Vanity Fair's oral history of the Internet


The July issue of Vanity Fair has a long and fascinating oral history of the Internet. Keenan Mayo and Peter Newcomb interviewed many of the scientists who developed it at ARPA.

Shown here: "The Founding Fathers: Leonard Kleinrock, Paul Baran, and Larry Roberts They were present at the creation. Baran, at the Rand Corporation in the late 1950s, conjured the idea of "packet switching." Roberts, chief computer scientist at the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency, oversaw the creation of the Arpanet in the late 1960s. In Kleinrock's laboratory at U.C.L.A., in 1969, this new digital way of transmitting data–precursor of today's Internet–came to life." (Photo by Christian Witkin)

On an eight-month deadline, the BBN team delivered their prototype I.M.P. to U.C.L.A. on August 30, 1969.

Leonard Kleinrock: September 2, 1969, is when the first I.M.P. was connected to the first host, and that happened at U.C.L.A. We didn't even have a camera or a tape recorder or a written record of that event. I mean, who noticed? Nobody did. Nineteen sixty-nine was quite a year. Man on the moon. Woodstock. Mets won the World Series. Charles Manson starts killing these people here in Los Angeles. And the Internet was born. Well, the first four everybody knew about. Nobody knew about the Internet.

So the switch arrives. Nobody notices. However, a month later, Stanford Research Institute gets their I.M.P., and they connect their host to their switch. Think of a square box, our computer, connected to a circle, which is the I.M.P., 5, 10 feet away. There's another I.M.P. 400 miles north of us in Menlo Park, basically at Stanford Research Institute. And there's a high-speed line connecting those two. We are now prepared to connect two hosts together over this fledgling network.

So on October 29, 1969, at 10:30 in the evening, you will find in a log, a notebook log that I have in my office at U.C.L.A., an entry which says, "Talked to SRI host to host." If you want to be, shall I say, poetic about it, the September event was when the infant Internet took its first breath.