Happy birthday, internet! You may be turning 45 today, but we swear you don’t look a day over 30. And not to embarrass you, but we thought we’d celebrate by sharing some of your baby photos. Or, more accurately, perhaps some of your sonograms.
How do we define the invention of the internet? It’s a question that scholars and armchair historians have debated for decades. Did it start with the birth of the web? Did it start with the adoption of TCP/IP? You could make a case for either. But one seminal moment in the creation of the internet cannot be denied: the first host-to-host connection of the ARPANET between UCLA and Stanford on October 29, 1969. At 10.30pm.
How do we know the exact time? We actually have a document of this historical event. Below, the IMP log, which recorded that at 22.30 the researchers at UCLA and their computer “talked to SRI, host to host.” The IMP log was what researchers used to document their progress as they built and connected the fundamental technologies that would shape our modern tech infrastructure.
The SRI is in reference to the computer at Stanford, an SDS 940. The team at UCLA was talking with that computer all the way from Los Angeles (about 350 miles to the south) with their SDS Sigma 7 computer. Two different computers talking together over a network host-to-host? It was like magic!
In the photo at the top of the post we see a group of researchers circa 1970 standing around a teletype going over data from the ARPANET. William Naylor is there on the far left. Below, a shot of 3420 Boelter Hall at UCLA, where that first ARPANET message was sent from.
The story of the first message on the internet is that of a happy accident. The UCLA computer connected to the computer at Stanford and the two teams were each on the phone together for the historic moment. UCLA researcher Bill Duvall typed an “L” and they asked down the phone, “did you get the L.” Yes, they got the L. He next typed the letter O. “Did you get the O?” they asked. Stanford had gotten the O. Next he typed a G. “Did you get the G?” Nope. the computer had crashed. They were trying to type LOGIN. They had only managed to type LO, leaving the very first message ever sent over the ARPANET as LO, as in lo and behold.
One of the internet’s founding fathers, Leonard Kleinrock, is particularly fond of telling this story. I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the room where the first message was sent at 3420 Boelter Hall at UCLA from Kleinrock not long after first moving to Los Angeles. It has since been restored to its former retro-computing glory (complete with teletypes, the original IMP and 1960s desks) and you can walk by that very room if you’re ever on UCLA’s campus.
But let’s go back even further. Below, we have a short article from the July 15, 1969 edition of the Daily Bruin (UCLA’s student newspaper) announcing that ARPA was working on networked computing on campus. “Country’s computers linked here first,” proclaimed the headline. There was no indication of the internet revolution that was to come.
Perhaps this is where the analogies about baby photos and sonograms start to get a bit embarrassing because the photo below is kind of like the moment of conception. The photograph below shows the delivery of the SDS Sigma 7 computer in Boelter Hall at UCLA circa 1967.
It was easier to cut open the wall and use a forklift to get it into the build than unhook the computer components. But the computer alone wasn’t what made networked computing possible, of course. They needed IMPs (interface message processors), which you can think of as refrigerator-sized modems.
Not only do we have baby pictures of the internet (and a bit of over-sized computer porn), we have what might be considered the notches on the doorframe measuring little Suzy Q. Internet’s growth over the years: the ARPANET maps. Below, a GIF showing its growth from 1969 until 1989.
Internet history nerds will continue to fight over who gets credit for the “true” birth of the internet. But wherever you fall in the the great Internet Invention Debates of the 21st century, you have to admit that the internet’s equivalent of baby photos and bronzed shoes are pretty cool. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you deny the ARPANET’s role in internet history (as some people surprisingly still do) you hate babies.
Below, the IEEE plaque at UCLA commemorating it as the birthplace of the internet, photographed by Gizmodo’s own Alissa Walker.
Happy birthday internet! We don’t know where we’d be without you. Probably doing something productive.
Pictures: Courtesy of the KCIS at UCLA