Russell was assigned primarily to the new construction battleships and cruisers during his first ten years at sea.
In fact, he sailed with the 16 first-line battleships of the Great White Fleet that Roosevelt sent on a 14-month around the-world cruise to demonstrate the emergence of the U.S. as a world power. LT Willson observed and actively participated in the technological revolution in wireless telecommunications with its promises and challenges. Unlike other officers, however, Russell Willson at age 33 was about to make a unique contribution to naval cryptography, just as U.S. Navy telecommunications was expanding and gaining a preeminent military and civilian wartime position in the U.S.
LT Willson detached from Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet and reported to the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington on 8 January 1917. Barely a decade into his forty plus years of U.S. Navy Service when the United States entered World War I, he was charged with correcting serious vulnerabilities in antiquated signals, codes, and ciphers and with organizing, updating, and implementing critical functions for the recently-created Naval Communication Service. When he arrived for duty at the Old State-War-Navy Building immediately west of the White House, Willson carried with him a mechanical device he had invented called the Navy Code Box, or NCB. Within a few months, multiple copies of the NCB were fabricated and several strip-cipher cryptosystems were ready for use throughout the Fleet. Different sets of strips and key settings were issued to at least seven classes of holders (e.g., Fleets, operational commands, echelons of command) to enhance cryptosecurity.
Note: An authentic Navy Code Box is on display at the Command Display, onboard Corry Station in building 503.
Source: NCVA Echoes of Our Past/Raymond P. Schmidt