Arthur Scherbius

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Arthur Scherbius (1913)

Jacob Ludolf Arthur Scherbius (born October 30, 1878 in Frankfurt am Main ; † May 13, 1929 in Berlin ) was a German entrepreneur and versatile inventor . He is mainly known for his most famous invention , namely the Enigma rotor key machine , patented on February 23, 1918 , which was used decades later in World War II (1939–1945) by the German Wehrmacht to encrypt its secret communications.

Vocational training

Arthur Scherbius was a son of the Frankfurt merchant Gustav Scherbius (1836–1907) and his wife Hedwig born. Neck (1854-1954). He attended elementary school and high school in his hometown and studied electrical engineering at the Technical University of Hanover from 1899 to 1903 , interrupted by two semesters (1901–1902) at the TH Munich . In 1903 he received the academic degree of Diplom-Ingenieur (Dipl.-Ing.) In Hanover and then worked as a project engineer at Felten & Guilleaume-Lahmayer. At the same time he wrote his dissertation with the title "Proposals for the construction of an indirectly acting water turbine regulator" and received his doctorate in engineering (Dr.-Ing.) At the TH Hannover on July 14, 1904 .

First inventions

After a short job at Siemens Schuckert GmbH , he went into business for himself in 1905 and invented circuits for regulating induction motors. He sold the use of his patents to AG Brown, Boveri & Cie. in Baden (Switzerland), General Electric and other companies. At BBC he worked from 1906 to 1912 in the almost family group of the owners, Brown and Boveri, and the development engineers. a. the electrical engineers Karl Schnetzler , Heinrich Meyer-Delius , Fritz Marguerre , H. A. W. Klinkhamer and Leo Pungs belonged. His inventions were also built there. Famous his was Scherbius circuit , a cascade of three-phase and - AC - commutator motors , the low-loss speed control made possible. This found widespread use in Europe and the USA in drives for rolling mills, in mining and metallurgy for pumping and water systems as well as for compressors and fans . Scherbius also dealt with mercury vapor rectifiers and was a consultant for Siemens-Schuckertwerke . In a dissertation at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Max Leumann describes both Brown Boveri and Scherbius patents in 1933.

During the First World War , Scherbius was initially employed as a teacher for wireless telegraphy, then, from 1917, as an assistant plant manager, i. H. Deputy head of a department in the Arms and Ammunition Procurement Office (WuMBA). After the armistice, he joined the technical department of the Reichsverwertungsamt as a consultant at the end of 1918 and was also active in the Armistice Commission and the Army Peace Treaty Commission. At the same time he dealt with the transmission of energy by means of high-voltage direct current, but could no longer finish the development of a high-voltage direct current machine.

In Sweden he had bought patents from Birka Regulator AB, on the basis of which he developed a small and inexpensive thermostat , which he regarded as a key component for electrical household appliances. In 1920 he and Ernst Richard Ritter founded the company Scherbius & Ritter in Berlin-Wannsee , which operated an electrical engineering factory in Wannsee on Königstrasse, in which large numbers of thermally controlled heating pads and thermostats were manufactured. They called it the "Sherip" heating pad. The company was also involved in the development of the Enigma. (Ritter's company, Dipl.-Ing.E. Richard Ritter & Co., has represented a number of manufacturers of electrical equipment in Berlin since 1911.)

In 1923/24 Scherbius and Ritter built a house each on a piece of land belonging to their joint company, Lindenstrasse 5 and 6, Berlin-Wannsee . Ritter's house was larger and equipped with the latest advances in applied electricity. Scherbius' house was designed by the same architect, Otto Streu from Nowawes . In September 1924 the Ritter and Scherbius family moved into their houses with his wife Elisabeth (1896–1945).

The development of the Enigma

Brand sign of his most famous invention
Illustrations of the trading machine in an article by Scherbius in the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift from 1923
Drawing from patent US1657411 : Ciphering Machine. Registered on February 6, 1923 , inventor: Arthur Scherbius.

