Digging through your parents’ old papers and mementos is a risky gamble, but sometimes it can yield satisfying results. Take David Newbury, for example, who found a map of the entire internet from 1973 in his father’s keepsakes.
Newbury, who’s a lead developer at Art Tracks, an open-source provenance project at the Carnegie Museum of Art, tweeted a photo of the historic map last week. According to him, it belonged to his father, Paul Newbury, when he was a business manager of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.
What you’re looking at is ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which was a predecessor of the internet we’ve come to know today. It was first written about in 1961 by the computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock, in a paper called “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets.”
The US Department of Defense-funded packet switching network—a major means of data communication—was once geared toward scientific research, and you can see the likes of UCLA, Harvard, and MIT, along with corresponding nodes, laid out on various paths. Researchers who worked on ARPANET are credited with developing protocols for internet communication that are still used today.
Here’s what earlier versions looked like:
Compare all of these to a map of the internet today:
Partial map of the internet today. Image: The Internet Map
“For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So if I was talking online with someone at SDC. and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley or MIT about this, I had to get up from the SDC terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them,” recalled ARPA researcher Bob Taylor
“I said, oh, man, it’s obvious what to do: If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go where you have interactive computing. That idea is the ARPANET.”
As Science Alert pointed out, a later iteration of the map, published in 1974 by the NASA Ames Research Center, shows the development of ARPANET. By that time, the term “internet” had just come into use. That same year, the first Internet Service Provider, known as Telenet, was created. And less than two decades later in 1991, CERN, with the help of Tim Berners-Lee, the developer of HTML, would launch the World Wide Web.
Looking back on its rapid progress, it’s incredible that the whole internet could once be mapped out by hand. “You wonder when it got too big to fit on a sheet of paper,” Newbury rightfully wondered.