Bacon. Cabin. Magic. What appears at first to be gibberish is actually code for automatic rifles, cars and horse-drawn combat carts.
The military has used codes and ciphers for years, but the use and complexity of codes skyrocketed during World War I. Whether sent by telegraph, signal lights, messenger dog, carrier pigeon or early radio, messages were often sent in code to avoid secrets falling into the wrong hands.
A recently processed collection of documents at the Museum and Memorial contains a list of over 130 secret code words used by the American Expeditionary Forces, in this case a simple substitution cipher where unrelated words took the place of key military terminology. Only those with a key such as this were expected to understand the final message. The list is short considering some codes included thousands of words, but this document provides insight into the type of information that was deemed top secret: topics such as rations, animals, motor and horse-drawn vehicles, arms and ammunition.
This document, donated to the Museum and Memorial in 2005, is originally from the collection of Captain Francis N. Bangs. Captain Bangs served in the 77th Division, Military Police Company as well as in Squad A of the 1st New York National Guard Cavalry, stationed along the Mexican Border in 1916. Visit the Online Collections Database to explore more items from Captain Bangs’ WWI service.