Main page | Time-line Part 2 (1970 onwards) | Using the Time-line

Internet Time-line Part 1

Before 1970




At age 19, Blaise Pascal (France) constructs the first mechanical calculator and offers it for sale. The machine is capable of adding and subtracting.

1647: Leibniz


Leibniz's machine

Gottfried Leibniz (Germany) designs a machine for multiplication and division. 1674:1
1642: Pascal

1834: Babbage


Difference engine

Charles Babbage, inventor of machine computing, designs a mechanical computer, or "difference engine", assisted by Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace. The machine could perform calculations and print the results, but neither this machine nor his later "analytical engine" are constructed in his lifetime, due to practical and financial difficulties ("though construction of one began in London in the 1990s [sic]"). 1834:1

The difference engine can handle variables in equations, and give thousands of results after the first value is set. 1834:2

1674: Leibniz

1849: Boole



Samuel Morse invents Morse code. 1835:1 1837: Telegraph



William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patent the electric telegraph, which is used between two railway stations in London. 1837:1 1851: Underwater cable

1876: Telephone


Boolean algebra

George Boole (UK) invents Boolean algebra. 1849:1

Boole's Mathematical Analysis of Logic, published in 1847, was based on the 13th century logic diagrams of Ramon Lull. John Venn would later develop the Venn diagram by extension. 1849:2

Boolean algebra is the foundation of binary logic essential to computing.

1834: Babbage

1855: Schentz


Underwater cable

The English Channel gets the first underwater cable. 1851:1
1837: Telegraph

1876: Telephone


Schentz's calculating engine

G. Schentz (Sweden) constructs a calculating engine and exhibits it at the Paris Exhibition. 1855:1
1849: Boole

1889: Hollerith


Bell's telephone

Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone. The first telephone has only one transducer for listening and speaking, before Edison adds another one. 1876:1
1837: Telegraph

1918: Wire-tap law

1927: Transatlantic phone link


Hollerith's tabulating machine

Herman Hollerith invents a "tabulating machine using punchcards for computation". The machine is "an important precursor of the electronic computer", and was used to tabulate results of the US census. 1889:1
1889: Hollerith

1896: IBM

1896 Herman Hollerith founds a company that would later become IBM. 1896:1
1855: Schentz

1911: IBM


Thermionic valve

Following J.J. Thompson's 1897 discovery of the Edison effect (flow of electrons from a filament to a positively charged electrode), the American engineer Lee de Forest builds the first thermionic triode valve. The device can compare two electronic inputs and produce a logical output. This is the first applications of Boolean algebra. 1906:1

The valve would later be replaced by the transistor.

1849: Boole

1947: Transistor

1926: Television



Tabulating Machine Company of the US becomes International Business Machines. 1911:1
1896: Hollerith

1937: Turing

1953: IBM builds computers


Wire-tap law

The US government introduces the first wire-tap law. Law enforcement agencies use it for counter-espionage, but soon it is used to fight crime. Tapped conversations can be admitted as evidence. 1918:1
1835: Morse

1928: 4th Amendment



John Logie Baird introduces "the first usable television with a picture of 30 vertical lines, its image changing 12.5 times per second". The cathode ray tube is a development of the thermionic valve. 1926:1
1906: Thermionic valve


atlantic phone links

London and New York get the first transatlantic phone link. 1927:1
1876: Telephone

1960: Satellite phone

1928 The US government defends the use of wire-tapping in Olmstead vs. US, arguing that the Fourth Amendment only protects material things; non-material communications can thus be legally tapped by the government. 1928:1
1918: Wire-tap law

1934: FCA



Franklin D. Roosevelt is US President from 1933-45. During World War II, he "played an important part in the coordination of the Allied war effort". He also co-authored the Atlantic Charter with Churchill in 1941. 1933:1 1934: Roosevelt & wire-tapping

1945: Truman



US Congress enacts the Federal Communications Act prohibiting the interception of wire and radio transmissions without the sender's knowledge. The Supreme Court supports the statute and rules that wire-tapped information cannot be admitted as evidence. The Justice Department resists the decision. When war threatens, Roosevelt permits wire-tapping for "national security purposes".

After the war, the courts make a gradual swing back to protection of privacy.


