back to article How a bread truck invented the internet

On November 22, 1977, as it motored down the street somewhere south of San Francisco, a souped-up delivery van sent some information to a computer lab at the University of Southern California, 400 miles away. No one can quite remember what the information was, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is the way it travelled …


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  1. Chad H.

    Al Gore?

    So where was Al Gore? Was he driving the Truck? You just cant leave us without imparting that little bit of information!!!

  2. Scott

    So where was...

    ...Al Gore? Didn't he invent the thing and get a prize?

    *grabbing my coat*

  3. Anonymous Coward


    "So when the crinkling paper noise stopped, I would kick the technicians under the table and he would re-power the equipment"

    Is this where we get the term rebooting from?

    I`ll get my coat......

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    it's amazing to think ....

    it's amazing to think that one little truck ... would someday deliver so much porn to the world ...

  5. Del Merritt

    Never underestimate...

    ... the bandwidth of a bread truck filled with 9-track tapes traveling at 60mph down the freeway.

  6. Don Mitchell

    Networks and HIstory

    TCP/IP has been an invention with a lot of impact.

    There were interesting things done with non-packet networks that we tend to forget. In the mid 1970s, Minnesota had 2000 schools wired up to a giant Control Data timesharing systems. And the CDC Plato network was international.

    AT&T was offered control of the internet (arpanet) at one point, but declined. They thought their photonic networks and city-sized token rings were much more sophisticated. And they were right, but they were wrong.

    The great OSI boondoggle attempted to replace TCP/IP. After years of deliberation by international committees, they came up with TP4, a protocol so inefficient that TCP declares a timeout and closes a connection in about the time it took TP4 to exchange a data packet. The opportunity cost of OSI must have been staggering, since it delayed Europe and Japan from entering the internet for a few years.

  7. Darren7160

    I know it is meant to be funny...

    Okay, just to show that I have a sense of humor, Hahaha. There, now, if we can avoid being pawns of politically generated rhetoric can we pretend to think for ourselves?

    It amazes me, and deeply saddens me too, that the American people can be dazzled by the shiny toy of inane hair cut costs, tips paid or not paid or whether Al Gore really said that HE invented the internet. It is shameful that my 6 month old kitten is smarter than to be so distracted.

    When in the military I used to maintain a communications switching van where you could actually watch the flip-flops light up with neon lamps. It was like sitting inside of a computer. My VIC 20 had more capability. This would have been about the same time that this was all being done. Well, at least we have advanced in technology if not in political sophistication. Sigh

  8. Adrian Esdaile

    The second piece of email sent.... something like this:

    Hello Friend!

    My good name is Hung Nguyen Pho and I am the brother-in-law of the south vietnamese finance minister, god willing. I have $150,000 in us dollar praise bhudda in trust account registered... etc. etc. etc.

  9. Gower

    Al Gore v Tim Berners Lee

    I thought the Al Gore thang was widely debunked as republican spin, lies, smoke and mirrors? anyway Tim Berners Lee invented it and I invented him so I thank you all very mulch for attending I AM IPV6!!!

  10. Steve


    the bread was to dunk in the soup.


  11. Anonymous Coward

    van sale

    If the van comes up for sale can I have first refusal, only i've got this bread to get to Swaffham !

  12. stu

    Darren7160: wtf !

    what colour is the sky on your world ?

  13. Jacques-Henri STRAUSS

    TCP is NOT the protocol of the internet...

    TCP-IP is !!

    TCP was one of the founding blocks, and an important one at that, but not the only one. It ought to stand as such as one of Vint Cerf contributions.

    Another error that ought to be corrected: the packet transfer technology that went in the IP (internet protocol) (the IP half of TCP-IP) was actually developped a few years earlier (1974-75) by Louis Pouzin.

    Leonardo da Vinci sketched the helicopter yet no one seriously will credit him of inventing the helicopter. He did contributed to such an idea and that's one of the reason we consider him a genius.

    Same with the internet. A very small number of people contributed the early founding blocks of the internet. None contributed them all.

    As for the date the internet went live the routers switched to the new TCP-IP protocol at a very precise moment, and it had to be done worldwide for obvious reasons.

    That moment happens to have been 0h00 on January 1st, 1983.


  14. Adam Auden


    Read this and shut up about bloody Gore, eh?

    If Cerf and Kahn are cool with it, can we be as well?

  15. Joe Stalin

    Al et al

    Al Gore was the guy in charge at which ever department of the US gov that wrote the cheques to fund the Arpanet. So he had to make the decision as to put up the money, so he could have killed it if he didn't like what he saw.

    When the tech "re-powered the system" was that switch it off and back on again?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    re : Al Gore

    Al Gore said "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

    He meant that he actively promoted the creation of the internet, not that he invented the concept or technology.

