Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project

Prelude to ARPAnet 1950 -1965

Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY
- Timeline
- Internet History
- - Prelude 1950-65
- - - Paul Baran
- - ARPANET 1966-68
- - Birth of ARPANET 1969
- - ARPANET 1970s
- - - TCP/IP
- - Internet 1980s
- - - NSFNET
- - 1990s
- - - CIX
- - DNS
- - World Wide Web
- - Email
- - VoIP
- - Backbone
- - Internet2
- - Reference
- AT&T
- Telephone
- Telegraph
- Wireless / Radio
- Common Carrier
- - Communications Act
- - Telecom Act
- - Hush a Phone
- - Computer Inquiries
- - Digital Tornado 1997

- - Steven Report 1998
- - Broadband
- - Universal Service
- - VoIP
- - Mergers
- - Network Neutrality

In 1957, the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite Sputnik into orbit.  This scared the United States to the core.  President Eisenhower had a firm grasp of how advances in technology helped lead the allies to victory during World War II; he had a keen interest in not permitting the Soviets to gain the technological upper-hand during the Cold War.  He immediately ordered the establishment of the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) with two broad missions: missile research (work taken over by NASA) and information technology (what would become the Internet). Both missions would come to fruition in 1969. One would be on the front page of every newspaper everywhere around the world; the other would go unnoticed for decades. Both revolutionized the world.

ARPA would build the ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet.  The project was led by visionaries such as J.R.R. Licklider, Robert Taylor, and Larry Roberts.  They were people imagining the future.  In their world, computers were large isolated number crunching machines that did mundane tasks such as project ordinance paths.  But they envisioned something entirely greater, a man-computer symbiosis, in which knowledge-workers utilize computers to facilitate and transform their work. It was also in this era that Doug Engelbart gave his famous "Mother of All Demos," demonstrating and envisioning how the knowledge worker will work with a computer.

Their vision of computer networking, and the design decisions that they made, frame today's policy debate. For example, the Arab Spring reaches back to John Gilmore’s declaration that "The Internet treats censorship as though it were a malfunction and routes around it." But Gilmore’s declaration reaches back to Larry Roberts, Vint Cerf, and Robert Kahn’s decentralized network design, which in turn has roots that go back to Paul Baran’s early 1960s advocacy for a decentralized, redundant defense network that can withstand attack.  Early work not only articulated ideals that get amplified in the era of exceptionalism, but also defined the playing field upon which future deliberation will transpire.


Science - The Endless Frontier A report to the President by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, July 1945.

1947 Cold War Begins



National Science Foundation established. [NSF]

"One leading science spokesman was Vannevar Bush, a respected engineer and science administrator who headed the government's wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development. . . . Bush maneuvered to have President Roosevelt request from him a report on how the nation should support science in the postwar period. Bush's 1945 response, Science--The Endless Frontier , became famous as the prescription for government support of science. . . . President Truman signed the bill creating the National Science Foundation on May 10, 1950. The act provided for a National Science Board of twenty-four part-time members and a Director as chief executive officer, all appointed by the president. Among other things, the law directed the agency to encourage and develop a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in the mathematical, physical, medical, biological, engineering, and other sciences; to initiate and support basic scientific research in the sciences; and to evaluate the scientific research programs undertaken by agencies of the federal government. Organizationally, the Foundation could create whatever divisions were necessary to carry out its activities, but the act specified that four divisions had to be included: medical research; mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences; biological sciences; and scientific personnel and education. The latter division was responsible for scholarships and graduate fellowships."


MIT establishes Lincoln Labs to conduct research and development on missile defense. They hire JCR. US Air Force sponsored . Licklider. [Waldrop 78]


Robert Oppenheimer is stripped of his security clearance during the McCarthy era. [NSF]

1957 Sputnik

October 4, 1957: Russian launch Sputnik, the first man made satellite, demonstrating the technological ability to launch an intercontinental mission. The launch of Sputnik I and Sputnik II shocked the US Government and led to a swift response by Pres. Eisenhower (the former WWII general who fully appreciated the importance of science and technology for national defense). [NASA - Sputnik and the Dawn of the Space Age] [PBS NOVA - Sputnik Declassified] [NSF History: From Sputnik to the Golden Age]

James R Killian Jr (president of MIT) is named as the presidential science advisor. [James R Killian, Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower (MIT Press 1982)]


The Soviet probe Luna 2 lands on the moon [Salus p 5]

In response to Sputnik, the United States in 1958 established the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the US Department of Defense to develop US missiles. It was soon decided, however, that missile research should be conducted by a civilian agency and in 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created, taking with it all of the missile research. This left ARPA to focus on information technology and computer network research and development. [NASA History in Brief, NASA] [DARPA Over the Years, DARPA] [ARPA - DARPA The History of the Name Change]

ARPA's director Charlie Herzfeld.