1928: 4th Amendment

1943: Turing's Colossus

1957: 4th Amendment


Turing's theoretical computer

Alan Turing develops the concept of a theoretical computing machine, "a key step to the development of the first computer". 1937:1
1911: IBM

1943: Mark I

(WWII: 1939-45)

Turing's Colossus

Turing conceives of the code-breaking machine Colossus. 1943:1

Presumably, this is in "England's Government Code and Cypher School". 1943:2

1934: FCA

1943: Hitler's Enigma

Mark I Supported by the US Navy, Howard Aiken from Harvard builds the Mark I, "a 51-foot-long, 8-foot-high switchboard capable of mathematic calculations" without human intervention. 1943:3

The most advanced computer is the ASCC Mark 1, "developed at Harvard University with backing from IBM". It is 51 feet long, weighs 5 tons and consists of 750,000 parts. IBM chairman Thomas Watson is quoted as saying: "I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers." 1943:4

1937: Turing

1947: Pilot ACE

1948: Another 'first'


Hitler's Enigma

Hitler uses his cutting-edge hardware, the Enigma (based on a discovery by the Polish), for encryption. The Germans are "adept at jumbling up their messages with complicated algorithms that can only be cracked by computers". 1943:4
1943: Turing's Colossus

1952: NSA



P. Eckert and J. Maunchly design the US Army's ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator) at the University of Pennsylvania. 1945:1
1943: Turing's Colossus
Truman Harry Truman assumes US Presidency upon Roosevelt's death. He holds office from 1945-53. He immediately uses the atomic bomb against Japan to end World War II. His Marshall Plan gives aid to "war-shattered European countries" and contributes to the establishment of NATO. He will later involve America in the Korean War. 1945:2
1933: FDR

1953: Eisenhower


Pilot ACE

Donald Watts Davies joins a team led by Alan Turing at the National Physical Laboratory to build the fastest digital computer in England at the time, the Pilot ACE. 1947:1
1943: Mark I
Transistor William Shockley and others at Bell Labs invent the transistor, which will eventually replace the thermionic valve. 1947:2
1906: Thermionic valve

1949: Printed circuit

Truman Doctrine President Truman expresses the Truman Doctrine, the principle extending US aid to nations under Soviet or Communist threat. It is taken by Communists as an open declaration of the Cold War. 1947:3
1943: Hitler

1952: NSA

1948 According to the OED, the first computer, the Manchester Mark I, is installed at Manchester University, UK. 1948:1
1943: Mark I


Printed circuits

Printed electronic circuits are developed. 1949:1

Transistors, resistors, capacitors and other electronic components can be linked closely together on a printed circuit board, rather than being wired together separately.

1947: Transistor

1958: Integrated circuit

Early 1950s



At MIT's Lincoln Lab, the US Navy and Air Force support the Whirlwind machine, a system for Distant Early Warning (DEW) comprising a network of radars.

The Whirlwind is succeeded by the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), a huge machine that can collect data from various radars, interpret "data relating to unidentified aircraft", and point missiles at incoming threats. SAGE is only semi-automatic in the sense that it requires a human operator. It is one of the first fully interactive real-time systems that can provide answers within a few seconds. Info flows through phone lines to the users. 1950s:1

1945: US Army's ENIAC

1950s: Interactive computing

machine symbiosis
The SAGE inspires a few thinkers, including JCR Licklider at the MIT Lincoln Lab, to see computing in a new light. Licklider thinks of it as an example of human-machine symbiosis, "where the machine functions as a problem-solving partner". Humans and machines are interdependent on each other and form a single system.
1950s: More thoughts

1950: Engelbart

1959: Baran


Interactive graphics

JCR Licklider has a chance encounter Wes Clark at MIT's Lincoln Lab. Clark teaches Licklider how to programme the TX-2 (evolved from the TX-0), a machine which occupies a few rooms and has 64,000 bytes of memory. The TX-2 displays information on a video screen, making it one of the earliest machines for interactive graphic work. 1950s:3
Early '50s: Whirlwind
Licklider Licklider goes away and starts thinking about computers' potential to transform society. With computers, most citizens would be "informed about, and interested in, and involved in, the process of government". 1950s:4
Early 1950s: Man-machine symbiosis


Big computers

There are less than a dozen electronic computers. They are so big that they fill entire "air-conditioned warehouses". 1950:1
1950s: TX-2
Univac The designers of ENIAC come up with the Univac (Universal Automatic Computer), the first mass-produced computer.

Thermionic valves have practically been replaced.


1947: Transistor

1945: ENIAC

1953: IBM

December 1950


Douglas Engelbart (who happened to be a radar operator during World War II) envisions interactive computing with keyboard and screen display (instead of on punchcards), as a way of managing an ever increasingly complex world of technology. 1950:3
1950s: Licklider

Early '50: Whirlwind radar network



President Truman forms the NSA (National Security Agency) to protect US "executive and military communications".