    This was acknowledged by Vint Cerf and Bob Khan :

    "As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship. Though easily forgotten, now, at the time this was an unproven and controversial concept."

    Oh, and Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, not the internet.

  17. Sam

    crinkling paper noise

    Was he arrested for rustling?

    Alright, I'm going..

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ..if the patent trolls had been around in those days.

    "Hey, we've got a patent for sending information through wires, or air, either shut down or give us fifty billion dollars". And thats putting it mildly.

    You have to wonder how much innovation like this is being stifled and destroyed by the american patent system these days.

  19. David

    @Del Merritt

    Should that not be a Station Wagon ?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big Truck?

    Wait the internet is a bread truck? I thought it was tubes!?

  21. Chad H.

    @ @ Al Gore by Anonymous Coward

    Your copy of humor.exe seems to be corrupt. Perhaps you should search Piratebay for a good copy.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Important details

    Can you see the bias here?: "an earth station in Goonhilly Downs, England, before coming down in the little town of Etam, West Virginia, halfway up the US east coast"

    No mention of the fact that goonhilly is in Cornwall (kernow for those in the know; the south-west pointy bit for those (americans) that aren't), or the fact that it has (probably) the worlds fastest internet cafe?? These are important details!

    And no mention of the pair of stealth bombers in an underground hangar on that site? "no you can't go over there, the microwaves will fry you" is a feeble way of preventing people from stumbling across the entrance! Either that or a brilliant security system... now how can I get one for my house?

  23. Anonymous Coward

    How long?

    "On November 22, 1977...


    The thirtieth anniversary of this little-known event was celebrated last week..."

    I know I'm not the most accurate of timekeepers, but I'm fairly sure that the thirtieth anniversary of 22nd Nov, 1977 would be on the 22nd November 2007.

    Now according to my (synchronised with the interweb) clock, it's currently the 13th November. Even allowing for wacky timezones, that's still over a week early. So they celebrated this vaunted thirtieth anniversary 2 whole weeks early.

    That's more than a little careless... ;-)

  24. Fred Bauer

    Small Town

    I had to laugh at "little town of Etam, West Virginia, halfway up the US east coast."

    Etam is by no means a little town... it's more of a cow pasture. In 1977, the only evidence of a "town" was a shell of a building, with a sign out front that read "Sattelite Inn" [sic]. Oh, and it's nowhere near the coast... it's about 150 miles west of Washington, DC.

  25. Steven Hunter
    Black Helicopters

    Nice to know...

    Nice to know that I am slightly older than the Internet by (apparently) 3 weeks. Go me.

  26. Adam Moore

    Inventors of Hypertext?

    SIGH - once again articles are written without the necessary research - Ted Nelson coined the phrase Hypertext in the early 1960's (Project Xanadu) and has an ACM publication in 1965:

    Doug's NLS is one of the earliest examples of a hypertext system, although Vannevar Bush's Memex is probably the most recognisable first proposed system (in 1945).

    I don't think SRI anywhere even claim to have invented Hypertext!

  27. Jason

    Al gore

    Was hunting manbearpig, where are you nutters getting your ideas from?

  28. Bloody_Yank
    Black Helicopters

    Cerf ///// Gore

    I had the pleasure to sit in on a lecture by Cerf around 1997 - the 'net was just getting really spun up then. Nice guy - unassuming - and very insightful. While he was wearing a suit + tie - he said he just had a batch of tee shirts printed up saying "IP on Everything" :-) As this was also the time that the notion of "every device" needed to be designed network ready was starting to emerge.

    Also a cool coincidence the a guy named Cerf (pronounced "surf") helped create the net we all Surf on.

    As to Gore - he at least was a man of vision and persistence in getting the Arpanet technology into the hands of public companies to enable what is now the internet. Those on the bitter political right have so few things to cling to (that are real) that they must keep their "folk tales" alive by spouting them whenever possible. Sparkly things and the Fox Noise Channel is all they really have left.

  29. Frank Bough
    Thumb Down


    "No mention of the fact that goonhilly is in Cornwall (kernow for those in the know; the south-west pointy bit for those (americans) that aren't), or the fact that it has (probably) the worlds fastest internet cafe?? These are important details!"

    1. Cornwall is part of England.

    2. Just about every university in the top 100 has as fast or faster net connections that BT's idiotic Goonhilly "café".

  30. Vulpes Vulpes

    @ Chad and @ Frank "Thumbs Up" Bough

    Personally Chad, I'm using the UK distro of Life -The Operating System, which ships with humour.exe, rather than the inferior, irony-free version called humor.exe. The UK version only works with well-formed jokes, however.

    And Frank, you're wrong. Cornwall is not really part of England, it's far too fine a place for that to be true. You may fantasise that it is, and your propaganda maps and atlases might show it as such, but we all know it's just that you're jealous.

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