In the 1960s, there were three groups working on packet switched networks:

  • Paul Baran at RAND consulting for DoD
  • Donald Davies at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK
  • Larry Roberts at ARPA
  • IBM Mainframe

    2002 Interview with Douglas Engelbart, computer inventor and pioneer.


    Paul Baran develops resilient comm system over AM frequencies that could transmit GO or NO GO to the commanders in the field. [Abbate p 10]

    Larry Roberts joins Lincoln Laboratories. [Abbate p 48]

    1960 JCR Licklider

    JCR LickliderIn the beginning, the computer was a calculating machine. Computers were large metal boxes, referred to as “Big Iron,” that churned through batch processing jobs, producing a result. Eniac, the first American digital programmable computer, built during World War II, processed ordinance trajectories. Colossus, the first electric programmable computer, was built by Alan TuringNavigate Away from CT and the British in order to break the German Enigma code. After the War, the vision of a computer as a computational device engaged in patch processing persisted.

    In the 1960s, J.C.R. Licklider radically altered the vision of computers. Licklider, with a PhD in psychophysiology, focused not on the computers themselves, but on how humans interacted with computers. In 1960, he published his seminal work "Man Computer Symbiosis":

    "Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers. It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership. The main aims are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs. In the anticipated symbiotic partnership, men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking. Preliminary analyses indicate that the symbiotic partnership will perform intellectual operations much more effectively than man alone can perform them. Prerequisites for the achievement of the effective, cooperative association include developments in computer time sharing, in memory components, in memory organization, in programming languages, and in input and output equipment"

    . . . . .

    "It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a "thinking center" that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and the symbiotic functions suggested earlier in this paper. The picture readily enlarges itself into a network of such centers, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users by leased-wire services. In such a system, the speed of the computers would be balanced, and the cost of the gigantic memories and the sophisticated programs would be divided by the number of users. "

    Licklider caused computer scientists to rethink the role of the computer.  He portrayed the computer not as a glorified calculator, but as an extension of the human brain, enabling the human to engage in interactive decision making. In modern realizations, humans now walk around with computers in their pockets that facilitate decision making including providing data on what the weather will be, where is a good place to eat, getting directions to a destination, and answering the question "who is JCR Licklider".

    Licklider’s vision of interactive computers naturally evolved into a vision for interactive computer networks. In 1962, Licklider joined ARPA as the head of Behavior Sciences and Command and Control. Here Licklider sets forth his vision of an “Intergalactic Computer Network” where all of the computer assets that ARPA funded would be tied together in a common network using standard languages, enabling the computer scientists to share and build on each other’s work. Licklider changed the name of his office to the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), reflecting his vision of humans interacting with computers in order to engage in decision making. IPTO would go on to build the ARPANET. He also published his work On-line man-computer communication.

    Licklider left the IPTO in 1964; his protégé Robert Taylor would take over as chief of the office in 1966. Robert Taylor attributes Licklider for the nascent vision that led to the Internet ARPANET.

    Lick had this concept of the intergalactic network which he believed was everybody could use computers anywhere and get at data anywhere in the world. He didn't envision the number of computers we have today by any means, but he had the same concept-all of the stuff linked together throughout the world, that you can use a remote computer, get data from a remote computer, or use lots of computers in your job. The vision was really Lick's originally. None of us can really claim to have seen that before him nor{can} anybody in the world. Lick saw this vision in the early sixties. He didn't have a clue how to build it. He didn't have any idea how to make this happen. But he knew it was important, so he sat down with me and really convinced me that it was important and convinced me into making it happen. [Segaller 40]

    Robert Taylor would bring on Larry Roberts, who was likewise influenced by Licklider, and who would implement Licklider’s vision in the late 1960s when he built the ARPANET.

    While at BBN, Licklider convinces BBN to purchase first PDP-1 computer from Digital Electronics Corporation.

    J.C.R. Licklider, Man-Computer Symbiosis, IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, HFE-1 (1960): 4-11

    Defense Communications Agency established May 12 Will take over operational oversite of ARPANet in 1975. [DISA]

    US U-2 Spy Plane is shot down over the Soviet Union.

