Telecommunications Career of Captain Arthur Enderlin

Allyn Enderlyn, PhD

Arthur Enderlin was, in many ways, the prototypical American success story.  Despite the fact that he had only an eighth grade education, during World War II Arthur Enderlin rose meteorically through the U.S. Navy’s officer corps from a Lieutenant to the rank of Captain (the equivalent in the U.S. Army and Air Force of Colonel) in only five years, a very rare accomplishment in those days, especially since virtually all senior Navy officers were U.S. Naval Academy graduates. Even more remarkable given his humble beginnings, after the end of World War II he served for nine years as the chief of the Office of Communications of the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) until stepping down from this post in December 1962.

Enderlin’s rise through the ranks was in part possible because of his technical expertise in the then-arcane field of radio communications, which was still in its infancy. He was the first of four children, born October 20, 1902, to recently-immigrated Swiss August Enderlin and Louise Kellar. Enderlin left his Calumet, Michigan home shortly after the end of World War I at the age of 16. For the next eight years (1918-1926) he served as a radio operator on a number of merchant ships which plied the waters of the South Pacific. An enthusiastic amateur photographer at a time when few Americans could afford such an expensive and technically demanding hobby, Enderlin meticulously photographed the islands and ports in which his ship was docked, his extensive archives providing us with a rare “slice of life” look at what the South Pacific was like during this time-period.

In 1926, Enderlin was hired as a radio engineer by the Tropical Radiotelegraph Company.  The company had been created in 1913 by the United Fruit Company so that the company’s senior management in the U.S. could communicate in realtime with the managers of the dozens of plantations that the company owned and operated throughout Central America. By the time Enderlin joined the company, Tropical had grown far beyond being a private communications network for United Fruit, to owning many of the national radio and telegraph systems running from Mexico in the north to Panama in the south.

Two years later in 1928, Enderlin was hired away from Tropical by a newly formed company called International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT). Founded in 1920 by two brothers, Sosthenes and Hernand Behn, ITT was built on the Behn brothers’ control of the Cuban and Puerto Rican telephone systems. With massive financial backing from Wall Street, ITT went on a buying binge in the 1920s, acquiring the Spanish national telephone system and International Western Electric Company in 1924, followed in 1926 by the Mexican Telephone and Telegraph Company. In 1927, ITT bought out All-American Cables, Inc., then the following year acquired the Mackay Cos., parent of Postal Telegraph Co., Commercial Cable Co. and Mackay Radio Co.  By 1929, ITT controlled half the telegraph cables in Latin America and one-third of the transatlantic submarine cables. By the 1930s, ITT had become a dominant force in the worldwide telecommunications market.

Arthur Enderlin spent the next 12 years (1928-1940) in ITT’s regional center in idyllic Honolulu, Hawaii, where he managed the company’s growing network of trans-Pacific radio and telegraph lines. But Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the start of World War II changed Enderlin’s life forever. Like many civilian radio engineers, in April 1926 he had joined the Naval Inactive Reserves, earning him a small monthly stipend from the U.S. Treasury at a time when every cent counted. In April 1932, in recognition of his expertise in the field of communications, the Navy commissioned Enderlin as an Ensign, despite the fact that he had no high school or college degrees. In the years that followed, the Navy periodically promoted Enderlin, first to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) in 1935, then Lieutenant in October 1938.

Then, with America’s entry into World War II fast approaching, in December 1940 the Navy notified the 38 year old Enderlin that he was being called to active duty. Enderlin was given 48 hours to clear up his civilian affairs and report in uniform to his new duty assignment, the U.S. Navy’s main radio station at the Pearl Harbor naval base. Enderlin was on duty serving as a communications watch officer at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941.

Arthur Enderlin was stationed for the entire duration of World War II in the South Pacific, where, according to Navy records, he performed his duties with distinction. He remained at Pearl Harbor until 1943, directing the U.S. Navy communications network that supported all U.S. naval forces operating in the South Pacific. He then went to sea with the U.S. Seventh Fleet, taking part in the U.S. Navy’s amphibious landings of the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Okinawa. On August 14, 1945, the day that Japan surrender, Captain Enderlin was on Okinawa planning for the invasion of Japan, which fortunately never had to be executed.

