Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, has become especially popular since a musical was written about him. Hamilton left behind a 26×26 turning grille.

On my last trip to the USA, which lead me to the NSA Symposium for Cryptologic History, I learned many new things about cryptology. Among the non-cryptologic things I heard about for the first time was an enormously successful musical titled Hamilton. Kryptos expert and crypto mystery specialist Elonka Dunin told me she was especially fond of this musical.


The musical

Hamilton tells the story of American statesman and US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804), who was the founder of the country’s financial system. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of the George Washington administration. One special thing about Hamilton is that incorporates hip-hop music.

Hamilton’s turning grille

In my last blog post I introduced the turning grille (aka Fleissner grille) used in the novel Mathias Sandorf by Jules Verne and a few other turning grilles I’m aware of.


In my post I asked my readers if they knew other sources mentioning turning grilles. The reason for my question was that, to my knowledge, the history of the turning grille has never been systematically described. Based on my list and on the answers I received from my readers it would certainly be possible to write a paper about the history of this encryption technique. Especially, Thomas Bosbach provided me a number of very interesting links to sources about the turning grille. If somebody knows more I am still very interested.

An interesting question is whether some of the translations of Mathias Sandorf (the original is written in French) contain translated versions of the grille message. In a German and an English translation I found online this is not the case.

Another reply came from Japanese crypto history expert Satoshi Tomokyo, who runs a very interesting website titled Cryptiana. On one of his pages it is mentioned that Alexander Hamilton used a turning grille. Satoshi writes:

Some years after Alexander Hamilton died (1804) from the wound he received in a duel with Aaron Burr, a packet containing instructions of a cipher was found among his papers. The endorsement states it was forwarded to Hamilton on 23 May 1803. (As to the origin of the document, see the editors’ notes in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton.) The rotating grille for Hamilton contained 26-by-26 squares.

Hamilton used a few other ciphers, too. For instance, in June 1799, Hamilton received from his father-in-law, General Philip Schuyler, a lengthy and complex code description based on Entick’s Spelling Dictionary. This must have been a dictionary code (i.e., the words of a text are encrypted by giving a reference to their position in a dictionary).

Of course, I would like to know more about Hamilton’s turning grille and his dictionary code. If a reader can help please let me know.

Further reading: My visit at the Cheltenham Listening Stones

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Kommentare (2)

  1. #1 TWO
    6. Dezember 2017

    Bill and Jill’s grille looks much more interesting than this one.

  2. #2 Thomas
    6. Dezember 2017

    1. As to the provenance of Hamilton’s turning grille cipher: https://founders.archives.gov/?q=cypher&s=2211312212&sa=&r=204&sr=. According to footnote 2, the checkerboard grille can be found in the New York Historical Society.

    2.Schuyler’s letter to Hamilton from June 11, 1799, explaining the dictionary code: http://archives.nypl.org/mss/2701#c1381129 (see link under b 21.f.2).