Happy 40th birthday, Internet

September 2, 1969: Forty years ago today, in Leonard Kleinrock's UCLA lab, a group of computer scientists managed to pass bits of data from one computer to another over some some gray cable. In doing so, they created the first node of what we now call (long dramatic pause)... the Internet.

Kleinrock and colleagues were working with the government-backed Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), without which I would not be blogging these words today.

Now, some folks believe the actual "birthday" was October 29, 1969 - when Kleinrock sent the first message between two nodes, UCLA to Stanford. The message? "LO." As in "LO AND BEHOLD, THE INTERNET." Well, okay, not really. It was supposed to be "LOGIN" but the system crashed after Kleinrock typed "L" and "O."

Video above: Kleinrock talks about that first connection. Here's an AP item. I was a guest for a discussion about this anniversary on the NPR show "Tell Me More" today (segment link).

BB readers: share your birthday greetings or early webternet memories in the comments. If any of you ARPANET O.G.'s are in the house, do fire up the old Interface Message Processor and give us a packet-switched shout. (TCP/IP first-bump)


  1. And before anyone says anything, yes, Al Gore actually did help create the internet because without his pushing in congress to open this up to the public, it would still just be a military project.

  2. Allow me to be the first to offer up a personal “early days of the Internet” anecdote, in what could be a long line of such anecdotes.

    In the late 80’s I was living a few block from DARPA in Arlington, and my then-girlfriend was the [i]de facto[/i] domain registrar for the entire Internet, Godaddy and Network Solutions, all rolled into one. She would receive all the faxes requesting domain name requests and process them (at this point, of course, there was no charge). So here we have one single person, responsible for processing every request for a domain.

    The real kicker: she was the receptionist. This was not her primary or full-time duty.

  3. 40 years?

    That’s Jurassic!.

    Now, seriously, I used the internet for the first time 10 years ago. I had to save a month to be able to use it. I began to use it regularly in 2000, there used to be a cybercafe every two blocks or so.

    Ten years that have changed my life, made much better than it would have been otherwise.

  4. What was Tim Berners-Lee’s role in this? I was taught that he was a huge part of the making of the internet.

  5. My first experience on the innertubes was on graphics-free Compuserve on my parents’ old IBM. There was a short list of text games one could play, some of which were ‘premium,’ and I got in trouble running up a bill from them. This was all done via modem (56k? maybe less?) of course.

    When i first went to college in 1995, the computer lab at the time only ran.. um.. Linux? Unix? I forget what it was, but it too was graphics-free, and populated only by lines of orange text, which was hard to read because it frequently ran off the edge of the monitor.

    Fortunately they upgraded the computers within the first year I was there. Heh.

  6. The Internet from on High is a myth.
    The early ISP’s were all BBS systems linked on the FIDONet – we, the people built the network on z80 home computers and modems.
    So Xeni you would have been blogging with or without the ARPANET.

  7. Cool. Though for me “birth of the internet” is more the birth of the internet as a societal revolution, i.e. large numbers of not-necessarily-all-that-tech-savvy laymen using home computers to communicate. In that sense, the internet is still a teenager. 40 years ago might be described as the moment of conception.

  8. In 1981 we hackers at my high school’s computer lab somehow acquired the phone number of Stanford’s TIP (Terminal Interface Processor), a dial-up interface to the ARPAnet. We’d dial in at 300 baud from the lab’s DECwriter, press Ctrl-E, and type in an octal number that determined which host to telnet to. We tried numbers at random, finding interesting systems that allowed guest logins.

    The most interesting one was MIT’s ITS (Incompatible Timesharing System) which gave out ‘tourist’ accounts, no questions asked. There were lots of fun things to play with there, such as a real LISP interpreter. Sadly, the grand prize we were most after, access to ZORK, was not available from that system — it ran on another inaccessible host. If you typed “ZORK” on ITS you got a funny message about a wizard appearing in a puff of smoke and telling you “this is not the home of the Great Implementors!”

  9. Also, didn’t there used to be some sort of distinction between “internet” and “world wide web”…are they the same thing?

    Yeah, they are different. The internet, as above, is about sending/routing packets to and through other computers, its the underlying structure. Whereas the www is about the using markup language (html etc) and hyperlinks, to make a consistent, graphical application which sits atop the internet.

    The www was invented twenty years after the internet, by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989/1990.

  10. I did my undergrad and Masters at UCSB (the third node on net I do believe) in the 80s and remember being introduced to the wonder of usenet. rec.humor.funny comp.lang.c what fun

  11. i’m tremendously entertained that the first words spoken on the internet were truncated because the computer crashed as soon as he tried to type them.

    my first experience with the intertubes was in October 1993, when I sat down in my college computer lab to log in to the VAX and see if anyone had sent me any messages. (No-one had.) Three years later I came back from my junior year abroad and my roommate who worked on the helpdesk was bubbling over about Mosaic. then we all made the ugliest geocities websites in the world.

    happy birthday, internet, and thank you for all of the wonderful people i’ve met through you.

  12. Ah yes, TIPs and IMPs. I do miss the days when, if you entered an unknown username while logging onto the MIT research machines, you received the prompt “You do not have an account on this system. Would you like one?” Basically, if you were on ARPAnet at all, you could be presumed to have some degree of Clue.