After being discharged from active duty in October 1946, Enderlin briefly returned to civilian life.  In November 1948, he rejoined the Navy at his former rank of Captain, as he was ordered to report to Washington, D.C. to become the chief of the Communications Section of the U.S. Navy’s publicity-shy communications intelligence (COMINT) organization, the Communications Supplementary Activity (CSA).

When America’s first unified cryptologic organization, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), was created in July 1949, Captain Enderlin became the first head of the organization’s Communications Division. He was on duty on June 25, 1950 when word first reached Washington that the North Korean army had invaded South Korea, launching America into its first war since the surrender of Japan just five years earlier.

In November 1951, Enderlin reported to his new duty station as Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy strategic listening post on the remote island of Adak, Alaska, where he was to remain until the Korean War came to an end in July 1953.

Enderlin returned to Washington in September 1953 to find that while he was in Adak, his former command, AFSA, had been disbanded and been replaced by a new hyper-secretive organization called the National Security Agency (NSA). He moved back into his position as chief of the NSA Communications Division (later renamed the Office of Telecommunications), where he remained without interruption until December 1962.

During his nine year tenure at NSA, Captain Enderlin is credited with building a state-of-the-art global telecommunications network that linked NSA headquarters at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland with the more than ninety listening posts that the agency operated in the U.S. and overseas, allowing the intercept sites to pass vast amounts of raw intercepts back to the translators and analysts at Ft. Meade on a realtime basis. By the time he stepped down at the end of 1962, NSA’s vast communications network was the envy of the U.S. government, widely held to be the fastest and most reliable in the entire U.S. intelligence community. His work accomplished, Enderlin retired from the Navy on January 1, 1963 at the age of 60, but he continued working for 11 more years until 1974, when he was 71, as a civilian employee in NSA’s communications security planning section before finally retiring from government service.

Captain Enderlin was a peaceful man, believing in the power of communication. His legacy as an admonition to his two children was “Whatever the problem, war is never the answer.” His photographic and documentary archives are being curated to be re-housed at the Library of Congress. His NSA and related documents are available at the George Washington University’s National Security Archives.



Biography of Captain Arthur Enderlin, Photographer

William F. Stapp, Photography, National Portrait Gallery
Photographic Historian/Independent Curator
Allyn Enderlyn, PhD

In further contextualizing the work of this archive, William F. Stapp, Photographic Historian/Independent Curator related how “this material spans only the first decade of Arthur Enderlin’s professional career and known photographic activity, i.e., 1919-1929. The images selectively document his experiences as a radio operator on board different transoceanic and coastal steamers in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, 1919-1926, and extend into the early years of his career as a radio engineer working, first, for the Tropical Radiotelegraph Company in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua (1926-28) and then for International Telephone & Telegraph, based in Honolulu, beginning in 1928.

“The 10 years encompassed in these albums are the prelude to a remarkable career, but the albums themselves give little hint of what was to follow in the years to come.

“Considered in chronological sequence, the images suggest that Arthur Enderlin acquired a camera and began photographing when he joined the crew of the SS Aspenhill, a trans-Atlantic steamer, in 1919. Enderlin was 17 years old and it was probably his first camera. Over the next decade, he photographed consistently, though not compulsively, using his camera to create a visual record of sights, people, events, and things that were important to him at that particular moment. From the beginning Enderlin was a serious amateur who possessed an already mature eye, and the steady evolution of his technical control over his camera and the medium is readily apparent. The albums provide visual records of events, people, places, interests and experiences that were important to Enderlin and that he wanted to remember. Some of the images are interesting because of their informational content, others because they have genuine aesthetic appeal. However, they are all primarily personal aides memoires, and lacking detailed explanations of the images and their contexts (which Enderlin did not need), they at best at best provide a fragmentary and speculative (albeit often engaging) narrative for us.

