clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Touring the recreated 1969 birthplace of the internet at UCLA

New, 26 comments

This is where it all began

Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

On October 29, 1969, UCLA grad student Charley Kline sat in a room in Boelter Hall and typed the first message on the ARPANET, the precursor to the modern internet. He wrote “lo;” before he could get to the “g” in “login” the system crashed.

The ARPANET was a defense department project centered on the first router, the Interface Message Processor. The IMP was built by BBN Technologies (now a subsidiary of Raytheon) and based on theoretical work done by UCLA Professor Leonard Kleinrock (he was the other person in the room when Kline typed “lo”). It cost about $100,000.

The ARPANET’s big breakthrough was that it could network all different kinds of hardware and software. Until then, only uniform systems had been networked together. UCLA’s lab had a Sigma 7 from Scientific Data Systems; Kline’s message was sent to Stanford Research Institute, which had an SDS 940.

In the 42 years since “lo,” two of the four original IMPs have been thrown out. A third, UCLA’s, was scheduled to be tossed, but Kleinrock rescued it and held onto it for decades. Now it sits exactly where it did back then, in the Internet Experience room at UCLA’s school of engineering, which recreates that old ’60s lab where the internet began.

Until recently, no one was really sure where that lab had been, so then-grad student Brad Fidler decided to find it. With help from the people who were there, he unearthed 3420 Boelter Hall, then an undergrad classroom.

He got the engineering dean’s blessing to turn it into an early internet museum (with help from donors including Mark Cuban and David Bohnett). He put up a wall to create a room that’s slightly smaller than the original, but includes the exact spaces used back then.

Fidler found old sixties-era furniture in Boelter Hall’s basement and tracked down a Teletype ASR-33 machine in Stockton (the Teletype was wired to talk to the computer). UCLA’s Fowler Museum helped find period pieces like the colored chalk. An old PA speaker on the wall covers a Wi-Fi router. The giant hard drive and Sigma 7 computer at the site are prop replicas.

Kleinrock had the original IMP log filed away in his office. Now there’s a recreation on the desk at the heritage site (the handwriting on the October 29 entry looks a little excited).

The replicated workspace can be seen on tours of the university’s engineering school. In July, UCLA won a $5 million grant to “enhance” the Internet Experience and to create a new center on the future of the internet.

Kleinrock Internet Heritage Site and Archive

3420 Boelter Hall, Los Angeles, CA

UCLA

405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA