Building 26

Building 26

compiled and written by Deborah Anderson

The National Cash Register Company fostered adult education programs for its employees, and took the strong step of constructing a new building — Building 26 — expressly for that purpose. This opened in 1938 in an undeveloped portion of the NCR land, along S. Patterson Blvd. It was designed by the Dayton architects Schenk and Williams in a more current style than the factory buildings.

NCR had opened Building 26 intending for the art deco structure to serve as a night school for its employees. It contained steel-reinforced concrete floors, high ceilings, and wide hallways that during the Second World War made it possible for workers to move the 2.5-ton Bombes along the production line. The building contained 23 classrooms – later used to compartmentalize work on the Bombes – and windows of glass brick that allowed light to enter workspaces but later kept outsiders from seeing inside activities. Each room had a locked door that later allowed individual rooms to be guarded.

Site plan for 26

This is the site plan for the building–note that K Street was extended all the way from UD west to S. Patterson Blvd. Building 26 was isolated from the factory buildings–a fact that aided in guarding the installation once the Navy took over the building.

Floor plan

From 1942 to 1946, the U.S. Navy operated its Naval Computing Machine Laboratory in Building 26. The structure at the intersection of Patterson Boulevard and Stewart Street in Dayton became a highly secret laboratory, under the direction of Desch, where specially-cleared NCR workers and U.S. Navy WAVES designed and built an American version of the Bombe, an electromechanical device that helped crack Germany’s Enigma code and proved crucial to Allied victory during the Battle of the Atlantic. Chosen by the Navy and NCR for its remoteness from NCR’s other Dayton buildings and the relative ease of securing the site, Building 26 was near railroad spurs convenient for shipping finished Bombes to Washington, D.C.

A large wooden supply shack was built out the east or back side of the building during the war, to house the huge inventory of hardware and electrical supplies that were needed for the manufacture of the bombes. A railroad siding, or spur, was convenient to the shed. To the west, once the bombes were ready for shipment in late August 1943, another shed had to be built connected to the front of the building. The front doors (see above) were the only way for the large machines to leave (the back doors were too narrow; since the building was meant to house classrooms, it had no loading dock), so the shed hid the machines from view as they were loaded onto a trailer truck. The truck then pulled around to the railroad sidings behind the building and from there the machines were loaded onto rail cars. Marines guarded the transfer (I’ve been told that these were the only times there were Marine marksmen on the roof), and two Navy seamen would ride on each car with them on the journey to Washington.

Bob Roeckner, who was hired fresh from from high school to be a stockboy for Building 26, says that the rooms retained their classroom appearance despite their uses as offices and machine shops–chalkboards were usually cluttered with diagrams and calculations. Joe Desch has his desk at the far side of his room, and a large table near the door served as a place for frequent, heated meetings (minutes for several of those meetings exist at the National Archives).

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  • Inside You’ll Find…

    WHO worked during the war? Find the Personnel section. Also, Joseph R. Desch
    WHAT were their goals? By the Numbers. Also, The US Bombe
    WHY? History of the Bombe Project A contemporary account of the reasons and the plans for their project for the Director of Naval Communications, 1944.
    WHERE was the project: In Dayton, it was in Building 26. In Washington, it was housed at the Naval Communications Annex