Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the launching of the ARPANET
with story, footage, memorabilia and fun facts below

Sketch of first four nodes on the Net Sketch of ARPANET first four sites. Doug's lab (#2) had the first trans­mis­sion, first to sup­port net­worked infor­ma­tion, online com­mu­ni­ties, net­worked ini­tia­tives
Watch the Trailer (5min) Doug demonstrates what Vint Cerf would later call "essentially a world wide web in a box" and unveils plans for the ARPANET

Historic Firsts:
Engelbart's Role in Early Computer Networking 0

Before the Internet there was the ARPANET – the first major computer network – which launched in 1969.

Doug Engelbart's lab at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) was the second site connected to this network, and received the first trans­mission sent over the ARPANET from UCLA. He was also tasked with running the Network Information Center (NIC) to serve the ARPANET user community. Engelbart was already demon­stra­ting what the web could become, and net­work­ing was a natural exten­sion of his broader vision.

In 1970, Doug wrote of the potential:

there will emerge a new 'marketplace,' representing fantastic wealth in commodities of knowledge, service, information, processing, storage, etc. In the number and range of transactions, and in the speed and flexibility with which they are negotiated, this new market will have a vitality and dynamism as much greater than today's as today's is greater than the village market.

A Convergence of Visions 1

Since the early 1950s, Doug Engelbart had envisioned a future where people worked together with extraordinary effectiveness to solve the toughest challenges of the day, navigating within a vast information space via interactive computer work stations. By 1963 he had launched a budding research center for "augmenting the human intellect" to prototype the organization of the future, along with the enabling technology. By 1967 he and his team had created an interactive computer system called NLS as a vehicle for their exploration, which integrated rudimentary graphical interface with computer mouse, hypermedia, onscreen authoring, document sharing, digital libraries, collaboration support, teleconferencing, and more. You can see most of these features demonstrated operationally in his 1968 "Mother of All Demos" Trailer at right. NLS was used extensively by his team in all aspects of their work, and now they were looking forward to engaging a broader user community outside their lab.

At the time, the bulk of Doug's research was sponsored by the US Dept of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). In fact Doug's was one of the first computer research labs funded by ARPA's new Information Processing Techniques Office, initially through its founding Director J.C.R. "Lick" Licklider, and soon also through Bob Taylor[1] from his post at NASA Langley. In 1960 Lick had written Man-Computer Symbiosis, and in 1962 circulated a memo on the Intergalactic Computer Network, and Bob was a psychologist interested in computing for human/communication purposes, and Doug's proposals were right up their alley.

computer supported meeting 1967 Doug's lab in 1967 hosts ARPA sponsors

By 1965 Bob Taylor found himself directing ARPA's IPTO, and soon turned his attention to making computer networking a reality, recruiting colleague Larry Roberts to manage the effort. They decided to begin by first networking the computers in the labs ARPA was funding, and expand from there. In 1967 Bob Taylor announced his plans at a meeting of his Principal Investigators. There were many skeptics around that table, but Doug Engelbart was absolutely thrilled – 'networking' would dovetail beautifully into his research agenda, and he offered on the spot to host an online information center to support the network user community. And so Doug Engelbart's lab was among the first selected for the initial beta installation of the ARPANET, along with UCLA, University of Utah, and UC Santa Barbara. In 1968, Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) won the bid to develop the underlying network technology for the ARPANET – a smallish computer (the size of a refrigerator) called an Interface Message Processor, or IMP, to be installed at every host site to form the network, linking in the host computer(s). Representatives from the four beta host sites, including Doug's chief architect Jeff Rulifson, began meeting in the summer of 1968 to hash out the details and protocols for participation, ably led by UCLA's Steve Crocker. Thus the Network Working Group was born (RFC#1). See Retrospectives below to watch Bob Taylor and Vint Cerf recall these early beginnings.

By years' end, with preliminary plans for the ARPANET now in motion, Doug announced his participation during his session at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, which lucky for us was filmed(!) -- this session later became known as the "Mother of All Demos."

On October 1, 1969 Doug and his team again presented their work in a conference session, in live demonstration format, this time with much more to say about the imminent ARPANET and their planned participation.

See Watch Doug & Others below for select footage from his 1968 and 1969 demo presentations.

2nd Host receives 1st Transmission 2

  photo: Bill Duvall at SRI Bill Duvall in Doug's lab at SRI , was in on the first transmission

The ARPANET went live the following year on October 29, 1969. The first two sites to come online were Len Kleinrock's lab at UCLA, and Doug Engelbart's Augmentation Research Center at SRI. At each site an IMP was installed to interface the onsite host computer with the network, which required some programming at both ends.

