What the Entire Internet Looked Like in 1973: An Old Map Gets Found in a Pile of Research Papers

In 1923, Edwin Hub­ble dis­cov­ered the universe—or rather, he dis­cov­ered a star, and humans learned that the Milky Way wasn’t the whole of the cos­mos. Less than 100 years lat­er, thanks to the tele­scope named after him, NASA sci­en­tists esti­mate the uni­verse con­tains at least 100 bil­lion galax­ies, and who-knows-what beyond that. The expo­nen­tial growth of astro­nom­i­cal data col­lect­ed since Hubble’s time is absolute­ly stag­ger­ing, and it devel­oped in tan­dem with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary increase in com­put­ing pow­er over an even short­er span, which enabled the birth and mutant growth of the inter­net.

Mod­ern “maps” of the inter­net can indeed look like sprawl­ing clus­ters of star sys­tems, puls­ing with light and col­or. But the “weird com­bi­na­tion of phys­i­cal and con­cep­tu­al things,” Bet­sy Mason remarks at Wired, results in such an abstract enti­ty that it can be visu­al­ly illus­trat­ed with an almost unlim­it­ed num­ber of graph­ic tech­niques to rep­re­sent its hun­dreds of mil­lions of users. When the inter­net began as ARPANET in the late six­ties, it includ­ed a total of four loca­tions, all with­in a few hun­dred miles of each oth­er on the West Coast of the Unit­ed States. (See a sketch of the first four “nodes” from 1969 here.)

By 1973, the num­ber of nodes had grown from U.C.L.A, the Stan­ford Research Insti­tute, U.C. San­ta Bar­bara, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah to include loca­tions all over the Mid­west and East Coast, from Har­vard to Case West­ern Reserve Uni­ver­si­ty to the Carnegie Mel­lon School of Com­put­er Sci­ence in Pitts­burgh, where David Newbury’s father worked (and still works). Among his father’s papers, New­bury found the map above from May of ’73, show­ing what seemed like tremen­dous growth in only a few short years.

The map is not geo­graph­i­cal but schemat­ic, with 36 square “nodes”—early routers—and 42 oval com­put­er hosts (one pop­u­lar main­frame, the mas­sive PDP-10, is sprin­kled through­out), and only nam­ing a few key loca­tions. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Hawaii appears as a node, linked to the main­land by satel­lite. Just above, you can see an update from just a few months lat­er, now rep­re­sent­ing 40 nodes and 45 com­put­ers. “The net­work,” writes Seli­na Chang, “became inter­na­tion­al: a satel­lite link con­nect­ed ARPANET to nodes in Nor­way and Lon­don, send­ing 2.9 mil­lion pack­ets of infor­ma­tion every day.”

These ear­ly net­works of glob­al inter­con­nec­tiv­i­ty, cre­at­ed by the Defense Depart­ment and used most­ly by sci­en­tists, pre­date Tim Bern­ers-Lee and CERN’s devel­op­ment of the World Wide Web in 1991, which opened up the enor­mous, expand­ing alter­nate uni­verse we know as the inter­net today (and was, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, invent­ed around the same time as the Hub­ble Tele­scope). Though maps aren’t ter­ri­to­ries (a 1977 ARPANET “log­i­cal map” dis­claims total accu­ra­cy in a note at the bot­tom), these ear­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the inter­net resem­ble medieval maps of the cos­mos next to the beau­ti­ful com­plex­i­ty of glow­ing col­ors we see in 21st cen­tu­ry info­graph­ics like the author­i­ta­tive­ly-named “The Inter­net Map.”

via Vice

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of the Inter­net in 8 Min­utes

What Hap­pens on the Inter­net in 60 Sec­onds

The Inter­net Imag­ined in 1969

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Martin Cohen says:

    In the mid-70s, I was a grad­u­ate stu­dent in Com­put­er Sci­ence at USC. I was often at the Infor­ma­tion Sci­ences Insti­tute in Mari­na del Rey, doing research in pro­gram ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

    I remem­ber being at an Arpanet ter­mi­nal and log­ging into Lon­don and feel­ing “Wow! This is incred­i­ble.” This was at a quite fast 50 kb.

    In the ear­ly 80s, I worked at Northrop’s Research and Tech­nol­o­gy Cen­ter, and often logged in from home using a bor­rowed 1200 baud modem. Even at that speed, it was quite usable stay­ing in Emacs for every­thing.

    Don’t get me start­ed on punched cards and paper tape.

  • Julie Biddle says:

    This map, or one very much like it, appeared in a sci­ence fic­tion nov­el whose title and author I can’t remem­ber at the moment. The main char­ac­ter was a rock star with psy­chic pow­ers who could con­trol com­put­ers. He faked a deep coma and was ‘stored’ in some research facil­i­ty where brain waves were stud­ied which gave him access to the inter­net. From there he could mon­i­tor every­thing and I vague­ly recall that he destroyed all weapons sys­tems. Haven’t read it in a long time. I’m pret­ty sure the word “star” was in the title but I can’t quite recall.

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