The Internet Took Its First Breath

On 2 September 1969, on a refrigerator-sized mainframe computer in a third-floor storage space at UCLA, the internet took its first breath.

The US government was funding scientific research in global computer communications through the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Project coordinators wanted a way to share information between computers working in different locations and so decided to connect them on a new network, ARPANET.

Researchers designed an Interface Message Processor, or IMP, as the first node, or connection point, on ARPANET. It would be the predecessor of today’s router. A durable Honeywell minicomputer, the IMP was so large it had to be hoisted by forklift to a third-floor laboratory at UCLA, and eased through a window. On 2 September 1969, under the direction of UCLA researcher, engineer, and scientist Leonard Kleinrock and his team, the two massive computers exchanged data over a network for the first time.

“The internet took its first breath of life that day,” said Kleinrock, now recognised as a pioneer of the modern-day internet.

About two months later, on 29 October, programmers connected the computer at UCLA with one at Stanford, the first two “hosts” on ARPANET.

Charlie Klein, of UCLA, sent the first message over the new network to Bill Duvall, of Stanford University. To confirm the message, Klein and Duvall also spoke on the phone while connecting over the network. Charlie typed an “L.” “Did you get the L?” he asked. “I got the L,” Duvall answered. He typed an “O.” “Did you get the O?” “I got the O,” Duvall said. He typed a “G.” But before he could ask if Duvall got the “G,” the system crashed. The first message sent over ARPANET was supposed to be “Login.” Instead, it was “LO.”

Researchers got the system up and running, overcame the glitch, and began connecting more and more computers on ARPANET. In 1970, host computers at Harvard and MIT connected to the network. And by 1971, some 15 computers were connected on the fledgling network that would one day evolve into the universally-used and globally-accessible internet, the backbone of modern-day communication and information-exchange.