This is a schematic map of the entire internet as it existed in 1973. Each oval represents a single computer. Can you find Nebraska’s lone connection? (Remember, a schematic isn’t drawn to scale.)
Do you see “Lincoln” near the upper right corner? That’s not it. That’s Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In fact, many of the internet connections back in the 1970s were at universities or laboratories. This was before the personal computer era. The computers were large mainframes, linked together in a primitive network stretching from Hawaii to London.
Was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on the internet? Not at that time. Here’s another clue: the name at the top, “ARPA Network,” was the original name of the internet. ARPA stood for Advanced Research Projects Administration. It was part of the US Department of Defense. So there was a military connection. And what is Nebraska’s most important military site?
That’s right, Offutt Air Force Base, home of the Strategic Air Command, as the US nuclear command center was then known. But SAC itself wasn’t on the internet. Nebraska’s connection to the network was through the US Air Force’s Global Weather Center (GWC), managed by the USAF’s 557th Weather Wing at Offutt. Now can you find it?
Quartz (a site not affiliated with History Nebraska) has an article about this map and the early internet.
–David Bristow, Editor, History Nebraska
*Correction: ARPANET vs. Internet
A few days after posting this, we heard from Mark Dahmke, a Lincoln photographer with long experience in software development and IT consulting. He checked with others in the computer industry who are knowledgeable about the ARPANET, and offers this clarification:
“The modern Internet has its roots in the ARPANET, but they are very different in concept and technology. Although this could not really be considered Nebraska’s first Internet connection, the fact that there was even an ARPANET connection in Nebraska is of itself historically significant. GWC had a dial-up connection into ARPANET but did not at that time have any active hosts or servers, so it could not be considered a host, but was a user of ARPANET. Host to host connections at that time were typically 56 kilobits per second but dial-up connections would have been 300 bits per second.”