When it came time to test transmission over the network between the two sites, the task fell to two young programmers – Bill Duvall in Doug's lab at SRI in Menlo Park, CA, and Charlie Kline at UCLA, in Los Angeles, CA.

On October 29, 1969, the world's first electronic computer network, the ARPANET, was established between nodes at Leonard Kleinrock's lab at UCLA and Engelbart's lab at SRI. Interface Message Processors at both sites served as the backbone of this first [network]"[2]. The first message sent between them was to be "log" from UCLA to SRI, and "in" from SRI to UCLA ("login") but the computer crashed after the first two letters so the first message between computers was simply "lo". The glitch was soon corrected, and by year's end two more labs were brought online[2].

Watch Bill and Charlie tell their story under Retrospectives below.

The NIC 3

The UCLA team had been tasked with running a Network Measurement Center for the ARPANET to monitor network performance, while Engelbart's team was tasked with running a Network Information Center (NIC) to support the ARPANET user community. Through the NIC, ARPANET users would access information about the network, the hosts, fellow users, and the resources available, as well as tools for navigating the information. Doug's lab set to work extending NLS provisions for community support, as well as information system support services which included integrated hyper-email and an automated online publish-retrieve facility called the "Journal".[3]

  Jake Feinler 1970s in Doug's lab
Jake Feinler in Doug's lab at SRI

See Watch Doug below to see their plans and progress unfold from 1968 to 1969, including actual case examples presented live just weeks before the ARPANET launch.

The year 1972 was a turning point for both the ARPANET and the NIC. In 1972, BBN's Bob Kahn spearheaded a public demonstration of the ARPANET, which now boasted 29 IMPs online, with more in the pipeline. The demonstration would be held at the first International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington, D.C. Doug recruited Elizabeth "Jake" Feinler from SRI's internal Library Research Services to begin developing an ARPANET Resource Handbook to be showcased at the demonstration. Jake worked closely with Doug's team, with the Network Working Group, and others to develop the handbook and much more.

The ARPANET was taking off, and the Network Information Center right along with it. Soon BBN released the first 'killer app' – e-mail, which really ignited the ARPANET user base. By 1974 the NIC was funded as a separate project, with Jake as its Principal Investigator. The NIC grew and evolved under her leadership until 1991 when, having grown beyond ARPA's purview, what had originally launched as the ARPANET Network Information Center was transferred to Network Solutions in Virginia, where it became the InterNIC.

Watch Jake Feinler recount the NIC beginnings and growth under Retrospectives below.

By 1978 there were over 70+ nodes on the ARPANET, interfacing even more host computers. Among them were 5-6 mainframes running NLS, remotely accessed by dozens of end-user organizations, including ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office:

I knew Doug Engelbart and made heavy use of his oNLine System (NLS) to compose documents and to share them through the Network Information Center that was operated by his team.

From ARPANET to Internet 4

  map of ARPANET 1969 The ARPANET in 1969 - click to see it unfold

Watch Vint Cerf's brief history of the ARPANET and Internet

In the Fall of 1972, when BBN's Bob Kahn staged the first public demonstration of the ARPANET, there were 29 nodes on the ARPANET and counting. See Exhibits below to watch the fabulous 1972 documentary produced for that demonstration, touting the wonders of computer networking. Click the map at right to watch the ARPANET grow.

Soon more networks were springing up, such as the commercially-available Telenet and Tymnet. Each operated in isolation of the other, as yet there were no provisions for communicating between networks. The Internet emerged from the ARPANET program as an architecture for internetworking, among any number of networks, to allow any host in a network to communicate with any host on any other network.

It was Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf who primarily spearheaded that effort in 1973. Bob Kahn was now at ARPA, and Vint Cerf, formerly one of Len Kleinrock's graduate students on the ARPANET launch team at UCLA, was now at Stanford. Bob approached Vint to see about solving the network silos issue. Out of this collaboration emerged TCP/IP protocols for internetworking, which earned Bob and Vint the joint title "Father of the Internet," and numerous awards for their visionary work.

Watch Vint Cerf's brief history of the ARPANET/Internet (at right), beginning with J.C.R. Licklider coming to ARPA and meeting Doug Engelbart. More under Retrospectives below.

Watch Doug & Others 5

Watch selected archive footage from the time of the 1969 launch of the ARPANET, showing Doug and team presenting their research goals, results and activities in a live demo format.

In 1968

Watch Doug and team from his Augmented Human Intellect Research Center (AHIRC) presenting at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in December 1968:

Watch the Trailer
  • The Trailer (at left): a 5-minute tour highlights key features.
  • Research Goals: Doug briefly reviews his AHIRC goals to improve the effectiveness of individuals and organizations to work at intellectual tasks, at scale.
  • ARPA Network & NIC: Doug briefly announces ARPA's forthcoming ARPA Network, and Network Information Center – VERY preliminary.

Explore in full at The 1968 Demo - Interactive,
with story and fun facts at theDemo.org

In 1969

Watch Doug and his team presenting at the ASIS Conference on Information Science in October 1969, just 28 days before the first ARPANET transmission:

Watch Doug in 1969 describe plans  
  • NET & NIC: Doug describes forthcoming ARPANET (due to launch later this month), plus provisions for a Network Information Center.
  • Information-Space Vehicle: NLS as an Instrument and Vehicle for augmenting our collective intellect.
  • Information-System Functional Support: A system, with customers providing info, end users, a team to develop it; we emphasize[...] esp Information Systems
  • MSC: System Operation: Mary Church demonstrates use of NLS as an Information System, using the forthcoming NIC for the ARPANET as a case in point.

Explore in full at The 1969 Demo - Interactive,
with story and fun facts at Doug's Demo Sequel: 1969

In 1972

The 1972 ARPANET documentary, titled "Computer Networks - The Heralds Of Resource Sharing," was produced for showing at the 1972 public demonstration of the ARPANET held at the first International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington, D.C. The documentary features interviews with JCR Licklider, Larry Roberts, Bob Kahn, and more, including Dick Watson from Doug's Lab:

Watch the 1972 ARPANET documentary (26min)
  • 1972 ARPANET documentary (at left): a 26-minute overview of the ARPANET at the time, just three years after launch.
  • The Human Side: closing remarks by Dick Watson from Doug's lab, and J.C.R. Licklider, on the human side of networking.

For more on the 1972 demonstration event see arstechnica article ARPANET’s coming out party: when the Internet first took center stage, and and brief Wiki article International Conference on Computer Communications.


Watch selected footage from two interviews by NY Times' John Markoff, the first with Bob Taylor at the 2008 Engelbart and the Dawn of Interactive Computing symposium at Stanford, and the other in 1999 with Doug's team members Bill Duvall, Bill English, and Doug Engelbart in Markoff's "White Rabbit" interview series:

Watch Bob Taylor recall Doug's enthusiasm

Some of the most creative minds in our field were gathered in Doug's laboratory to explore the augmentation of human intellect through the use of computers. […] NLS was a prototype for what came 20 years later in the form of the World Wide Web although it may be fair to say that Doug's vision and even the functionality of NLS exceeded in some ways what has been accomplished with the Web.

Doug's Forward Vision 6

Watch highlights of Doug's research (6min)

(see "Watch Doug" above for more)

Most histories and timelines of computer networking recount the evolution of the technology, and the expansion of nodes and networks. Doug Engelbart's contributions were largely focused on the human side of the equation.

Following are references to the passages from Engelbart's early papers which highlight his lab's orientation for Network Implications prior to and during the formation of the ARPANET, still relevant to today's Internet and World Wide Web, still not fully addressed.

  • 1962: Doug "backcasts" a picture of networked professionals

        "By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by "complex situations" we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers—whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human "feel for a situation" usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids." [...]

        "Let me mention another bonus feature that wasn't easily fore seen. We have experimented with having several people work together from working stations that can provide inter-communication via their computer or computers. That is, each person is equipped as I am here, with free access to the common working structures. There proves to be a really phenomenal boost in group effectiveness over any previous form of cooperation we have experienced. […] The whole team can join forces at a moment's notice to 'pull together' on some stubborn little problem, or to make a group decision."

        – Douglas C. Engelbart, in Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, SRI Report, 1962. See especially what he envisioned for accessing the computers remotely via 'workingstations' in this 'backcast' on Team Collaboration.

  • 1970: Doug writes about the implications of networking

        "there will emerge a new 'marketplace,' representing fantastic wealth in commodities of knowledge, service, information, processing, storage, etc. In the number and range of transactions, and in the speed and flexibility with which they are negotiated, this new market will have a vitality and dynamism as much greater than today's as today's is greater than the village market."

