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September 2004 Newsletter


Welcome to the Internet History Newsletter. In this edition:

=> What's new at

=> When did the Internet begin - feature article

=> Wanted section

=> Special offers

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Thanks so much to everyone who got in contact and suggested new links. There are too many to mention here, but we particularly like

=> the "Error 404" site on the Web Histories page


=> the old computers site on the Computer Histories page

Check the Resources section for lots of new links.

We have also had a bit of feedback on what to do with the Archives section of the site, and, in the long run, have figured we should not duplicate what others are doing. There are some good Archives dealing with part of the history we have now linked to. Thanks to everyone who offered us a lot of fascinating tidbits; we suggest you follow the various links we have now added where appropriate as a first step. Let us know of other Archives, or of areas not covered by existing archives.
What we want to do is to make sure there are no gaps.

And thanks to various people who have contributed country histories -this section is growing, and more is on its way.


If you like what we are doing, add a link to your site!



Where and when (and why) did the Internet begin? It sounds like a simple set of questions, but in fact there is no simple answer. Even those who were involved disagree!

In "Where Wizard Stay Up Late", we hear of a difference of opinion between Bob Kahn (Co-inventor of TCP/IP) and Bob Taylor (head of the Arpanet Project where the Internet supposedly
began) as to whether the beginning is Arpanet (1969) or TCP/IP (1973). So even among the pioneers there are differences of opinion. So pity us poor historians, if the pioneers are in disagreement about what the Internet is and how it began!

The most common theory on Internet beginnings is the Pentagon/1969/nuclear war theory. We can trace it back to Silicon Valley gossip columnist Robert Cringely in his "Accidental Empires" (first published 1992), and repeated in his Nerds 2.01 television series later in the 1990s. That's enough to make in common opinion, but not enough to make it accurate!

Most historians dispute at least one aspect of this.

In the History of the Internet Ebook, I wrote as follows

"Many people have heard that the Internet began with some military computers in the Pentagon called Arpanet in 1969. The theory goes on to suggest that the network was designed to survive a nuclear attack. However, whichever definition of what the Internet is we use, neither the Pentagon nor 1969 hold up as the time and place the Internet was invented. A project which began in the Pentagon that year, called Arpanet, gave birth to the Internet protocols sometime later (during the 1970's), but
1969 was not the Internet's beginnings. Surviving a nuclear attack was not Arpanet's motivation, nor was building a global communications network."

"Bob Taylor, the Pentagon official who was in charge of the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (or Arpanet) program, insists that the purpose was not military, but scientific. The nuclear attack theory was never part of the design. Nor was an Internet in the sense we know it part of the Pentagon's 1969 thinking. Larry Roberts, who was employed by Bob Taylor to build the Arpanet network, states that Arpanet was never intended to link people or be a communications and information facility."

"What Arpanet did in 1969 that was important was to develop a variation of a technique called packet switching. In 1965, before Arpanet came into existence, an Englishman called Donald Davies had proposed a similar facility to Arpanet in the United Kingdom, the NPL Data Communications Network. It never got funded; but Donald Davies did develop the concept of packet switching, a means by which messages can travel from point to point across a network. Although others in the USA were working on packet switching techniques at the same time (notably Leonard Kleinrock and Paul Baran), it was the UK version that Arpanet first adopted." (

Kim Veltman of the McLuhan Institute (see the link from our International Histories page) takes the "packet switching equals the Internet" argument a little further, and suggests that the Europeans invented the Internet if that's the case. He points to Louis Pouzin, who introduced the idea of data grams and an Englishman, Donald W. Davies, who was one of the inventors of packet-switching as being important in the origins.

To quote Kim's paper,

"The National Physical Laboratory in Great Britain set up the first test network on these principles [of packet switching] in 1968. Shortly afterward, the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency decided to fund a larger, more ambitious project in the USA. Hence an English project of 1968 inspired the beginnings of the US Internet in 1969".

Ronda Hauben disputes the packet switching theory. To quote her forthcoming paper,

"The history of the ARPANET and of packet switching, however, is not the history of the Internet. To quote Robert Kahn, "What the ARPANET didn't address was the issue of interconnecting multiple networks and all the attendant issues that raised.""

The problem is, of course, defining what the Internet is. If it necessarily contains TCP/IP, as most technical definitions suggest, Pentagon, 1969, and nuclear wars are all wrong.

In the end, the History of the Internet is more the history of a phenomena than that of a protocol. To draw a parallel: we are treating the Internet more like a history of transport, which obviously has several threads and origins and important developments, rather than a history of the steam engine (part of the transport history, for sure, but only a small part). This is why we have problems with the TCP/IP origins theory and that that alone is the history on the Internet. There is so much more to it!

I'm sure we haven't heard the last word on this subject - let us know what you think!

Ian Peter


More national histories wanted! We have them underway for a few countries, but we need more!

Educational authorities wanted! We would like to see the History of the Internet Audio CD and Ebook available for schools, colleges and universities. If you know anyone we should contact about this, email us (


A markdown that won't last! At $18.95 for the Audio CD and the Ebook, including postage and handling to anywhere in the world, we have gone as far as we can to make these readily available. Buy now from to access this price.


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