Top 10 Greatest Moments in Math History: Enigma!

Top 10 Greatest Moments in Math History

Moment 9: Enigma!
In 1918, Arthur Scherbius patented a machine called “Enigma” that went on to be used by the German military to code messages during World War II. Enigma was used throughout the war and into the 1950s and ran on a 4.5 volt battery [16]! 

What made Enigma special was that it was portable, allowing the military to use the machine in the battlefield to code or decode important messages. 

An Enigma Machine

Arthur Scherbius’s idea was first rejected by the German military so he went on to sell his patents to the German company Gewerkschaft Securitas. Gewerkschaft Securitas began producing Enigma machines in 1920, and by 1925 the German Navy began to buy them. 

It took until New Years Eve 1932, a full seven years after the German Navy began to encrypt messages with the machine, for anyone to decode the messages encrypted on Enigma. Even more significant to its complexity, 1932 was four years after the Allied forces (the Polish) got a hold of a machine! In 1928 an Enigma was intercepted at Polish customs and sent to Poznan University in Poland where three Polish mathematicians began working to break Enigma. One of the three mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, created “Bomba”, a machine that helped break Enigma and eventually the backs of the German Army [17].

Because of the intricate inner workings of Enigma and its ability to compute such complex codes, it is considered our world’s first computer (class notes). The rest is history!


Top 10 Greatest Moments in Math History

Works Cited:

[16] Oberzalek, Martin, “Enigma - a very famous story of cryptology”, March 2000 http://www.mlb.co.jp/linux/science/genigma/enigma-referat/enigma-referat.html

[17] Schwager, Russell, “History of the Enigma Machine”, 1998-2004 
http://russells.freeshell.org/enigma/history.html

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