“Even so, they provide insights to the man: during the period of his life these photographs document, Enderlin was clearly independent, adventuresome, mature for his years, and extremely capable. Whether he was already qualified radio operator when he went to sea or else quickly became one, he was clearly fascinated by radio and the machinery associated with it from the very outset. He liked to travel and to visit what were then still exotic places, such as Japan and other parts of the Far East. Having just missed the First World War because of his age, he manifested an unusual determination to have some personal experience of it: photographing submarines wherever he saw them, including the Deutschland (of which he also collected a number of commercial postcards that provided a more comprehensive visual record the exterior, interior and machinery of the German super-submarine than any photographs he could have taken); and–at the age of 18–making a remarkable, unusual, deliberate excursion from Southampton, where his ship had docked, to visit the battlefields of Belgium, which were still littered with the detritus of war.

“Where does Arthur Enderlin and his images fit into the larger fabric of photography? He was a serious amateur photographer who took photographs for his own purposes and use, not for an audience. His photographs and the albums he constructed to house are exemplars of this genre of photography. Arthur Enderlin was neither a photo-journalist nor a social-documentarian. Rather, he photographed certain events because they were important at the time and he was there (e.g., the arrival of Charles Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis in Managua, Nicaragua in 1928) but these images were not obviously meant for publication. He did not photograph to document the hardness of the human condition nor to promote social change, but rather to remember his experiences.

Remembrance is–and always has been–one of the primary and most immediate cultural and social functions of personal photography. Consequently, these photographs have biographical import–posing questions as to what they describe, why they were taken, why they appeal, what insights and inferences they may yield about the man who took them–and about those of us who look at and ponder them.

“This commentary is based on a visual examination of the jpegs of the complete contents of five albums, as well as scans of selected images from four other albums. The proportions of his earlier images (1919-1924) suggest his first camera was a folding model that used 120 or 116 roll film. More sophisticated and versatile than the basic, inexpensive, fixed-focus box camera, the typical folding camera of this period was fitted with a slow (f/6.3 or f/7.7) lens of simple construction but with an adjustable aperture; a between-the-lens shutter with limited speeds; a waist-level reflex viewfinder that could be rotated 90° (enabling both vertical and horizontal compositions) fitted on the front stanchion; and focus by guesstimate, usually with a minimum focusing distance of around six feet. The Folding Pocket Kodak, which was produced in a variety of sizes and variations from c. 1905 into the early 1930s is typifies this extremely popular type of camera. Compact when collapsed, sturdy, easy to use, and producing sufficiently sharp images for snapshot albums, folding cameras were ideal tourist cameras.

“In 1925, Arthur Enderlin acquired and began using a different, larger format (probably a 3¼ by 4¼ inch), more sophisticated camera. The images made with it indicate that was fitted with a sharper, contrastier lens and a shutter with a wider range of speeds; had a more precise focusing system and an extension bellows that allowed close-ups to be taken. The low angle of view apparent in many of the images made with this camera indicate that the lens was below eye-level when the photographs were taken, while both vertical and horizontal compositions taken from this same low perspective indicate the camera was fitted with a revolving back. These visual clues combine to suggest that there later photographs were taken with a camera like the Graflex, a single-lens reflex camera made in formats ranging from 2¼ by 3¼ inches to 8 by 10 inches, which boasted a multi-speed focal-plane shutter and double extension bellows with an interchangeable lensboard to which almost any lens could be adapted. Images were composed and focused by looking down through a hood onto a ground-glass, onto which the image seen by the lens was projected via an internal mirror that flipped out of the light-path when the shutter was released. While not exactly compact, Graflexes produced a large negative, yet were meant to be used hand-held, were comparatively portable, and permitted exact focusing and visualization of depth of field.

“Major artist photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston, as well as many professionals and advanced amateurs, owned and used Graflexes because of the camera’s versatility, flexibility, and large negative size. While this is speculation at this point, it would have been entirely natural for Arthur Enderlin, who clearly appreciated finely made machinery, to have graduated to a high-end camera like the Graflex once he could afford it.”