Who Really Invented the Internet?

January 13, 2015

worldinternet2We have all heard the comment before that Al Gore said he invented the internet, but no, he did not, and no, he really never said he had.  The statement was rather clumsily worded, but he never actually said he had “invented” it.  It stemmed from a CNN interview  in 1999, in which he said that he, “took the initiative in creating the internet,” when he was asked what made him different than his challenger, Bill Bradley, for the Democratic presidential nomination.  So if he didn’t invent it, then who did?

The beginnings of the internet really can’t be traced to just one person, but to a series of events that made it possible to exist.  It started with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, in 1958.  The creation of the agency was in direct response to the Soviets’ launching of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in space.  Its purpose was to expand the reach of technology and science beyond the current requirements of the military.  It was also created to prevent a moment of surprise again in the areas of technological advancement.

Sputnik asm
Is this what really started the Internet?

Computers during this time in the 50’s used punch cards, magnetic tape, and were enormous in size.  There was also no way for computers to be networked together.  No computer had access to another computer’s data, and since the computers during this time had poor processing power, this posed a serious problem for a computer’s capability, as well as its ability to decentralize information.  In 1969, a breakthrough was made in this area.  ARPA enlisted the help of a company called Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), to implement the world’s first network, called ARPANET.  ARPANET was initially connected by four Interface Message Processors (IMP).  The IMPs were gateways, or what would later be called routers to you and me today.  I’m no computer scientist, but for simplicities sake, we won’t get into how they operated.  Just knowing they acted like a router should be enough.  You just have to remember that starting a network in the 60’s was in no way like it is today.  There were four of these IMPs in the ARPANET: One at UCLA, one at Stanford, one at UC Santa Barbara, and one at the University of Utah.  Each place employed a different computer of the time period (and different methods of operation).  It’s amazing they ever even got it to work.  I have enough trouble with mine today, and they’re all on the same operating system.

On October 29, 1969,  the first ever computer-to-computer link was made.  A programmer at UCLA sent a message to Stanford, and the message was supposed to read “login”, but the “L” and “O” were the only letters transmitted before the entire system crashed.  They managed to get things working again and were then successful in sending the entire message the second time around.  The birth of the internet had begun.  The first permanent link was established about a month later, and in December of ’69 the four-node network was connected together.  These connections established the protocols on how the internet runs today.

By the time the 1970’s rolled around, researchers had figured out a way to connect ARPANET to the packet radio network, or PRNET.  The PRNET was a way to connect computers with radio or wireless communication links.  In 1973 the two different networks were connected.  In 1977, a third network, the satellite network (SATNET), was connected, which also connected the U.S. to Europe.  These connections to one another were called inter-networking.  This is how it came to be called the Internet.  The Internet was now a small child.

worldwideweb2The next great leap in the Internet’s growth came about in the 1990’s.  Tim Berners-Lee came up with a way to more simply navigate the Internet.  This is what became the World Wide Web, and Berners-Lee had invented it.  The internet was now growing into a feisty teenager.  But this is where confusion takes hold for some people.  The Internet and World Wide Web are two distinctly different things.  The Internet is a connection of networks while the World Wide Web is a way to navigate through and between these networks.  Now you can correct anyone who incorrectly uses the term.  The “http”, or hypertext transfer protocol, is one of the navigation tools that Berners-Lee invented to allow us to find our way through the vast Internet.

So it’s clear that no one person invented the internet, but instead it was a collective of people piggybacking on each others accomplishments that ultimately led to its existence.  If there is anyone to thank, it might just be the Russians back in 1957 when they launched Sputnik.  If it weren’t for that event, we may have never had the Internet, and you wouldn’t have been able to read this article.  Until next time, happy surfing.

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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