Internet pre-History

Ancient Roads of Telecommunications & Computers  

by Gregory Gromov


The Internet is a global network that consist of hundreds millions of computers around the world. All of them can be connected (two ways communicate) with each other. Up to now more then half of the American households were connected to the Internet.

People pay their bills; book airline tickets and hotel rooms; rent, sell and buy homes, cars, … and do a lot more online. Almost all businesses and totally every government branches of the Fed, states and local levels do have opportunity to communicate online.

By this way our society becomes incomparable more dynamic, rises it's productivity and … becomes more vulnerable one as well.

Cyber-war is not just one of the most exciting themes of science-fiction novels any more. Government, businesses and a great part of population of the developed countries appeared too depend from the Internet now. For instance a couple of years ago the total damage to national economy from network intrusion's attacks exceeded the bank robberies ones and still continues to grow.

Significant part of the national leading library resources is reachable online, the colleges propose online courses, search-engines provides answer to almost any questions. At the same time porno-show industry became one of the fastest growing source of the online revenue. This industry generated Internet content that creates healthy fear of parents. Different types and political profiles extremists groups around the world launch to the Internet thousands of hate sites every next day.

In other words the virtual Net-world that was born just a couple of years ago on the border between two milleniums creates tremendous new opportunities and almost the same scale of unpredictable fears.

All these events happened so fast that people outside IT professional community mostly was not able to understand where this new online technology comes from and what is the scientific basement of the virtual world.

Internet itself by definition was born on the crossroad of the of computer and telecommunication industries. Let us try to take a brief look on the history of the roads that finally brought us to this fruitful crossroads.


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History of computers began many thousands years ago. The first of the archeologically well enough proven sources about artificial tool for calculations was so called abacus. The abacus emerged about 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor and is still in use in some countries today. This device allows users to make computations using a system of sliding beads arranged on a rack. Early merchants used the abacus to keep trading transactions.

There were lots of the different mechanically realizations versions of the abacus basic idea in different geographically areas then. But the next significant steps on this road were done just during last 500 years in Europe.

In 1642, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the 18-year-old son of a French tax collector, invented what he called a numerical wheel calculator to help his father with his duties. This brass rectangular box, also called a Pascaline, used eight movable dials to add sums up to eight figures long. Pascal's device used a base of ten to accomplish this.

In 1694, a German mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniz (1646-1716), improved the Pascaline by creating a that could also multiply.

The real beginnings of computers as we know them today, however, lay with an English mathematics professor, Charles Babbage (1791-1871). In 1822 he proposed a machine to perform differential equations, called a Difference Engine. Powered by steam and large as a locomotive, the machine would have a stored program and could perform calculations and print the results automatically. After working on the Difference Engine for 10 years, Babbage was suddenly inspired to begin work on the first general-purpose computer, which he called the Analytical Engine.

Babbage's assistant, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1842) and daughter of English poet Lord Byron, was instrumental in the machine's design. One of the few people who understood the Engine's design as well Babbage, she helped revise plans, secure funding from the British government, and communicate the specifics of the Analytical Engine to the public. Also, Lady Lovelace's fine understanding of the machine allowed her to create the instruction routines to be fed into the computer, making her the first female computer programmer.

The first really large scale practically implementation of the computer was done by an American inventor, Herman Hollerith (1860-1929). His task was to find a faster way to compute the U.S. census. The previous census in 1880 had taken nearly seven years to count and with an expanding population, the bureau feared it would take 10 years to count the latest census. Unlike Babbage's idea of using perforated cards to instruct the machine, Hollerith's method used cards to store data information which he fed into a machine that compiled the results

mechanically. Each punch on a card represented one number, and combinations of two punches represented one letter. As many as 80 variables could be stored on a single card.

Instead of ten years, census takers compiled their results in just six weeks with Hollerith's

machine. In addition to their speed, the punch cards served as a storage method for data and they helped reduce computational errors.

Hollerith brought his punch card reader into the business world, founding Tabulating Machine Company in 1896, later to become International Business Machines (IBM) in 1924 after a series of mergers. Up to now IBM still keeps the #1 position in the computer business worldwide.

Other companies such as Remington Rand and Burroghs also manufactured punch readers for business use. Both business and government used punch cards for data processing until the 1960's.

Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) developed a calculator for solving differential equations in 1931. The machine could solve complex differential equations that had long left scientists and mathematicians baffled. The machine was cumbersome because hundreds of gears and shafts were required to represent numbers and their various relationships to each other.

