Codes Within The Code

The Phillips Code later Phillips Codebook

Most students of the history of telegraphy have heard of "The Phillips Code." It has been described in several articles including "Dots and Dashes" of January 1993 and on the K5RW website. It is a shorthand code of word abbreviations for the telegraph first published in 1879. Walter Phillips was born in 1846 in Massachusetts and died in 1920. Earlier editions of the Phillips code were apparently red, followed by black, and a blue edition was published by "Telegraph and Telephone Age" in 1945. There may have been other editions as well. These pocket size booklets were originally available for a dollar at newsstands and stationery counters as well as book stands according to the Dots and Dashes article. Presumably, new editions were necessary to keep up with the evolution of terms and new words as they became commonplace in the English language and more importantly in telegraphed messages. The red Phillips code book on the left has an inscription on the inner cover dated 1901, but nowhere in the booklet itself is there a publishing date. The blue Telegraph and Telephone Age booklet on the right is the revised 1945 code. It would be interesting to know how many more different booklets there really were. I suppose one could even become a collector of Phillips Code books!


The art of secret writing and code breaking is called cryptology. Secret codes have been used for centuries. One of the most famous encoded wireless messages was called the Zimmermann telegram. It was intercepted and decoded by the British cryptologists. The telegram was sent from Germany to Mexico during World War I. It promised Mexico parts of the United States as spoils of war if Mexico would declare war on the United States to keep the U.S. from committing troops and material to the war in Europe. The decoded message was delivered to the United States and helped bring the U.S. into the war in Europe to defeat the Axis powers. The code used for the Zimmermann telegram was very complicated.
If you type a message into the text area above and click "Encrypt", the message becomes encoded and unreadable. Click "Solve" and it becomes readable again. This is a very easy code to break compared to most codes. In this code, one letter is substituted for another. To learn more about codes and code breaking, read "Code Breaking" by Rudolf Kippenhahn.

Inman Co. Cipher Book Case Threshing Machine Co. Cipher Book

Another interesting topic of which I have seen little written is that of telegraph cipher books. These were codes that individual companies used to send messages so that competitors could not easily tell what they were selling to whom or for how much. In a sense, they were similar to the Phillips Code, except that each company had its own cipher book and the codewords were picked so as not to give away the underlying meaning. The cipher book on the left was printed in 1896 for the S.M. Inman Co. of Atlanta, Georgia. They appeared to be a cotton supplier from the codes contained in the booklet. The cipher book on the right is that of the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., of Racine, Wisconsin. This booklet was printed in 1907. It would have been important to keep the codebook out of the hands of your competitors!

Examples of Phillips Code and the Code Cipher Books

Phillips Codepotus=President of the United States
scotus=Supreme Court of the United States
Inman Cipherdancing=reports of frost confirmed
currant=too much rain
Case Cipherbridegroom=for 36-inch rear separator
dinner=plowing attachment complete. We do not furnish plows.

Phillips Code books are highly collectible and are becoming difficult to find. But the cipher books still are fairly easy to find and are just as interesting. How many different companies used cipher codes? When was the first and when did the practice stop? This would be a fine niche for a new collector to research. A collection of early cipher books would be intriguing.

Bending in the Ionosphere

Above a critical angle, radio waves encountering the F2 layer of the ionosphere will pass into space as in Angle 1. Waves entering at angles below the critical angle can be bent back to earth resulting in "skip" type propagation, as in Angle 2. Multiple hops are possible as with Angle 3. The maximum distance that may normally be covered in a single hop is about 5000 miles. Adapted from The ARRL Antenna Handbook, 14th Edition, page 1-7.

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. This counter is keeping track of how many miles a beam of light has traveled since the webpage loaded and started the program. It takes light only about 1/7th of a second to travel the circumference of the earth. When a manned spacecraft lands on Mars, it will take over 4 minutes for a radio transmission from earth and going at the speed of light to get to Mars-- 48,600,000 miles from earth at its closest.

So, how much will you weigh when you get there?

How much do you weigh on the moon or on another planet? The acceleration of gravity at the surface of a spherical body varies directly with its mass and inversely with the square of its radius. If you type in your weight, you can see your weight on Mars, the Moon, and Jupiter! Not only do you weigh less on the moon and Mars, but you fall back proportionately slower as well if you jump. On Jupiter, it would be hard to even stand up much less jump.

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