Demarest: A Brief History of the Internet

The birth of the Internet was sparked on Oct. 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched a satellite named Sputnik. This was the Cold War era, and the space race was on.

Sputnik hovered 500 miles above the Earth, traveled at 18,000 miles an hour, circled the globe every 96 minutes and flew over the United States seven times a day. It was also incessantly beeping. The U.S. Department of Defense viewed the launch of Sputnik as a security threat and sprung into action. Agency officials wanted to create a computer network where military communications would remain operational, even in the event of a nuclear attack. So they formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency to take a proactive approach to advancements in science and technology.

A paper was written in 1961 by Leonard Kleinrock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the “packet-switching” theory. This technology was needed to operate the new network and worked by sending “packets” of data between computers.

Before scientists could put packet-switching to the test, they had to make sure they could create a network between computers. In 1965, two computers, one from MIT and another from Systems Development Corp. in Santa Monica, were directly linked without packet-switching.

In 1969, to further the research on networking, the Defense Department officially commissioned its new network, the Advanced Research Project Agency Network, which became known by its acronym, ARPANET. “Nodes,” or hosts, were setup in four U.S. universities: the University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford Research Institute, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. In October 1969, the first message using packet-switching was sent between the nodes at UCLA and Stanford.

By 1971, 15 nodes in the United States were attached to ARPANET, and email was invented. In 1973, the first international nodes joined the system: the University College in London and the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway. Queen Elizabeth II tested the new technology in 1976 by sending her first email message.

In 1981, the National Science Foundation provided a grant to establish the Computer Science Network and provided networking services to all university computer scientists. That’s when “super-computer” centers were created so more networks could join the system. In 1982, the Advanced Research Project Agency had a name for its network: the “Internet.” Between 1986 and 1987, the number of networks grew from 2,000 to nearly 30,000.

Enter Al Gore
In his days as a congressman, Al Gore was a proponent of high-speed telecommunications as way to spur both economic growth and improvements to our educational system. On Jan. 24, 1991, Sen. Gore introduced a bill entitled, “The High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991,” which opened up the Internet to the general public and commercial enterprises.

Gore’s bill also funded the development of Mosaic, the first Web browser (later renamed Netscape). Mosaic was developed in 1992 by Marc Andreessen and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.

President George H.W. Bush signed Gore’s bill into law on Dec. 9, 1991, with a prediction that the act would “unlock the secrets of DNA, to forecast severe weather events, and to discover new superconducting materials.”

Gore also coined the phrase “Information Superhighway.”

Sputnik Model Photo Credit: Soviet News Agency TASS, Sputnik Sound File Credit: NASA


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