The agency is shrouded in secrecy. Only a handful know of its existence. NSA practically stands for "No Such Agency". The NSA does not need warrants to tap into communications coming in and out of America. Its job is said to regularly spy on the American people.


1947: Truman Doctrine

Below: NSA's 701 computer

NSA's 701 IBM unveils the "Defence Calculator", later renamed the "701", capable of "2200 multiplications per second". The NSA uses it to break increasingly difficult encryption codes.


1943: Hitler's Enigma

1957: 4th Amendment

1977: NSA's DES



IBM (instituted in 1911) starts building large electronic computers. IBM machines are not as good as Univacs (succeeding the ENIAC) but marketing strategy make its sales better than Univacs. 1953:1
1950: Univac


Eisenhower Dwight Eisenhower is elected US President. He holds office from 1953-61. 1953:2
1945: Truman

1961: JFK



The first high level programming language, FORTRAN, is published by IBM. 1954:1
1953: IBM builds computers


October 1957

Sputnik I

It is the International Geophysical Year. The Soviets launch the Sputnik. The space race begins.

There is widespread panic that the Sputnik proved Soviet capability to launch ICBMs. Eisenhower looks to the scientific community for advice. (He distrusts the military.)

"Eisenhower was the first president to host a White House dinner specifically to single out the scientific and engineering communities as guests of honour, just as the Kennedys would later play host to artists and musicians."


1947: Truman Doctrine

Above: Sputnik II

November 1957

Sputnik II

The Soviets launch Sputnik II, carrying the first space traveller, the dog Laika. Eisenhower picks James R. Killian Jr. as the nation's science advisor. There is great urgency to pump money into R&D. 1957:2
Sputnik I

1958: ARPA

Early 1958


Eisenhower forms the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) to stem rivalries in the military for R&D funding. Budget is approved for $2 billion. Roy Johnson, ARPA's first director, defines ARPA's mission in military terms — to counter the perceived Soviet threat. His vision: "global surveillance satellites, space defence interceptor vehicles, strategic orbital weapon systems, stationary communication satellites, manned space stations and a moon base". 1958:1
1957: Space Race

Below: NASA; ARPA budget slashed



NASA is formed. Space projects and missile programmes are transferred from ARPA to NASA or passed back to the military. ARPA's budget is slashed to $150 million.

Roy Johnson resigns, leaving instructions to consider 4 choices for the future of ARPA:

  • Abolish ARPA
  • Expand ARPA
  • No change
  • Redefine ARPA's mission


Above: ARPA budget

Below: ARPA's new mission

1959: US R&D spending

1961: ARPA budget up again

ARPA's new mission ARPA reshapes itself by detaching itself from the Pentagon and focusing on long-term research efforts, in contrast to the Defence Department's short-term goals. ARPA would fund the really advanced "far-out" research. Most importantly, ARPA begins to tap the universities where the best scientific talents are located. ARPA becomes a "high-risk, high-gain" research sponsor.

ARPA begins to have a distinctive style, and its small size allows "the personality of its director to permeate the whole organisation".


1958: ARPA formed

1959: R&D spending

1961: Ruina heads ARPA

The first integrated circuit, or silicon chip, is produced by the US. 1958:3
1949: Printed circuit

1964: Word processor

1965: Minicomputer



Between 1959 and 1964, US R&D spending rises from $5 billion annually to $13 billion annually. That's 3% of the GNP. 1959:1
1958: ARPA budget
Late 1959 to 1960

network proposal

Paul Baran, an engineer who has worked as a technician on the Univac, the first commercial computer, joins the computer science department at RAND Corp and starts thinking about the "survivability of communication systems under nuclear attack". He is the first to see that command and control problems could be solved by digital computer technology. 1959:2

What's command and control? Command means, when you say "Launch missiles", the missiles are launched. Control means when you don't say "Launch missiles", the missiles aren't launched.

1953: IBM

1961: Ruina - command & control

1965: Support from RAND

Redundant links Baran visits the Pentagon. He sees that computer networks could be made more "robust and reliable" by introducing redundant links. Independently of Licklider and Engelbart, he imagines "the future of digital technology and the symbiosis between humans and machines". 1959:3
1950: Engelbart

1950s: Licklider

"Hot potato routing" Baran invents "hot potato routing" (packet-switching) and tries to persuade AT&T of its merits, but is unsuccessful. 1959:4

1965: Davies' packet-switching

1971: AT&T still not interested

Late 1950s


Ken Olsen leaves MIT on a venture to commercialize MIT's TX-2 computer. He founds Digital Equipment Corp to make and sell components, then builds the minicomputer, which interacts directly with the user.

