Using a 1964 modem to dial up to the Internet -- Boing Boing Gadgets

Over on BBG, our Joel's got a video clip of a man using the internet with an antique modem from 1964:

K.C. (a.ka. "Phreakmonkey") has a Livermore Data Systems "Model A" acoustic coupler modem, a 300 baud modem from the '60s--"one of the oldest modems of still in existence. It was given to me by the widow of an IBM engineer."

So, so awesome. If I were a fiction writer, I'd do a short story about an alternate present where broadband never came to be, but the entire world was connected through analog, low-baud modems.

Video: Connecting to the internet with a modem from 1964

Discuss this on Boing Boing Gadgets


  1. In a way, all SF containing quantum dot FTL communication channels does exactly this: discuss a communication medium that has a very low (or rather: very expensive) bandwidth.

  2. Ah, those were the days. Ma Bell wouldn’t let you attach anything to their precious network, so modems had to be acoustically coupled; the bits entered and exited the network by sound. And those of us who weren’t allowed on the ARPAnet proceeded to connect the entire world with a network of 300 and 1200 baud acoustically coupled modems. It was called Usenet (or sometimes called UUCP-net to include those sites that didn’t take netnews feeds but were reachable by UUCP mail).

  3. Technically he isn’t loading wikipedia through the modem. He is just *viewing* the text output from his linux box. I want to see him transfer an actual file at 300 baud :)

  4. S-W-3-3-T!

    Ah, the analog memories of acoustically coupled things…

    BTW, I like the idea for a short story!

  5. 300 baud! Amazingly fast…compared to my ~1951 Teletype Corporation Model 15 “Page Printer” (which really printed one character at a time, not a page. It was called a page printer b/c it (impact) printed on a roll of ~8″ wide paper, rather than paper tape.). The Model 15 operates at ~110 baud (“60 words per minute”), and is entirely electromechanical, except for the electromagnets, the AC motor, and the 110 volt DC (not a typo) power supply.

    Ham radio RTTY was where I first experienced the thrill of seeing data transfered at a distance. It was the IM (or Twitter) of its day.

    Maybe I’ll create an homage and mention it to BB.

  6. So, so awesome. If I were a fiction writer, I’d do a short story about an alternate present where broadband never came to be, but the entire world was connected through analog, low-baud modems.

    We had that, it was called “the ’80s.”

    Since regular people think anything without pictures or music is stupid, and since they are often correct, in the ’80s talking to other people on computers was mostly restricted to awkward smart kids around universities, where what was on the screen would at least be clever, and the person behind it might even be hot.

  7. One of the more esoteric skills from early in my career was the ability to whistle a 300 baud answer tone. We had a lab with a shared modem/voice line. The modem protocol was let it ring twice, hang up and call back and modem will answer on first ring, so on ring three you’d snag the phone and say “hello” – if no one responded then whistling the tone would verify it was a modem calling and we’d hang up and let ’em try again.

    The actual answering modem was 1200 baud if IIRC, but the 300 baud tone was all I could whistle.

  8. Hope he changed his lab login as you can kinda see the IP and someone will work out what he typed :D

  9. 300 Baud in 1964? Does that mean this modem was generations ahead of it’s time, or speeds just didn’t change much for quote a while. I bought a Master Modem for my C64 back in the day, and 300 seemed to be the only speed (maybe only choice for a C64).

    And isn’t this modem more of a tone detector than anything ‘modulated’. AM is modulated, this is just a series of beeps.

    Oh ya, is it still worth it for service providers to have dual-up connections ? That has to cost them a fair chunk to keep going.

  10. speaking of alternate presents, i was in accra, ghana a couple of summers ago, mooching “business”-level DSL off of my landlord. during the local workday, bitrates to the US were often not that much higher than 300bps. (in fact bitrates to local ghanaian websites were often just as low, because some local ISPs had hostile peering arrangements that caused bits to go across town via submarine fibre to london and back.)

    count your blessings.

  11. #10, AM means that the amplitude of the signal changes, while the frequency remains the same. An amplitude of zero is still an amplitude, so it’s more a issue of the codification used than of the carrier.

    Most service providers have dial-up because some services still depend on that, starting by remote loggers and alarm systems, to people in rural zones without the benefit of proper DSL. Infrastructure costs are very low, since you can now virtualize the server you’re calling into (remember softmodems?), so it’s just another added value service.

  12. #6 Anonymous “what was on the screen would at least be clever, and the person behind it might even be hot.”

    Either I’ve forgotten a lot, or you lived in an alternate 80’s to mine :)

  13. ‘What was on the screen would at least be clever”…

    Umm.. or not.

