Press Releases

The Computer History Museum, SRI International, and BBN Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of First ARPANET Transmission, Precursor to Today's Internet

ARPANET illustrationMOUNTAIN VIEW and MENLO PARK, Calif., CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —October 27, 2009Forty years ago this week, two programmers sat in front of computer terminals four hundred miles apart. Unknowingly, they were about to make history. At the University of California, Los Angeles, Charley Kline typed the word "LOGIN" at around nine p.m. on October 29, 1969. The command went through interface computers built by Cambridge's BBN Technologies (formerly Bolt, Beranek, and Newman) on its way to Kline's counterpart Bill Duvall, at SRI International (then known as Stanford Research Institute) in Menlo Park, California. The first letters, "LO", came through to the SRI machine before the system crashed. The minor setback would be fixed quickly, and the connection was fully in place by 10:30 p.m. The very first data had been sent between two nodes of the ARPANET, a key precursor to the Internet.

New interviews with pioneers Duvall and Kline will be made available on October 29 on www.computerhistory.org, along with links to other resources. This will kick off a series of Computer History Museum activities on the history of the Internet and the Web.

"The 1969 connection was not just a symbolic milestone in the project that led to the Internet, but in the whole idea of connecting computers—and eventually billions of people—to each other," said Marc Weber, founding curator of the Museum's Internet History Program. "In the 1960s, as many as a few hundred users could have accounts on a single large computer using terminals, and exchange messages and files between them. But each of those little communities was an island, isolated from others. By reliably connecting different kinds of computers to each other, the ARPANET took a crucial step toward the online world that links nearly a third of the world's population today."

"The development of the ARPANET, which had no commercial application at the time, underscores the power of coordinated basic research and the importance of that research to our society," said Bill Duvall. "In the 1960s, computers were not interconnected and most were not even interactive. A few research groups were looking at the potential of networked computing and how distributed systems might be used as information repositories and collaboration tools, but they were hampered by a huge obstacle: they lacked a network to weave their projects together. Bob Taylor and Larry Roberts at ARPA understood not only the potential of computer networking, but also the challenge of networking during an era when computers were generally not standardized, and did not use a common language or alphabet."

"The ARPANET was built to permit ARPA-supported computer researchers to share common interests without geographical limits," said Bob Taylor, who helped conceive and fund the ARPANET in the mid 1960s as head of computing research at ARPA (U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Taylor and his Program Manager Larry Roberts chose the people and places to build the network, assigning unique roles to three institutions: Cambridge-based BBN built the special Interface Message Processors (IMPs) that connected the main computers to the net and served as the system's administrator; SRI was the Network Information Center, which besides acting as a central library kept track of all the computers on the net and ran the Domain Name System until 1991; and UCLA was the Network Measurement Center, researching and improving how data moved across the network. An original BBN Interface Message Processor (IMP) computer is in the Computer History Museum's collection.

By early 1970, those three Centers were all connected, along with the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. By 1972, the network had 37 nodes. A few years later, the ARPANET would begin the process of connecting itself to other networks that had sprung up—a process known as internetworking—leading to the Internet on which the World Wide Web and email run today. Both SRI and BBN played key roles in internetworking, and SRI's mobile radio van was used in several watershed experiments. The van is now a part of the Computer History Museum's collection.

Note to editors:

-See addendum for more historical detail.

-Visit the Computer History Museum's website throughout the year for news on commemorative networking and Web history activities organized by the CHM Internet History Program.

-Some of the information included in this press release references A Heritage of Innovation: SRI's First Half Century, by Donald L. Nielson.

About the Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum (CHM), in Mountain View, Calif. is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history, and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs and moving images.

CHM brings computer history to life through an acclaimed speaker series, dynamic website, onsite tours, as well as physical and online exhibits. Current exhibits include "The Silicon Engine," "Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2," "Mastering the Game: A History of Computer Chess," "Innovation in the Valley"—a look at Silicon Valley startups—and the unique "Visible Storage Gallery," featuring over 600 key objects from the collection.

The signature "Computer History: The First 2,000 Years" exhibition will open in late 2010.

For more information, visit www.computerhistory.org or call (650) 810-1010.

About BBN Technologies
BBN Technologies is a legendary R&D organization that leverages its substantial intellectual property portfolio to produce advanced, repeatable solutions such as the Boomerang shooter detection system. With expertise spanning information security, speech and language processing, networking, distributed systems, and sensing and control systems, BBN scientists and engineers have amassed a substantial collection of innovations and patented solutions. BBN now employs approximately 700 people in seven locations in the US: Cambridge, Massachusetts (headquarters); Arlington, Virginia; Columbia, Maryland; Middletown, Rhode Island; San Diego, California; St. Louis Park, Minnesota; and O'Fallon, Illinois. For more information, visit www.bbn.com.

Addendum—Detailed Historical Information
By the end of 1969, the ARPANET had added the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Utah as the third and fourth nodes. BBN itself was connected in March 1970, meaning it could begin live system administration over the new network. By 1972, the ARPANET included 37 networked computers. In the ensuing years it was opened to other research and development organizations including universities, research contractors, and government labs.

But the ARPANET itself had now become an island, with no links to the other networks that had sprung up. By the early1970s, researchers in France, the UK, and the U.S. began developing ways of connecting networks to each other, a process known as internetworking.

In 1977, SRI was a key player in an experiment connecting the ARPANET to two other networks, using the SRI packet radio van now in the Computer History Museum's collection. By 1983, the ARPANET and other networks had switched over to the internetworking protocols still used today and the Internet was rapidly growing. We now run the World Wide Web, email, telephony, and countless other applications over this network of networks as part of our daily lives.

Focus Areas: 
Computing
Centers + Labs: 
Computer Science Laboratory