Cryptologic Bytes

"On This Date in History" Calendar

1960: Inventor Gilbert Vernam died.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

7 February 1960: Gilbert Vernam, pioneer inventor of machine encryption, died.

The Vernam Cipher is named after Gilbert Sandford Vernam who, in 1917, invented the polyalphabetic stream cipher and later co-invented the one-time pad cipher. His patent was filed in 1918 and is, according to the NSA, quite possibly one of the most important in cryptographic history. What we now call one-time pad encryption (OTP) was patented by Gilbert Vernam at AT&T in 1919 and enhanced by Captain Joseph Mauborgne of the Army’s Signal Corps. The earliest military application was reported by the German Kurzwellenpanorama magazine in World War I. Later it was employed by the BBC to send coded messages to Special Operations Executive agents abroad.

The largest application of OTP has been on number stations; these unlicensed, mysterious shortwave radio stations began broadcasting during the Cold War. The Vernam Cipher has also been applied to modern computing.


Check out the Cryptologic Bytes Archives for a wide variety of articles on all topics related to cryptology, codes and ciphers, related publications, Museums, and more.