Hebern Electric Super Code Cipher Machine

Edward Hebern of California designed this machine to encipher and decipher typed messages. It uses one of the most important developments in cipher machines, the rotor. Rotary cipher machines were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s for commercial purposes by several people in several countries. The rotors were wired so that electrical impulses were transferred from one element of the rotor to another. Rotating the rotors changes the flow of current, and hence the letters of the encrpyted message. Typing a message into the machine, the user read out the encrypted message from the light board above the keyboard. The recipient of a message had a similar machine for decryption. Rotary cipher machines were widely used in World War II.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cipher machine
Hebern, Edward
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
leather (case material)
plastic (overall material)
overall: 18 cm x 26 cm x 26.5 cm; 7 1/16 in x 10 1/4 in x 10 7/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of T. Scripps Downing

Visitor Comments

3/14/2016 6:10:53 PM
doug docherty
Can you explain the expression "Sphynx of the Wireless" in the context of the Hebern Cypher machine? This reference shows up in U.K. books on encryption.
5/6/2016 5:09:43 PM
Peggy Kidwell
The sphinx, was a creature who gave mysterious answers to questions. Hebern’s code machine made messages – including those transmitted over the wireless telegraphy – into mysteries. However, I have not heard the expression.
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