    “Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea; massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it.”
    – Eugene Spafford.

  14. Dial-up is still useful: the backup network for your local Apple Store for example is an Airport base station (with it’s antennas clipped) which will dial into Cupertino for POS stuff should the stores T1 go down. It’s not great, but it works.

  15. When I saw the time on this video I thought, “Why does it take eight and a half minutes to show a 300 baud modem working?!” Then after seeing it and remembering that I could type faster than 300 baud could display characters on the screen I realized why.

  16. #10 InsertFingerHere

    I can’t say for sure, but I bet the Ma Bell limitation that required the acoustic devices was part of the reason the datarates stayed so low for so long.

    #16 Scott Bieser

    I don’t know what the Model T looks like, but I bet it was black.

  17. I for one miss the days of tech being lovingly built into wood and brass enclosures. Not that those days actually existed, but I digress.
    This makes me want to build a wooden box for my router.

  18. I recall having a 300 bps modem connected bia a IEEE-488 bus. Catch is – we had no terminal emulation software software. So I had to write my own in interpreted Basic.

    Interpreted Basic and 300 bps modems are a good performance match.

    Another neat trick with 300 bps modems – they didn’t need to sync up. It was basically a tone detector wired to the serial line. If your roommate was using the 300 bps modem in the next room, you would pull the mic from your phone handset (so your phone made no interfering noise), slot the phone into your modem, and watch an echo copy of all the terminal traffic.

    I once even dialed a phone number DTMF using wires, a speaker, and a bank of seven tone generators.

  19. I want to live in an alternate present where Cory Doctorow is a fiction writer and the real fetish data storage system is some kind of thing like a Kindle but it doesn’t need batteries and it’s made from dead trees.

    That’d be cool.

  20. Darn– I was really hoping for some PPP over the 300 baud modem, not just a terminal session.

    @Chris S. – re: eavesdropping on the 300 baud modems – Makes me recall Information Society’s “300BPS,N,8,1 (Terminal Mode or ASCII Download)” track. I also remember making my own version w/ an 8-bit SoundBlaster card, an external modem, and some alligator clips on a phone cord. (God, I feel old!)

  21. One of the first modems for the Commodore 64 (1650?) was a real oddball.

    First off, a telephone with a modular handset cable was an absolute MUST!


    You used the phone to dial into a modem. When you heard the other modem begin to whistle at you, you unplugged the handset from the cable and quickly plugged the handset cable into the Commodore modem.

    Even though all my Macs have either an ethernet port, or are wireless, I still have a US Robotics 56K modem, with SCSI port, a SCSI PCI card and suitable cable. I also have modem cards installed on the two “Wings” A/V cards in my All In One Mac and the upgraded G3 “beige” Desktop Mac. There’s also a Comm Slot II modem card around here someplace that will work in my old 5500-225 Mac.

    There is still a place for the modem in today’s modern world. Granted, that place may very well be on a shelf in the closet. But it’s there nonetheless.

    Just in case.

  22. imagine if broadband was done through the speed of sound? Mini jet engines at mach 3 pumping out our pirated hacking!

  23. The 300 baud (“Bell 103 dataset”) is the second-generation modem. Here’s a picture of a 110-baud Anderson-Jacobson 110 baud modem, also in a wooden chassis. Those were introduced in 1959, shortly after Bell Labs announced their 110 baud modulation frequencies (“Bell 101 dataset”) in 1958 for use in SAGE, NORAD’s air defense system. The Bell 101 modems were the first to be able to be used on a standard subscriber telephone line. Those were also the first commercial equipment to use ASCII, which was called “four row”, as opposed to the Baudot “three row” 6-bit/character code which was predominate from 1908-1962, prior to the rise of EBCDIC.

    Before modems, people would just hook up current loops on telegraph lines running at 45.5 baud Baudot. Those, like the Model 15 which was the standard issue U.S. military telegraphic communications equiptment throughout WWII, were powered with 60 mA at 120 VDC. Then later they had 20 mA at 45 VDC, because long-line phone trunk cables couldn’t handle 110 volts.

  24. Thats a real treasure, thanks so much for sharing it with everyone.

    People who use the net daily today so casually often have no idea what those first days of the net were like.

    I remember the first time I used a acoustic modem, I thought this is going to change the world.

  25. While I was watching this I kept hearing 1200 baud data screeches in the back ground and I couldn’t figure out why that modem would be making those noises.

    I finally remembered that I’ve got my FT-8800 sitting on the desk tuned to 144.390. Duh.

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