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November 2004 Newsletter


Welcome to the Internet History Newsletter, brought to you by the website. In this edition:

=> FROM OUR MAIL - more on When Did the Internet Begin?

=> FEATURE ARTICLE - Election night and Univac, 1952

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There was quite a debate again this month on the origins of the Internet on Dave Farber's mailing list, following from the announcement of a "35th anniversary celebration" for the Internet.

The exchange involved people including Leonard Kleinrock, one of the pioneers of packet switching, John Shoch, a key figure in early Internet protocol development, and Bob Taylor, who was head of the Arpanet project where the Internet supposedly began.

Relevant parts of the thread are reproduced at . It's well worth a read, and reveals some tensions among the pioneers.

Among the surprises in the exchange was this one from Bob Taylor, who was head of the Arpanet program, and who has yet a different theory on beginnings. To quote Bob from the above exchange:

"I believe the first internet was created at Xerox PARC, circa '75, when we connected, via PUP, the Ethernet with the ARPAnet. PUP (PARC Universal Protocol) was instrumental later in defining TCP (ask Metcalfe or Shoch, they were there).

For the internet to grow, it also needed a networked personal computer, a graphical user interface with WYSIWYG properties, modern word processing, and desktop publishing. These, along with the Ethernet, all came out of my lab at Xerox PARC in the '70s, and were commercialized over the next 20 years by Adobe, Apple, Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, Sun and other companies that were necessary to the development of the Internet.

The ARPAnet was not an internet. An internet is a connection between two or more computer networks. The ARPAnet, with help from thousands of people, slowly evolved into the Internet. Without the ARPAnet, the Internet would have been a much longer time in coming".

So there you go - yet another theory on origins.

And a great note on the history of the Xerox Palo Alto laboratory, a real hotbed of innovation! You can find out more from our Computer history pages.


Also current in a lot of peoples minds at present are elections. That brought out this delightful piece of computer history, written by USA Today stalwart Kevin Maney. You can get the full story at

"There was another election season, back in 1952, when a presidential contest seemed too close to call, America worried it was vulnerable to attack, and a single company dominated computing.

Those circumstances set the stage for the election night dramatics of the Univac - perhaps the most significant live TV performance ever by a computer. It might just be technology's equivalent of the first Elvis appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Except parents didn't worry that computers were going to destroy the moral fiber of the nation's youth, which shows you how much parents know.

In a few hours on Nov. 4, 1952, Univac altered politics, changed the world's perception of computers and upended the tech industry's status quo. Along the way, it embarrassed CBS long before Dan Rather could do that all by himself.

The Republican candidate was Dwight Eisenhower. The Democrat, Adlai Stevenson. Polls showed them in a dead heat.

On election night, the 16,000-pound Univac remained at its home in Philadelphia. In the TV studio, CBS set up a fake computer - a panel embedded with blinking Christmas lights and a teletype machine. Cronkite sat next to it. Correspondent Charles Collingwood and a camera crew set up in front of the real Univac........

As polls began to close, clerks typed the data into the Univac using three Unityper machines, which punched holes in a paper tape that would be fed into the computer.

By 8:30 p.m. ET - long before news organizations of the era knew national election outcomes - Univac spit out a startling prediction. It said Eisenhower would get 438 electoral votes to Stevenson's 93 - a landslide victory. Because every poll had said the race would be tight, CBS didn't believe the computer and refused to air the prediction.

"Mauchly was at home getting telephone calls all the time about what was happening," Antonelli says. "All he could say was, 'Sit tight, we've done the best we could.' We sat there all night in front of the TV set with bated breath."

"It was essentially a live demo, on national TV," says Jim Senior, historian at Unisys, the computer giant that traces its roots to Remington Rand and Univac. "That took a lot of daring."

Under pressure, Woodbury rejiggered the algorithms. Univac then gave Eisenhower 8-to-7 odds over Stevenson. At 9:15 p.m., Cronkite reported that on the air. But Woodbury kept working and found he'd made a mistake. He ran the numbers again and got the original results - an Eisenhower landslide.

Late that night, as actual results came in, CBS realized Univac had been right. Embarrassed, Collingwood came back on the air and confessed to millions of viewers that Univac had predicted the results hours earlier.

In fact, the official count ended up being 442 electoral votes for Eisenhower and 89 for Stevenson. Univac had been off by less than 1%. It had missed the popular vote results by only 3%. Considering that the Univac had 5,000 vacuum tubes that did 1,000 calculations per second, that's pretty impressive. A musical Hallmark card has more computing power.

The public latched onto the Univac's performance. In 1952, people were as intrigued by computers as we are by SpaceShipOne. Stories ran on newspaper front pages. "Univac" suddenly became a generic term for those blinking electric brains. Much to IBM's disgust, when IBM introduced the 701 a few months later, people referred to it as "IBM's Univac."

In the public's mind, the Univac was the new leader in computing. And by 1956, the TV networks all used computers and predicted results early, changing the dynamics of Election Day.

And where has that gotten us? Back to a presidential contest too close to call, a nation worried it is vulnerable to attack, and a single company dominating computing.

How did that happen?

(orginal article by USA Today's Kevin Maney can be read at


And just one thing in closing. Christmas is close to us, and we have a special surprise for net readers. With only one more newsletter to come before Christmas, we thought we would let you know early.

Our statistics show that, for most people reading this newsletter,

1. you are interested in Internet history
2. You have not yet listened to the History of the Internet Audio CD.

So we thought the coming months might just be the time to make a change and set out in a new direction.

To help you to do this, we have dug deep to come up with something we didn't think possible. By looking closely at our costs, and isolating out those that relate to postage and handling to various parts of the world, we have come up with something quite new.

Till the end of the Christmas holiday season, we can offer a greatly reduced price on both the Audio Cd and the History of the Internet E-book.

Remember - if you are buying copies for Christmas presents for your loved ones, or just to have something special for yourself to listen to over the Christmas period, you will have to allow a couple of weeks for shipping. As all of the CDs are shipped from Australia, they have a long way to travel to get to you in time.

So we suggest you order now, and here is our special offer

We are packaging the History of the Internet Audio CD with the History of the Internet Ebook, and are selling both of them, only to Net History newsletter subscribers for - wait for it -

Just $9.95 plus postage and handling. You can pay with a credit card.

Now that's a huge reduction, and at that price you can't afford not to have it, can you?

Well don't waste time, click on the link below and do it. At that price we expect to run out some time over the Christmas break, and some people will miss out.

Click here for this great offer.

Internet history is multidimensional and fascinating. It's the history of our times, and of a phenomena which is quite different to anything the world has seen before. We hope you will share our enthusiasm for this exciting and captivating period of the history of our times.

Here's the url again .

Until next month,

Ian Peter


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