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Major milestones from internet history

  • Major milestones from internet history

    The internet we use today is almost unrecognizable compared to what consumers first saw in the early 1990s, let alone what engineers and programmers saw for two decades before that in government and university networks. Internet Service Providers compiled a list of 20 of the most important milestones from internet history, narrowed down from a candidate list that included dozens from sources Thomas Jefferson University and the Internet Hall of Fame

    This list is limited to strict internet-only landmarks beginning with the invention of the modem, but the antecedents for the internet began a century before with telecommunications technologies like the telegram, the teletype, and telephotography. Yes, the early dial-up internet ran on telephone wires, but even the twisted cable pairs inside our Ethernet cables date back to Alexander Graham Bell. 

    Before the first computer networks, each computer terminal stood alone and was self-contained. Early connections, like the serial bus, helped users turn their single lines of computer terminal code into something that could print from a teletype machine or later dot-matrix printers. Indeed, linking devices together helped make all of them more powerful and, like the first simple telephone call a century before, helped users realize their goals in the blink of an eye. 

    As networks grew out of specific government facilities or university computer departments, they began to connect on a wider scale. Giant cables, like early telegraph cables laid beneath the world’s oceans, once again connected disparate nations and continents until the entire world was linked.

    The work of programmers and network technicians—who worked to design protocols, or hardware and software mechanics—was incredibly important and it meant all the computers were actually communicating with each other in a language they could all understand. From the first email message to the first consumer web browser to the dawn of Facebook, nothing will ever be the same as it was before the internet.


  • The first modem

    In 1958, Bell Labs made the first modem, continuing the company’s long legacy since founder Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone. The modem converts signals from a computer into signals over the same kinds of wires that were used to transmit telegrams and telephone calls, hence the early dial-up internet that shared phone lines.

    [Pictured: An old dial-up modem where a phone handset sits in the modem cradle.]

  • The first link between two faraway computers

    Computer scientists used modems and emerging “data packet” technology in 1965 to link two computers from Massachusetts to California. The modem helped to communicate the computer data, but scientists had to develop a protocol for passing chunks of information that could be fully reassembled into data on the other side and let it pass both ways.

  • Email technology is invented

    In 1972, programmer Ray Tomlinson made the first version of what we now know as email, including choosing the @ symbol as the separator for the user’s handle and their “domain” area. At the time, people were still using the government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network system, or ARPANET, and the second portion of the address referred to their specific computer.

    [Pictured: The first ARPANET email was sent between these two adjacent PDP-10 computers at BBN Technologies.]

  • Ethernet is invented

    Experts at tech juggernaut Xerox invented what became Ethernet technology in 1973, when Robert Metcalfe and colleagues explored how to best connect “a roomful of computers.” Ethernet cabling uses unshielded twisted pairs of individual tiny cables, which were invented nearly a century before by Alexander Graham Bell.

  • First version of TCP/IP technology

    In 1973, computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn began developing a full solution for a problem in computer networks. Their series of structures and failsafes were designed to make sure one outage wouldn’t take down a whole network, and later its two parts were known as transmission control protocol and internet protocol, or TCP/IP.

  • First use of 'Internet' and service provider

    Computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn used the term “Internet” for the first time in a paper about data protocols in 1974. That same year, the first commercial version of the ARPANET service, a private network called Telenet, launched for customers.


    In 1985, Stephen Wolff launched the National Science Foundation Network, called NSFNET for short, which allowed universities to get onto the nascent internet. The network expanded and empowered the NSF’s previous Computer Science Network (launched in 1981) for computer science departments.

  • First domain service and registered domain

    In 1983, the first domain name registry opened, and in 1985, the first official commercial domain was registered for, a computer systems company. Assigned domains dated back to the 1970s in their number forms, and a new technology called the domain name system (DNS) both monitored all the number addresses behind domain names and ensured redundancy in case one or more of the DNS servers went down.

  • First search engine idea

    Developer Alan Emtage conceived of the first search engine, Archie, in 1989, which may have started another long-term internet trend: removing one letter from a proper name, in this case turning “archive” into Archie. The service compiled filenames into a searchable database across the network.

  • Tim Berners-Lee invents the 'World Wide Web' and HTML

    In 1989, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, which created the full experience of text that interlinks with other text (hypertext) and the set of standards that pass that hypertext back and forth to a web browser (hypertext transfer protocol, or HTTP). Berners-Lee later founded the World Wide Web Consortium, which still monitors and teaches web standards today.

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