50 Years Ago, the First Internet Message Was Dispatched from UCLA

Before there was Google or Facebook there was ARPANET, a rudimentary network that laid the groundwork for a revolution in technology

The world wide web wouldn’t be possible without ARPANET, a government-funded research effort launched at UCLA in 1969. Leonard Kleinrock, a professor of computer science at the university and one of the “fathers of the internet,” takes us back to 3420 Boelter Hall and the day interconnectivity changed forever.

What exactly is ARPANET?

Sputnik went up and caught the U.S. with its pants down. The government realized it needed a network that would allow computers to communicate and share resources. I had figured out the mathematical theory when I was a grad student at MIT. The theory was there, the need was there, now these two were going to come together. ARPANET was a series of high-speed lines connected to computer ‘nodes’ at various universities.

UCLA was the first node, right?

Yes. We got our first Interface Message Processor—you call those routers today— over Labor Day in ’69. A month later, an IMP was installed at Stanford Research Institute, and a high-speed line was strung between the two. We now had a two-node network, meaning someone could use my computer here to connect to SRI and use the resources on that computer.

Once you were linked to SRI, what happened?

I had one of my software developers with me, and we decided late one night to make the first connection. In order to log in to the remote computer at SRI, you had to type ‘LOGIN.’ The first message sent on the internet on October 29, 1969, was ‘LO’—because the network crashed after the first two letters. Samuel Morse had a good message ready with the telegraph. Armstrong, too, up on the moon. Those guys were smart. We had nothing. There wasn’t a camera here. Not even a voice recorder. But we ended up with the most potent message possible. “LO,” as in “lo and behold.”

This story was originally published as part of our December 2018 issue.

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