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Ciphers and Codes

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Civics +7 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old), Adults

Throughout all of history, ciphers and secret codes were devised to keep intelligence from falling into the wrong hands. From the WWII German "Enigma" machine to America's Cherokee Code Talkers, people used ciphers and codes to safeguard secrets. One of my favorite mysterious artworks is the sculpture Antipodes, outside of the Hirshhorn Museum. No one knows what it means, and its companion piece Kryptos sits outside at Langley. I was inspired to create this collection because a parent wrote to us asking what kinds of spy or secret code summer camps were available at the Smithsonian. Before passing them along to the International Spy Museum, I wondered what kind of topical collection I could create in SLL. It turns out, there's a lot of material culture associated with codes and coding, so these are some of my favorite objects and videos in our Smithsonian collections.

Hebern Electric Super Code Cipher Machine

National Museum of American History

Antipodes

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Handwritten Cipher Book of Jesse Harmon Alexander

National Museum of American History

Cover of Alfred Vail's Experiment Notebook

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Code Talker Induction into NSA Hall of Honor

National Museum of the American Indian

The Power of Words: Native Languages as Weapons of War

National Museum of the American Indian

Native Words, Native Warriors

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Ask an Expert -- The Corona Spy Satellite

National Air and Space Museum

How to Lie for Your Life

Smithsonian Channel

Spy Decoder Ring

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Get Smart Lunch Box

National Museum of American History

Hour of Code

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Document Deep Dive: What Did the Zimmermann Telegram Say?

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Invicta Electronic Master Mind Electronic Game

National Museum of American History

Rockwell-Collins Defense Advance GPS Receiver (DAGR)

National Museum of American History