    The public Internet is a fine thing, but I often wish Endless September had never occurred.

    Obligatory musical cue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1fBd7UbQPA

  13. To the tune of The Minutemen’s History Lesson Pt. II:

    Mike Cane’s The Computer Phone Book, ca. 1ate 1983; read and re-read the descriptions of BBS’s for about 2 years, until convinced my parents to get me a C64 and 300 baud modem. Lunatics Labs in Hayward, CA, Thrasher BBS, still remember the number of the first BBS I used to call regularly (387-3946) in Marion, OH. It was online from 1983 til about 1999-2000, probably some kind of record; Jerry Gibson, sysop. Mom goes apoplectic over first $70 long distance bill, so we learned how to make phone calls for free after that. Wardialing. Trading “vivids” (credit card nos.) and “phreaks” (MCI and other calling card nos.) over free Compuserve accts –how did we get those, anyhow? Beachhead, Raid Over Moscow, Racing Destruction Set and others, downloaded overnight courtesy of Legion of Doom. Quantum link. 9600 baud. Gopher. Usenet: alt.2600, alt.punk, alt.fan.tarantino, binaries. Geocities. Deja News, 33.6k. etc. etc.

  14. I think that all of the posters here should acknowledge that the Internet is BAD, and stop using it. After all, we know that anything the government has/had a hand in is wrong (a meme ever more widespread thanks in no small part to the evil Internet).

  15. In people years it would be a tween… With all the gossiping on FB and twitter… and all the porn… cant forget the porn

  16. When I was young and delinquent, and gasoline cost 25 cents a gallon, my father asked his good friend Dave Robinson to give me access to the research computers at the local land-grant university (which one? Clues abound!).

    Dave set me up, and showed me how to get 300 cps to a PDP-11 that could run ADVENT (six character file names in those days). You picked up the phone, dialed a particular number, and whistled a particular sequence to invoke the Gandalf, then quickly slammed the phone into a big rubber coupler bolted to the hard-copy terminal and banged the “break” key several times… as soon as the print head started clicking and whirring you hit “Enter” and entered your user number at the prompt.

    After that, instead of sneaking out to run with the local hoodlums, I would climb out my bedroom window in the night, shinny down the arbor vitae tree, and ride my bicycle to the college. There was a building, supposedly haunted, with a window that could not be kept closed – I don’t know why, but the window opened itself no matter what. I would climb the insect-infested ivy and into the window, and take the stairs to the basement, where a tunnel led to another building that contained the university computing center.

    Many an hour I spent whistling at the Gandalfs and playing Adventure when I was supposed to be sleeping… technically, this was actually pre-Internet, but the host was on the DARPAnet. It was being used for research on futuristically killing southeast asians I think.

    “kill dragon”
    “With what? Your bare hands?”

  17. @13:Go back and read it again. The 40th anniversary of the initial protocols that made fidonet possible. Sure it precedes the WWW, which has become, for all practical purposes for most people, synonymous with the Internet, but it wasn’t possible without these birthing moments.

  18. I oft-times wish I was a little bit older to have been there back when the Internet wasn’t synonymous with the WWW, but alas I’m a youngin’, born in ’86.

  19. During the hot summer of 1976 I was an undergrad at Imperial College, London. From somewhere I got the phone number of the ARPA TIP (Terminal Interface Processor) at University College London and dialed in a few times to poke around the ARPANet.

    As I remember it, the main network trunk across the Atlantic was a 64k bits/second line to Norway and the UCL computers connected to that. The backbones within the US were also 64k lines. There were then about 250 computers on the network – so this qualifies me, I think, as an Oldish Git though probably not a full-fledged Old Git.

    I logged on to a few machines as “guest” and fiddled around at bit but nothing terribly significant though I was intrigued by finding announcements about distribution of data from the upcoming Viking landings on Mars. It therefore pleased me a lot in 1997 to get the first picture from the next successful lander (Pathfinder) as my desktop background within an hour or two of it being taken. The world is making some progress, even if only a very narrow area.

    It really depresses me that there are many BoingBoing readers who don’t know the difference between the Internet and the Web.

    Still, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call start of the ARPANet the birth of the Internet. Though they’re the same thing in a grandfather’s axe sort of way (the ARPANet was the handle before last by that analogy) it wasn’t really the Internet until the first TCP/IP connection was made. Any idea when that was?

  20. Actally you are wrong.

    You are talking about the birth of ARPANET.
    This wasa precursor of the Internet an it had a single form of packet protocol. The INTERnet is so called because different types of Packet Networks can be INTERconnected using Bob Kahn and Vint Certs IP Protocol(the INTERNET PROTOCOL).

    This was introduced to the world at a lecture in Sussex University in September 1973.

    You are celebrating the birthday of the PACKET Network (of which most IP Networks that comprise teh INTERNET are made) but thats like celebrating the brithday of the cake by celebratig the birthday of the EGG.

    Oh and Tim Berners Lee invented the WORLD WIDE WEB some decades later: This Internet Application made the Internet popular, but is ‘just’ a type of program that runs on teh INTERNET.

    If you want to know more look up Zakon and IETF on Googl.

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