During the First World War, Scherbius had become familiar with the problems of encrypting radio messages and thus found a new field of activity. The first civilian Enigma model A  (picture) was still very large, weighed around 50 kg and looked like a cash register. The models B and C that followed were already portable and looked like a typewriter in a wooden box, which then measured only 34 × 28 × 15 centimeters and weighed 12 kg. On February 23, 1918, he had already registered his first patent for an encryption machine that worked according to the rotor principle , and which was later named ENIGMA ( German " Rätsel " ) after the Greek word αίνιγμα .  

In April 1918, the company Dipl.-Ing. E. Richard Ritter & Co. , which had taken over the commercial representation, delivered the cipher machine to the Great Headquarters and the Reichsmarineamt . In May Scherbius presented a prototype to the Admiralty. The general suitability was recognized, but an introduction at the time was not planned. He was referred to the Foreign Office. After this too showed little interest, the machine was to be sold in a publicly accessible version by the company Scherbius & Ritter , founded in 1920 .

Scherbius ceded his rights to the Berlin company, the Securitas trade union , which was then granted patent DRP 416219 in 1925 for a "cipher machine". On July 9, 1923, Securitas founded the Chiffriermaschinen-Aktiengesellschaft (Chiffriermaschinen AG) in Berlin ( W 35 , Steglitzer Str. 2, today Pohlstrasse , Berlin-Tiergarten ), on whose board Scherbius was. Development engineers in this company were u. a. Willi Korn and Paul Bernstein .

In 1923/24 the Enigma was presented to the public at several congresses and post exhibitions in Bern, Stockholm and Leipzig. It was touted by Scherbius as a "device for the transmission of business messages and telegrams" and also marketed as such. Because the telegrams sent by the post office can easily be intercepted by unauthorized persons, he recommended the Enigma encryption system. In the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift of 1923 he describes the mode of operation in detail and notes: "In addition to security, radio telegraphy must also have the strictest requirements for operational usability, speed, simplicity of operation to avoid sources of error and easy elimination of transmission errors." The sentence of the article then says: “The machine was developed by the Scherbius & Ritter company in Berlin-Wannsee. The latest model shown, on the other hand, was built by the Securitas trade union, Berlin W 35, Steglitzer Str. 2, which has taken over all patents for use, with the cooperation of the former company.

Enigma patents

Accidental death

Scherbius died at the age of fifty after losing control of a horse-drawn cart and crashing into a wall as a result of his internal injuries.


Web links

Commons : Enigma  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Information from the archives of the TU Hannover, the TU Munich, the City of Munich. Friedrich L. Bauer : Historical Notes on Computer Science . Springer, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-540-85789-1 , p. 47.
  2. BBC House Newspaper Nos. 9 and 10, 1953
  3. Dissertation Max Leumann, Basel 1933 (PDF)
  4. The Scherip heating pad, its construction, manufacture, etc. Exam. In: The electr. Betrieb , 21, 1923, pp. 263-65
  5. Ernst Richard Ritter: The electric house . Edition 11. Vlg. Schubert, Berlin-Charlottenburg 1927 (2nd edition 1928)
  6. ^ Ernst Richard Ritter Electric Museum
  7. Patent Chiffrierapparat DRP No. 416219. (PDF; 0.4 MB) accessed 26 March 2008
  8. Patent DRP 416,219 issued July 8, 1925. (PDF, 339 kB)
  9. Louis Kruh, Cipher Deavours: The Commercial Enigma - Beginnings of Machine Cryptography . In: Cryptologia , Vol. XXVI, No. 1, January 2002, p. 1, (PDF; 0.8 MB) accessed March 26, 2008
  10. Dr.-Ing. Arthur Scherbius: "Enigma" cipher machine . (PDF; 623 kB) In: Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift , issue 47/48, November 29, 1923, pp. 1035-1036
  11. Simon Singh: Secret Messages . Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2000, p. 178. ISBN 3-446-19873-3 .
  12. Louis Kruh, Cipher Deavours: The Commercial Enigma - Beginnings of Machine Cryptography . In: Cryptologia , Vol. XXVI, No. 1, January 2002, p. 11, (PDF; 0.8 MB) accessed March 26, 2008