At the same time, time-sharing — an alternative to batch processing — is catching on.

Batch processing relies on punchcards or magnetic tape for manual input. Queues are long and it was common to wait more than a day for results to compute.

Time-sharing on the other hand gives interactive access to many users via terminals. Users interact directly with the mainframe, with the illusion that they have the computer all to themselves, when in fact they have only a fraction of the computing power. However, the direct access of time-sharing eliminates the long wait in the case of batch processing.


1965: 1st minicomputer

Early 1960s

E-mail (single machine)

The first e-mail programme called Mailbox is installed on a time-sharing computer at MIT as a convenient way of getting around odd working hours. People send mail to each other on the same machine. E-mail would evolve from an interesting toy to a useful tool. 1960s:1
Late '50s: Time-sharing

1972: E-mail between 2 machines


Satellite telephone

The US launches the satellites Echo and Courier for relaying telephone calls between America and Europe. 1960:1
1927: Transatlantic phone link

1972: SATNET



John F. Kennedy is elected US President. He is president from 1961 to 1963. 1961:1
1953: Eisenhower
Jack Ruina heads ARPA ARPA's third director, Jack P. Ruina (the first scientist to head ARPA), introduces a "relaxed management style and decentralized structure". Ruina believes in "picking the best people and letting them pick the best technology".

ARPA's annual budget goes up to $250 million.

Ruina is himself a short-timer. He isn't bothered by high turnover and believes that ARPA would "benefit from frequent exposure to fresh views".

Projects undertaken by ARPA thus far: "[b]allistic missile defence ... nuclear test detection ... behavioral research and command and control".


1958: ARPA budget

1969: ARPA budget drops

May 1961

Ruina recruits Licklider

A large computer catches Ruina's attention. The huge, expensive Q-32 is a hand-me-down from an axed Air Force project. Ruina wants to use it for command and control — it would provide "high speed, reliable information" for making military decisions. 1961:3

Ruina recruits JCR Licklider, an "eminent psychologist" with "broad interdisciplinary interests", to head a new behavioral sciences office.

After spending a lot of time with computers, Licklider has long been expressing the idea that computers could be used as more than just "adding machines". They could "have the potential to act as extensions of the whole human being, as tools that could amplify the range of human intelligence and expand the reach of our analytical powers".


Late '59-'60: Baran - command & control

1950s: Chance encounter with Wes Clark

1950s: Licklider

1950: Engelbart


Word processor

IBM introduces the first word processor. 1964:1
1958: Integrated circuit

1979: Videotext

Network conference At a conference in Virginia, Larry Roberts, JCR Licklider and others stay up late "talking about the potential of computer networks". Roberts goes away with the revelation that "everything worth doing inside a computer had already been done", and decides to start working on communications between computers. 1964:2 1965: Proposed networking experiment



The first minicomputer is produced in the US. 1965:1
Late '50s: Olson's DEC

1958: Integrated circuit

1971: Microprocessor

Networking experiment Tom Marill, a psychologist who has been a student of Licklider, starts a small time-sharing company looking for some R&D work. He proposes to ARPA that he conduct a "networking experiment tying Lincoln's TX-2 to the SDC Q-32 in Santa Monica". This would be one of the first real experiments connecting disparate machines over long distances.

However, Marill's company is so small that ARPA recommends the project to be operated under MIT's Lincoln Lab. Lincoln Lab takes to the idea and puts Larry Roberts happily in charge.

Marill has seen a lot of computing research being duplicated and wants to tie up all the work being done in different places. He uses a crude 2000bps modem and comes up with what he calls a protocol for sending information back and forth between computers.


1950s: Licklider

1964: Network conference

1967: Roberts presents the idea

Baran's distributed network almost built Paul Baran has the full support of RAND and sends a "formal recommendation to the Air Force that a distributed switching network be built". The Air Force agrees. However, without the cooperation of AT&T or the newly formed DCA (Defense Communications Agency), Baran decides to wait until "a competent organisation came along". 1965:3
Late '59-'60: No takers for Baran

Below: Davies' packet network

Autumn 1965


Just after Paul Baran's halt (previous paragraph), Donald Watts Davies, a physicist at the British NPL (National Physical Lab), writes the first of several notes about a computer network much like Baran's, and sends them out to some interested people. 1965:4
Late '59-'60: Baran
The following Spring

switching network

Davies (previous paragraph) gives a public lecture in London describing the notion of sending short blocks of data, called packets, through a digital store-and-forward network. A man from the Ministry of Defence tells Davies about Paul Baran's work.

