50 years ago today, the Internet was born

22:30 hours, in Dr. Leonard Kleinrock's NMC computer lab at UCLA, Charley Kline delivered the Internet when he attempted the very first remote login to Stanford Research Institute on the other end of that connection.

Bill Duvall at SRI Labs (Stanford University)

Bill Duvall was on the other side of that transmission 50 years ago on the evening of 29 October 1969, and Charley managed to get the first two characters of LOGIN across the digital divide before the IMP connected SDS 940 computer on the other side crashed at Stanford Research Institutes laboratory.

UCLA IMP log cover sheet from Dr. Kleinrock's laboratory
Charlie Kline's IMP log entry for 22:30hrs on 29 October 1969

Those first two characters, certainly prophetic, but also with a bit of a biblical ring, "LO", perhaps as in "Lo and Behold", are  yet an echo from an earlier iteration - the very first, and most significant, utterance in the history of Telecommunications on 24 May 1844 by Samuel Morse himself.

That message transmitted from Washington to Baltimore by Morse's own fist  on a straight key over telegraph wires read as follows: "What hath God Wrought?".

"LO",  I bring thee great tidings of ARPANET , was the effective response 115 years later. Lo and behold, indeed.

If the first, and most profound statement in the history of telecommunications, was from Numbers 23:23, then the reply from Los Angeles a century later was Rush 2112.

Here's how it all went down:

  • Labor Day weekend, 1969
    The first Interface Message Processor (IMP), now widely known as the world's first packet router, was delivered to Dr. Kleinrock's Network Measurement Center (NMC) laboratory in Boelter Hall 3420 at UCLA. Itself a BBN modified Honeywell DDP-516 mini computer,  IMP 1 was connected on Tuesday, 02 September to the NMC's time sharing computer system, a Scientific Data Systems SDS Sigma 7, and began passing packets back and forth locally.
  • A month later in October, the second router, IMP 2 was delivered to Stanford University's SRI labs where it was paired with their SDS 940
  • 10:30 pm on 29 October, Charley Kline birthed the Internet from his seat facing a TeleType Model 33 ASR, when the first two nodes of the ARPANET were connected between the NMC lab at UCLA to the other awaiting programmer, Bill Duvall, at another TeleType connected to SRI's SDS 940.

    Kline and Duvall were communicating directly via telephone over the 50Kbps aggregated datalink though a pair of headsets each had directly plugged into their respective IMPs. The conversation went something like this:

    > Kline: "Did you get the L?"
    > Duvall: "I got the L!"
    > Kline: "Did you get the O?"
    > Duvall: "I got the O."
    > Kline: "Did you get the G?"
    > Duvall: "The system just crashed!"

    The systems were designed to send 'LOG' from the initiating computer system to the remote node, which would then respond with the final part of the handshake by returning 'IN' back through the two IMPs to Kline's Sigma 7 and print on his TeleType terminal.

    Another attempt about an hour later resulted in a successful login.

He (Duvall) had a little minor bug, and it took him 20 minutes or whatever to fix it and try it again. He had to make a change in some software. I had to double-check some of my software. He called me back, and we tried it again. So we started over and I typed the L and the O and the G, but this time I got back the “I N.”

Dr. Charley Kline from an interview with Mark Sullivan here

  • A month later, UCSB was connected to the ARPANET, followed by the connection of the University of Utah the following month, and the ARPANET now consisted of 4 permanently connected hosts from their geographically equidistant facilities.
  • The rest of the story, or at least the abridged version, includes you ordering a Domino's pizza and calling for an Uber ride to the nearest Internet Cafe, or perhaps a Starbucks?

“We always envisioned that we would have a series of interconnected workstations and interconnected people. We called them knowledge centers in those days, because we were academically oriented.”

Bill Duvall

Dr Leonard Kleinrock provides a peek into details of IMP 1 and its inner workings - the first packet router.
Dr. Kleinrock describes the chronology of events leading up to the birth of the Internet

The course of events had a few ironic twists, such as a complete lack of historic preservation that for years languished in almost forgotten events and even the equipment as well as the physical locations where they occurred. A complete disregard for the historic significance of the machinery involved is emphasized by Dr. Kleinrock's own recollections in this quote from UCLA's Daily Bruin:

“I tried giving it to the Smithsonian back in 1984 but they weren’t interested. Then they asked for it later, but they would not guarantee that it would actually be displayed rather than just put it in storage.”

Today you can schedule a visit to the actual lab where it all started in room 3420 at UCLA's Boelter Hall.

The NMC in Boelter Hall 3420 back in the day - a hotbed of innovation and the birthplace of the Internet.
Dr Charley Kline, obstetrician to the Internet, who delivered a proverbial pizza to billions of people globally.
Boelter Hall 3420 - in it's restored version, 2009. This photo and others, courtesy UCLA Daily Bruin.
TeleType Corporation's Model 33 ASR - The first Internet communication, "LO", by Charley Kline in 1969.
Charley Kline and Bill Duvall, together with the ubiquitous IMP
This is self-explanatory, and one of many milestones in the history of telecommunications.

Sometimes the most humble of brilliant minds fail to grasp the profound, historic significance of the nature of what they're about to do, while others, in their arrogance, categorically dismiss the very implications that such an undertaking implies.

Regarding the contract that was awarded to the relatively small and ambitious company BBN, to produce the IMP, the following may be a bit prophetic, in that it's really the little things in life that makes all of the difference in the world, and in this case, quite litterally.

During an Interview with NPR ten years ago, Charley Kline said:

"IBM refused to bid, as did AT&T," Kline remembers. "They both said, 'Can't be done; it's useless.' They saw the future of computing as bigger and bigger mainframes."

So, from the mouths of babes, when a young girl, Annie Ellsworth, suggested to Samuel F.B. Morse to quote from the book of Numbers during his announcement that the telecommunications era had begun, to the verbal driving instructions you receive from your Android cellular telephone, we honor the pioneers of the Internet with a not to be forgotten commemoration, and would like to leave you with one more point of significance:

Remember, lest we forget, we put two men on the moon with 8K of memory.