To eliminate this bulkiness, John V. Atanasoff (b. 1903), a professor at Iowa State College (now called Iowa State University) and his graduate student, Clifford Berry, envisioned an all-electronic computer that applied Boolean algebra to computer circuitry. This approach was based on the mid-19th century work of George Boole (1815-1864) who clarified the binary system of algebra, which stated that any mathematical equations could be stated simply as either true or false. By extending this concept to electronic circuits in the form of on or off, Atanasoff and Berry had developed the first all-electronic computer by 1940. Their project, however, lost its funding and their work was overshadowed by similar developments by other scientists.

Howard H. Aiken (1900-1973), a Harvard engineer working with IBM, succeeded in producing an all-electronic calculator by 1944. The purpose of the computer was to create ballistic charts for the U.S. Navy.

Another computer development spurred by the war was the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), produced by a partnership between the U.S. government and the University of Pennsylvania. Consisting of 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors and 5 million soldered joints, the computer was such a massive piece of machinery that it consumed 160 kilowatts of electrical power, enough energy to dim the lights in an entire section of Philadelphia.

In the mid-1940's John von Neumann (1903-1957) joined the University of Pennsylvania team, initiating concepts in computer design that remained central to computer engineering for the next 40 years. Von Neumann designed the Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer (EDVAC) in 1945 with a memory to hold both a stored program as well as data. This "stored memory" technique as well as "conditional control transfer," that allowed the computer to be stopped at any point and then resumed, allowed for greater versatility in computer programming. The key element to the von Neumann architecture was the central processing unit, which allowed all computer functions to be coordinated through a single source.

In 1951, the UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer), built by Rand, became one of the first commercially available computers to take advantage of these advances. Both the U.S. Census Bureau and General Electric owned UNIVACs. One of UNIVAC's impressive early achievements was predicting the winner of the 1952 presidential election, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

By 1948, the invention of the transistor greatly changed the computer's development. Computers became smaller and more sophisticated. The second basic event on the latest part of this road was in 1972 when Intel introduces its 200-KHz 8008 chip, the first commercial 8-bit microprocessor. It accesses 16 KB of memory. Speed of this microprocessor was 60,000 instructions per second.

In 1976 Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs finished work on a computer circuit board, that they call the Apple I computer and then form the Apple Computer Company.

A couple of month later after Apple created a first PC age milestone in 1977 Bill Gates and Paul Allen sign a partnership agreement to officially create the Microsoft company.

In 1980 June Seagate Technology announces the first Winchester 5.25-inch hard disk drive. It uses four platters, holds 5 MB, and costs US$600. When this Seagate's product finally reached the PC market it literally ignited the process of explosive growth of mankind's artificial memory.

Worldwide hard disc drive market*:

year Storage capacity (terabytes)










*Estimations by the data of  IDC

Just for comparison: what TERABYTE is about:

A megabyte is...


 A gigabyte is...

A terabyte is...

the size of a floppy disk, or about a million bytes, or exactly 1024 x 1024 bytes (about the size of an average book)

a thousand megabytes, or about a billion bytes, or exactly 1024 x 1024 x 1024 bytes.

a million megabytes, or about a trillion bytes, or exactly 1024 x 1024 x 1024 x 1024 bytes

A thousand copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica -- 1 terabyte; An average public library branch (300,000 books) -- 3 terabytes; a video store (5,000 videos) -- 8 terabytes; (one hour of digital video consist of 1 gigabyte). The Library of Congress (20 million books, not counting pictures) -- 20 terabytes;

In December 1980, happened one of the main events in computer history -- the PC revolution was publicly declared: Apple goes public.

Morgan Stanley and Co. and Hambrecht & Quist underwrite an initial public offering of 4.6 million shares of Apple common stock at a price of $22 per share. Everyshare is bought within minutes of the offering, making this the largest public offering since Ford went public in 1956

1981 August 13 IBM announces the IBM 5150 PC Personal Computer, in New York.
The PC features a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 CPU, 64 KB RAM (expandable to 256 KB), 40 KB ROM, one 5.25-inch floppy drive (160 KB capacity), and PC-DOS 1.0 (Microsoft's MS-DOS), for about US$3000. Also included is Microsoft BASIC, VisiCalc, UCSD Pascal, CP/M-86, and Easywriter 1.0. A fully loaded version with color graphics costs US$6000.

In 1980, 327 thousands personal computers were sold. 20 years later -- in 2000 only -- PC makers sold more than 140 millions machines.


History of communication over distances greater than human voice: hand signals, fire beacons, flags, mechanical semaphores, telegraph, … -- can be traced to the basic milestones that were discovered thousands years ago

And again as it was mention above in computer history section of this article just the last couple of centuries of Europe and USA based scientific and technology inventions radically changed the way of telecommunications. Let us try to take a look on some of the basic milestones on this road.