        – Douglas C. Engelbart, Intellectual Implications of Multi-Access Computer Networks, in Proceedings of The Interdisciplinary Conference on Multi-Access Computer Networks, Austin, Texas, April 1970. This paper given at a small conference organized by Larry Roberts, Bob Taylor's Program Manager for the ARPANET initiative. Each invited speaker was to address his relevant "Implications of Multi-Access Computer Networks." For instance, Larry's was "Economic Implications." Engelbart's was "Intellectual Implications."

The ARPANET Network Information Center was one tangible channel for infusing some of Engelbart's human-centered vision. His core research emphasized human process evolution equally important as the evolution of technology, stressing the importance of co-evolving the two in an integrated manner to achieve the best results. His concern from the beginning was that technology would race ahead of mankind's ability to cope.

Watch in 1972 Dick Watson from Doug's lab and J.C.R. Licklider from ARPA voice these very concerns.

Fast forward to the early 1990s when Doug reemerged with a Call to Action on the order of a Grand Challenge to spur proactive industry-government exploration into what it would take to boost our collective intelligence in business and society to the fullest extent possible. He proposed spinning up a number of specially-endowed pilot teams leveraging the most advanced modes of working together, enabled by highly evolved information technology and organizational processes. To speed things along he detailed what he saw to be the baseline requirements for the technology, which he called "open hyper document systems" (OHS) and which he pointed out as a serious matter were largely missing from then prevailing IT paradigm. It is important to note that most of these requirements are still largely unmet in any coherent way in today's web/IT paradigm, his Grand Challenge as yet unheeded (now referred to as "Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution" in contrast to the revolution(s) inspired by his work that did take hold).

Awards & Recognition 7

2000 National Medal of Technology
  For his visionary work related to networking and the foundations of the information age, Doug Engelbart was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, along with other notable internet pioneers, and received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award, the SoftQuad Web Award, the IEEE John Von Neumann Medal Award, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, ACM's A.M. Turing Award, and the American Ingenuity Award. See Honors Awarded to Doug Engelbart for details on these and other awards. Doug also participated in several anniversary celebrations of the ARPANET – watch Doug's keynote at the 25th anniversary event.

Press 8

article featured imageThe first 50 years of living online: ARPANET and Internet
Computer History Museum | Oct 25, 2019 | Marc Weber
“Doug Engelbart's group at SRI ran the Network Information Center (NIC), which besides acting as a central library kept track of all the computers on the ARPANET. [...] Engelbart's group had helped pioneer many core features of modern computing by then, as part of a Web-like effort called oNLine System (NLS).”

article featured imageNet@50: Did Engelbart's “Mother of All Demos” Launch the Connected World?
Computer History Museum | Dec 9, 2018 | Marc Weber
“His goal was building systems to augment human intelligence. His group prototyped much of modern computing (and invented the mouse) along the way”

article featured imageInternet Hall of Fame Announces 2014 Inductees
Internet Society | Apr 8, 2014 | Staff Writers
“The Internet Hall of Fame welcomes 2014 Inductees at ceremony in Hong Kong... For his visionary work related to networking and the foundations of the information age, Doug Engelbart was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame." Further details on this posthumous award, see Doug Engelbart inducted into Internet Hall of Fame.

article featured imageDouglas Engelbart’s Unfinished Revolution
MIT Technology Review | Jul 23, 2013 | Howard Rheingold
“Engelbart’s ideas revolutionized computing and helped shape the modern world. [...] To Engelbart, computers, interfaces, and networks were means to a more important end—amplifying human intelligence to help us survive in the world we’ve created.”

article featured imageThe Department of Mad Scientists
Smithsonian Books / Harper Publishers | 2010 | Michael Belfiore
“How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs.” Doug Engelbart appears pp. 67-70, 86, 93, 197. See also Teaser | NPR: Author Interview | NY Times Review

More available at DEI Press Firsts:Networking

See Also 9

Online Exhibits 8b

From Doug's Archives 8c

Footnotes: 10

  1. ARPA stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency, now DARPA or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a funding agency of the US Department of Defense which was the major source of R&D funds for early computer and network research. For Bob Taylor's rendition of events, see his one on one discussion with John Markoff at the Engelbart and the Dawn of Interactive Computing event.

  2. Recent press coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Net:
    Article: Internet Began 35 Years Ago at UCLA with First Message Ever Sent Between Two Computers, UCLA Engineering, Oct 29, 2009
    Radio: 40 Years Later, Looking Back At The Internet's Birth, NPR All Things Considered [broadcast transcript]

  3. For details on collaboration support built into NLS see also Collaborative Computing among Engelbart's Pioneering Firsts