An Enigma Machine Built In Meccano

As far as model construction sets go, LEGO is by far the most popular brand for building not only pre-planned models but whatever the builder can imagine. There are a few others out there though, some with some interesting features. Meccano (or Erector in North America) is a construction set based around parts that are largely metal including its fasteners, which allows for a different approach to building models than other systems including the easy addition of electricity. [Craig], a member of the London Meccano Club, is demonstrating his model Enigma machine using this system for all of its parts and adding some electricity to make the circuitry work as well.

The original Enigma machine was an electronic cypher used by the German military in World War 2 to send coded messages. For the time, its code was extremely hard to break, and led to the British development of the first programmable electronic digital computer to help decipher its coded messages. This model uses Meccano parts instead to recreate the function of the original machine, with a set of keys similar to a typewriter which, when pressed, advance a set of three wheels. The wheels all have wiring in them, and depending on their initial settings will light up a different character on a display.

There are a few modifications made to the design (besides the use of a completely different set of materials) but one of the main ones was eliminating the heavy leaf springs of the original for smaller and easier-to-manage coil springs, which are also part of the electrical system that creates the code. The final product recreates the original exceptionally faithfully, with plans to create a plugboard up next, and you can take a look at the inner workings of a complete original here.

Thanks to [Tim] for the tip!

5 thoughts on “An Enigma Machine Built In Meccano

  1. I was confused, but I think that is because the later models ENIGMA used a plugboard as well, (basically old style phone jack jumpers or RCA cables is what they look like) as a further step of encryption. I always found the odd mechanico-electrical encryption to be fascinating and prior to “steampunk” it was my conception of steampunk.

    The struggle to break ENIGMA code has been written about a number of times but David Kahn’s The Codebreakers talks about both the history and the theory behind encryption, as well as the Polish and British work to break the code.

  2. “For the time, its code was extremely hard to break, and led to the British development of the first programmable electronic digital computer to help decipher its coded messages.” Two mistakes. Firstly, Enigma was broken by the Bombe machines, developments of a Polish mechanism, which were electromechanical and by no meals computers. Secondly, the computer you are thinking of – Colossus – which was used to break the Lorenz cipher, wasn’t really programmable. The first truly programmable computer, in the sense of having its program in memory, was the Manchester Baby, of 1948, though that wasn’t really a “proper” computer, so much as a feasibility study.

  3. LEGO has so thoroughly trounced Erector/Meccano as a construction toy that if you actually need a rigid metal construction, e.g. for larger projects, you either have to get more obscure niche products like Pitsco TETRIX or VEX V5, or graduate to using 80/20 t-slot.

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