In 1753 Charles Morrison, in Europe, proposes an electrostatic telegraph system in which the use of 26 insulated wires conducting charges from a Leyden jar cause movements in small pieces of paper on which each letter of the alphabet is written. A couple of years later in 1763 Bosolus describes a system similar to Morrison's except he uses only two wires, and a letter code. After that in the April 27 of 1791 – Samuel Finley Breese Morse born in Charlestown, Mass.

During the next half of the century when Morse grown up and then tried to look around in order to decide what exactly he need to do for mankind the prehistory of the modern telecommunications was completed. People in Europe continue to improve some of the Morrison's ideas. In 1797 Lomond, proposes a system similar to Morrison's except it uses a single wire and alphabet in motion. Then in 1816 Ronalds, in England, demonstrates his electrostatic telegraph which is similar to Morrison's one, except pith balls are deflected by the charges. This system also uses only two wires. A pair of synchronous clockwork dials, one on each end, are used to identify letters. Since 1830s Needle Galvanometers were in use in England to indicate railroad.

In 1832 Nicholas demonstrates a 5-needle electric telegraph in Berlin. At the same time Schilling, a Russian diplomat, demonstrates his electric telegraph in Germany as well. The system uses five numerical indicator needles which are used to identify a specific 5-digit code. A code dictionary relates these codes to words.
Meanwhile after studying and painting in France and Italy, Morse travels from Europe to America on the packet ship "Sully." Part of Morse's interest in improved communications traced to the death of his first wife, at the age of 25. Away from home at the time, it took two weeks for the news to reach him. Following a dinner table conversation with Dr. Charles Jackson regarding recent European discoveries on electromagnetic properties, he makes his first notes regarding his "Recording Electric Magnetic Telegraph" and a dot - dash alphabet code. Later, Jackson claims credit for Morse's invention, saying he had supplied key information.
In 1837 Charles Wheatstone patents "electric telegraph". The following are just some of the events regarding this milestone-year of the telecom history. June 10 – The Cooke and Wheatstone electric "Five Needle Telegraph" is patented (#7390) in London. The instrument requires six wires between each of its stations. This European telegraph had no means of recording messages; Morse felt this to be a great disadvantage. Edward Davy, a dentist, shows his electric telegraph in London. April / September – Morse and Gale experiment at the University. September 2 – Professor Daubeny, Professor Torrey and Alfred Vail attend a demonstration of Morse's telegraph at New York University. Vail becomes very interested. September. 23 – Morse enters into an agreement with Alfred Vail, whose father owns Speedwell Iron Works. Morse develops his caveat showing the invention and alphabet code. It is sent to his old classmate and Commissioner of Patents, Henry L. Ellsworth, in Washington.

The actual sending Morse's apparatus that used a printer's "portrule" with cast type was publicly demonstrated in January of 1838. Each letter of type had sawteeth filed in the edge to activate the sending machine. A letter's code symbol length was based upon the various quantities of type found in the printer's office. The register (receiver) was an electromagnet-activated pen, drawing the sawtooth symbols on a thin strip of moving paper. January 24 – Morse demonstrates his telegraph over a ten mile circuit at N.Y. University. Transmission speed was recorded at 10 w.p.m.
One month later he demonstrates the telegraph to President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet. Congressman Francis O.J. Smith recognizes the possibilities and becomes interested. So, April 6 – F.O.J. Smith delivers a Congressional report on Morse's Telegraph Bill. At the same year Steinheil, in Germany discovers "earth return" (ground).
During 1840 year The Cooke & Wheatstone "Needle Telegraph" (also called the "Step-by-Step Letter-Showing" or "ABC Instrument") is in daily used on the London & Birmingham and Great Western Railroads in England. Cooke & Wheatstone propose joining forces with Morse, but upon F.O.J. Smith's advice, Morse declines.
June 20 – Morse's (49 years old) "Recording Electric Telegraph" and "Telegraph Symbols" receive U.S. patents. These patents were based upon Morse's 1837 caveat.

Once Morse convinced Congress to sanction the first long-distance telegraph line, an iron wire was strung between posts from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, D.C. -- a distance of 37 miles. On May 24, 1844, the first telegraph message, "What hath God wrought," was successfully sent and received along the first telegraph wire system.

