Navy to score a decisive victory against Japan at the Battle of Midway.  This artifact has never before been seen by the public.
  • Piece of Colossus, 1944: Colossus was the world’s first-ever electronic computer, built by the British to break Germany’s sophisticated Lorenz cipher machine.
  • PACE TR-10, 1960: Believed to be the first desktop analog computer used at NSA.  Developed by Electronic Associates Inc. in New Jersey.
  • US Space Shuttle Challenger Encryption System, 1983: Built by the NSA, this high-level encryption system was collected from the Challenger’s debris after it broke apart 73 seconds into its mission.

“The National Cryptologic Museum has been busy redesigning its exhibits and revitalizing its building while we remain closed,” shared Dr. Vince Houghton, Director of the National Cryptologic Museum. “As we continue to pursue our goal to reopen in the summer, we’ve loaned the International Spy Museum some of the rarest, oldest, most historically significant code and cipher artifacts in the world.”

When the pop-up closes on May 31, the artifacts will return to the National Cryptologic Museum at Ft. Meade, Maryland.  NCM expects to reopen to the public this summer.

For photo, information, or filming inquiries related to the Spy Museum’s new mini pop-up exhibit, please contact Aliza Bran at 202.654.0946 or abran@spymuseum.org. 

About the International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum, an independent nonprofit organization, is the only public museum in the United States to lift the veil on the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage and intelligence from a global perspective. The mission of the International Spy Museum is to educate the public about espionage and intelligence in an engaging way and to provide a context that fosters understanding of their important role and impact on current and historic events. The Museum's collection chronicles the history of espionage, from its inception, to the modern-day challenges facing intelligence professionals worldwide in the 21st Century. The original Spy Museum opened in 2002. Its new, expanded building and all-new exhibitions opened in May 2019 to much acclaim.