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Back in '77, It Was 'IP on Everything'

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The Station has been kind of out of the loop this week, so we beg your indulgence. Our goal is to have at least one item per day, and we'll try to stick to it from now on. Meanwhile, we've been working on some special projects that have required quite a bit of research and development.

One of those assignments was covering the Computer History Museum's big event on Wednesday, "Major Internet Milestones: A 30th Anniversary Celebration of the First Three-Network Transmission," at the museum (a former SGI office) in Mountain View, Calif.

For Internet historians, it was a true reunion of superstars -- akin to walking into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and seeing Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Feller and Koufax all at the same time. On hand were about 50 of the original pioneers of the Internet, including seven of the eight project leaders. The room was at capacity -- about 400 people.

The project leaders on hand were: Dr. Vint Cerf, then of DARPA and now an evangelist for Google; Don Nielson, retired from SRI International; Bob Kahn, retired from DARPA; Jim Garrett, retired from Collins Radio; Irwin Jacobs, then of Linkabit, now of Qualcomm; Paal Spilling of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment; and the lone woman on the team, Ginny Strazisar Travers, formerly of BBN.

Each had major input into enabling three computer networks to send data freely to and from each other for the first time. The transcendent event occurred on Nov. 22, 1977, when e-mail-type data flowed seamlessly from a refurbished bread truck (which had been rebuilt into a mobile data relay station) on the streets in the Bay Area to a gateway at SRI in Menlo Park, then to a host at the University of Southern California (400 miles away) via London -- across three types of networks: packet radio, satellite, and the military's ARPANET.

Here's photo of the old bread truck, which Neilson had cleaned up and parked near the museum entrance.

"We figured the data traveled a total of 8,800 miles as it bounced around two continents," Cerf said.

It seemed a small event at the time, the Net pioneers recalled. No way they could know that this one seemingly insignificant test would lead to the Internet we all know and can't live without now.

The Station doesn't go for long blog items, so I'll cut this one here with an explanation of today's headline: Members of the team laughingly recalled a T-shirt that somebody had made up to do a little "promotion" of the idea of hooking networks up to move information all around the world in the blink of an eye. The brilliant line is at the top of this page.

There were many good moments and stories told at the CHM event, and we'll add some here over the next few days as time becomes available. Have a great weekend, all!

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...