The 1-st telegraph message. 1844

As a usually American public accepted new tech's by their own ways that not always went along with an original idea of it's inventor. For instance in 1846 telegraph operators in the U.S. are beginning to "sound read" the code from Morse's register, much to the dismay of management, who want the letters decoded from the inked paper strip. Sarah G. Bagley becomes the first female telegrapher, in the newly-opened office at Lowell, Massachusetts.
The first attempt to communicate with Europe across Atlantic Ocean happened in 1858. Trans-Atlantic cable was successfully laid by warships, but breaks limit its usefulness. In only 24 days, communication between the U.S. and Europe is lost.

In order to speed up the telegraph manual operations Western Union sets up the "92 Code" of numbered phrases in 1859. For example "73" is included and means "Accept my compliments. "30" is defined to mean "The end. No more."

It's an interesting to mention a relatively small historic detail. The Pony Express, officially the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company, is initiated in April, 3 of 1860. A letter from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California typically requires ten days transit time. Just one year later Western Union joins wires from the east with wires from the west at Salt Lake City, completing the first transcontinental telegraph. As one of the direct results of this event Pony Express ends October 24 1861, ruining many investors.
It 1867 U.S. buys Russian America (Alaska) from Russia. Purchase was initially urged by Western Union president Hiram Sibley, because W.U. needed that route, a 16,000 mile land wire through western Canada, Russian America, across the Bering Strait and through Siberia, to link America with Europe. This scheme was abandoned in 1868 when the Trans-Atlantic able proved to be successful.
A truly successful Trans-Atlantic cable was finally laid by the vessel "Great Eastern" in July 28 of 1868. Next year Union Pacific and Central Pacific rails meet at Promontory, Utah to complete a transcontinental rail link. News is flashed by telegraph to a waiting nation. One year later the Post Office takes over several failing telegraph companies and the telecommunication's "chain reaction" was ignited…
Just brief description on the basic results that literally sparked next couple of years: in 1876 Bell invented the telephone; three years later Thomas A. Edison, who began electrical experiments while working as a telegrapher, develops the first successful electric lamp. In 1883 Edison demonstrates his "Edison Effect" (current flow from filament to plate) and patents a device later known as the "thermionic diode." It was one of the two critically important elements of the future electronic revolution (the second one was the Lee De Forest's "triod" or amplifier - see below)
In 1888 Hertz, in Germany, discovered radio waves. 1894 May 10 – Marconi sends a radio wave 3/4 mile. "Wireless" is born. Three years later the Marconi Company successfully communicates "ship to shore" over a distance of 12 miles. 1899 Mar 3 – First rescue using wireless. The lightship East Goodwin sent the word "help" while sinking.

It looks like the most important tech results of the beginning of XX century was done on the place of future Silicon Valley by Lee de Forest, "Father of Radio & Electronics". In 1906 he invented the so called Audion or "triod" -- first amplifying vacuum tube that was done by adding a third element (a grid) to the Fleming Valve. Twenty years after triod was appeared in 1927 the first commercial transatlantic radio telephone service began it’s operations, and in 1937 USA can call 68 countries via HF radio -- 93% of the world's telephones are interconnected via wires & radio waves.

As it was mentioned by Joseph Shklovski, 1981:
"For a few decades after invention of the first radio-amplifier the total level of radio-emission from earth increased millions of times in comparison with the normal level of emission of a 300 Kelvin-degree planet. For the shortest time the Earth became #1 source of the radio-emission in the solar system "

After all it means that, if someone is looking through a radio-telescope to the Solar system from another part of our galaxy, he can register the radio explosion that looks like the birth of a new star on the Earth planet. Please also keep in consideration that Dr. Shklovski wrote his book concerning some of the radio-astronomy effects of the human being about twenty years before hundreds millions of the cell phones began to add their radio-emission to the other "old fashion" sources.

Silicov Valley -- first 70 years of the IT leadership:
1906 the first signal amplifier, a vacuum tube triodeLee de Forest
1971 the first microprocessor - 4004-chip, Intel
1976 the first Personal Computer - Apple-1, Apple Computer



1. Jones Telecommunications and Multimedia Encyclopedia

2. Alan Leon Varney, AT&T Network Systems

3. The Hypertext Editing System (1967) and FRESS (1968) ,
by dr. P.M.E. De Bra

4. Milestones in Telegraphic History Based on a chronology developed by Robert Jones, W5TU, Richardson, TX and published in DOTS and DASHES, Volume XV Nos. 1-4, 1987

5. Telegraph History by Tom Perera, Montclair State University
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

6. Highlights of CERN History: 1949 - 1994

7.The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History   by Gregory R. Gromov, 1995-2012

8. Silicon Valley History:   by Gregory R. Gromov , 1995-2012

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