    Big Iron

    The 1960s was the era of Big Iron computers. These were massive machines, that took up entire rooms, that required a lot of air conditioning, and - compared to the computer in your pocket - didnt have a lot of processing power. Built by companies such as IBM, these massive main frames came to have the nickname "Big Iron." These computers were not networked, did not have a common operating system or common software, and had to be programmed in batch jobs using punch cards. Work from one machine was not easily transferable to another machine. Individual's access to the machines was privileged, and rationed through a system of time sharing. A new commercial service emerged of data processing services. At universities, ownership of a main frame was a matter of prestige. If DARPA funded a new computer at one unversity, the other funded university computer center's grew jealous and wanted brand new hardware - their existing computer resources now being "outdated." These small machines were expensive. Steve Crocker recalls "On IBM’s flagship mainframe computer, the IBM 7094, the memory unit – what you would now call the RAM – held one megabit, i.e. about 128KB, and cost about one million dollars in the early 1960s. " [Crocker 2012]

    IBM 704 (1964)


    Jack Ruina Director of ARPA 1961-63. [Hauben] Ruina would recruit Licklider.

    June: Computer Science is added to ARPA's mission [Hauben]

    L. Kleinrock, Information Flow in Large Communication Nets, RLE Quarterly Progress Report, July 1961

    Yuri Gargarin is first human to orbit earth in the Soviet Vostok I. USA launches Alan Shepard into suborbital flight three weeks later. [Salus p 5] .

    Berlin Wall goes up.

    AT&T's places online the Switched Circuit Automatic Network for the US Army. This becomes AUTOVON in 1964. [Abbate p 15]

    May 28: The American Republican Army blows up microwave towers in the SouthWest, disrupting 2200 telephone circuits. [Porticus]


    The Information Processing Technologies Offices within ARPA - funded big iron main frames at university research departments. But these mainframes were disconnected islands that could not be shared between campuses. Networking the computers meant sharing resources and saving DoD money. [Hauben]

    The first director of ARPA IPTO was JCR Licklider.[Hauben] He started at ARPA in 1962. The original name of the IPTO was the Command and Control Research Department. The name change which occurred in 1965 reflected Licklider's influence and vision. It reflect a paradigm shift away from the computer as a number crunching device to a networked computer engaged in communications. [Licklider Interview]

    August: L.C.R. Licklider & Welden Clark, "On-Line Man Computer Communication"

    Cuban Missile Crisis (see History Unlicensed)


    Licklider proposed an idea that came to be known as the Intergalatic Computer Network. [ISOC] J.C.R. Licklider to Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network, Topics for Discussion at the Forthcoming Meeting, Apr. 23, 1963

    IPTO budget $5-8m [Spacewar]

    AT&T places online the North American Air Defense Command / Automatic Dial Switching network for the Air Force. This becomes AUTOVON in 1964. [Abbate p 15]

    Kleinrock joins faculty of UCLA [Kleinrock 1996]

    Robert Fano explains scientific computing 1963
    1963 Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks
    Computer History Museum


    L. Kleinrock, Communication Nets: Stochastic Message Flow and Delay, Mcgraw-Hill (New York), 1964. [Kleinrock 1996]

    September: Licklider was succeeded by Ivan Sutherland as head of ARPA IPTO (Licklider would return in 1974). Sutherland brought Robert Taylor over to ARPA. [Roberts, Net Chronology]

    November: Larry Roberts and Licklider meet at the Second Congress on Information System Sciences which took place at Hot Springs, VA.. [Business Week 04] [Roberts, Net Chronology] "Larry Roberts 'concluded that the most important problem in the computer field before us at the time was computer networking; the ability to access one computer from another easily and economically to permit resource sharing.' Roberts recalled, 'That was a topic in which Licklider was very interested and his enthusiasm infected me.'" [Hauben]

    Dr. Strangelove released in theaters.

    DCA consolidates the Army and Air Force networks into AUTOVON, which is built on top of the PSTN. Command and Control of AUTOVON was is a single Op Center - a network design vulnerability that Baran would react to and advise against. [Abbate p 15]

    Don't say that he's hypocritical
    Say rather that he's apolitical
    "Once the rockets are up,
       who cares where they come down
    That's not my department,"
        says Wernher von Braun
    - Tom Lehrer (1965)


    October: Larry Roberts and Thomas Merrill demonstrate the first wide area computer network, packets over telephone network. [ISOC] [Roberts, Net Chronology] [Roberts: History s3]

    Don Davies travels to the US. [Abbate p 26]

    DEC introduces the PDP-8.

    Vint Cerf works for IBM working on operating systems [Cerf, Oral History 1990]

    Robert Taylor: Network Visionary
    Computer History Museum

    1965 IBM - Man and Computer


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