Founded in 1948, by Leo Beranek and Richard Bolt, professors at MIT, with Bolt's former student Robert Newman, Bolt, Beranek and Newman started life as an acoustical consulting company. Their first contract was consultation for the design of the acoustics of the United Nations Assembly Hall in New York. Subsequent commissions included MIT's Kresge Auditorium (1954), Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed (1959), Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall (1962), and Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (1978). They have examined the Richard Nixon tape with the 18 minutes erased during the Watergate scandal and the Dictabelt evidence which was purportedly a recording of the JFK assassination.
In 1989, BBN's acoustical consulting business was spun off into a new corporation, AcentechInc., also based in Cambridge.
The substantial calculations required for acoustics work led to an interest, and later business opportunities, in computing. BBN was a pioneer in developing computer models of roadway and aircraft noise, and in designing noise barriers near highways. Some of this technology was used in landmark legal cases where BBN scientists were expert witnesses. BBN bought a number of computers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, notably the first production PDP-1 from Digital Equipment Corporation.
BBN was acquired by GTE in 1997 and BBN's ISP division BBN Planet was joined with GTE's national fiber network to became GTE Internetworking, "powered by BBN". When GTE and Bell Atlantic merged to become Verizon in 2000, the ISP portion of BBN was included in assets spun off as Genuity. In March 2004, Verizon sold BBN to a group of private investors, and as of 2007 BBN is a privately held company.
Some of BBN's notable developments in the field of computer networks are the implementation and operation of the ARPANET; the first person-to-person network email sent and the use of the @ sign in an email address; the first Internet protocol router (then called an Interface Message Processor); the Voice Funnel, an early predecessor of voice over IP; and work on the development of TCP. Other well-known BBN computer-related innovations include the first time-sharing system, the LOGO programming language, the TOPS-20 (TENEX) operating system, the Colossal Cave Adventure game, the first link-state routing protocol, and a series of mobile ad-hoc networks starting in the 1970s. BBN also is well known for its parallel computing systems, including the Pluribus, and the BBN Butterfly computers, which have been used for such tasks as warfare simulation for the U.S. Navy.
A number of well-known computer luminaries have worked at BBN, including Jerry Burchfiel, William Crowther, John Curran, Wally Feurzeig, Ed Fredkin, Bob Kahn, J. C. R. Licklider, John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Seymour Papert, Oliver Selfridge, Ray Tomlinson, and Peiter "Mudge" Zatko.
Today, BBN leads a wide range of research-and-development projects, including the standardization effort for Internet security architecture (IPsec), the networking technology in the Joint Tactical Radio System, mobile ad-hoc networks, advanced speech recognition, Boomerang mobile shooter detection system, and quantum cryptography.