With encouragement from the British telecommunications people, Davis applies for funding and implements an experimental packet-switching network at the NPL.

Davies is the one who came up with the term packet-switching. Although he is later embarrassed to find out that Baran had got there first, he consoled himself with the fact that at least he "got the name". Baran's version was called distributed adaptive message block switching.


1967: Ann Arbor network proposal


Ann Arbor network proposal

Larry Roberts makes use of an ARPA meeting at Ann Arbor to propose the experiment of connecting all time-sharing computers to one another, over dial-up telephone lines.

He is greeted with little enthusiasm as the plan would be a drain on valuable computing resources, with the added burden on the host computer of having to act as communications router. Furthermore, a standard protocol is needed as each computer speaks a different language. No one is excited about the network. No one can see why anyone would want to exchange data with anyone else, when all they need is right in front of them.

At the end of the meeting, Wes Clark suggests that a small computer be inserted between each host and the network, to do the task of routing.

By coincidence, in England, this is exactly what Davies has separately concluded.


1965: Roberts in charge

1965: Davies

1967: IMP

tions privacy
The US Supreme Court respects the right to privacy and reverses the 1928 decision on the Fourth Amendment, extending it to cover personal communications, not just physical entities. 1967:2
1928: 4th Amendment

1976: Public-key encryption



Larry Roberts and Wes Clark implement the IMP (Interface Message Processors).

An IMP is a separate computer coming between the host computer and the network. It would send and receive data, check for errors, retransmit in the case of errors, route data, and verify message delivery.


1967: Ann Arbor

1969: Students play with IMPs

1970: Terminal IMPs


Protocol RFC

Steve Crocker distributes the first RFC (Request For Comment) titled "Host Software", an open invitation for feedback on computer handshakes.

RFCs would become the "accepted way of recommending, reviewing and adopting new technical standards". It was "a simple mechanism for distributing documentation open to anyone", used for disseminating ideas and "spreading the network culture".


1977: Header wars
Network Working Group An ad hoc assemblage of young talents forms the Network Working Group (NWG), an informal group trying to come up with protocols. New standards would "often emerge by consensus". 1969:1

The NWG takes the "layered approach to protocols" — a methodology starting from low level to high level interface.

Above: computer handshakes

1972: INWG

Telnet Under time pressure, the NWG comes up with Telnet, a protocol that enables remote log-ins. 1969:3

A basic protocol will not appear until 1971 — this will be the Network Control Protocol (NCP). 1969:4

1971: NCP
1st ARPA network This first network consisting of 4 nodes (UCLA, SRI, Santa Barbara and Utah) is established. It uses dedicated links and suffers disruptions when students begin to play with the IMPs, turning it off and on, resetting it and reloading it. 1969:5
1965: Davies' packet network

1967: the first IMP

1970: IMP testing

  The American government has realized the "strategic value" of the information held by the "handful of computers around the world". The notion of establishing links between these computers is supported by two reinforcing ideas:
  • There is advantage in cooperation and sharing of information between the defence-related projects taking place. Also, "frequent, informal correspondence" could result.
  • The physical security of the data stored on these computers was threatened by the Cold War's possibility of a nuclear conflict.


1947: Truman Doctrine

1958: ARPA

1959: Baran

ALOHANET The ALOHANET, designed by Norm Abramson, is constructed. It consists of radios broadcasting data back and forth among "7 computers stationed over 4 islands" in Hawaii, using small taxi-cab radios. 1969:7 1972: Radio packet network
December 1969

ARPA moves to Arlington

Vietnam War

ARPA HQ moves out from the Pentagon to a rented office building in Arlington, Virginia. ARPA budget is declining from its "historic peak" — "[T]he Vietnam War was consuming everything". 1969:8

However, the computing budget is not decreased. Larry Roberts works successfully to get support from the top and from "an additional dozen principal investors across the country to buy into the idea of the ARPA network". Meanwhile, Frank Heart's team continues to improve the hardware and software of the IMPs. 1969:9

1961: ARPA budget

1971: Selling the ARPANET

1970: Improving the IMPs

Next page: Internet Time-line Part 2 (1970 onwards)