How Did the Internet Start?

The Internet was first conceptualized in 1962 by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT as a "Galactic Network," then put into action at the U.S. federal research agency DARPA. Licklider's fellow researchers quickly realized the value of sharing data via a connected computer network, and ARPANET was born in late 1969.

The United States created DARPA to research means for countering the Soviet Union's Sputnik and other high-tech moves. Designed as a nationwide think tank for Department of Defense and university researchers to explore methods to counter Cold War initiatives, it quickly became apparent that one of the greatest hindrances was the lack of rapid communication and collaboration. Computers at the time were primitive, used primarily to compute rather than communicate. Leonard Kleinrock's packet-switching theories were implemented during the 1960s to ease computer communications, and Lawrence Roberts and Thomas Merrill pioneered the use of phone lines to help computers communicate with one another. The network was designed to be decentralized, more a network of networks based on numeric identifiers for individual computers and small networking groups.

While ARPANET was up and running in the early 1970s, it was far from the robust modern Internet. It was primarily a file-swapping system like modern FTPs, and email was only introduced in 1972. Not until hypertext was introduced later in 1980 by Tim Berners-Lee was the Internet based on interlinked documents, and his invention of the first Web browser in 1990 marked the beginning of the World Wide Web.