Vanguard to the Internet: the United States Air Force.
The Air Force was the key enabler that made Information Technology happen.
Air Force founding father and 5-star general Henry "Hap' Arnold said of war: "World War I had been won by brawn, World War II through superior logistics, but that any future war would be won by brains." To that end, Arnold set about building an Air Force research infrastructure where the seeds of innovation could be planted and then continually harvested "to keep the Air Force first." One of his more prescient moves was the creation of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory (AFCRL) in 1945, which by 1950 was crowned the military's best. The AFCRL took over a dozen of the most promising projects (including key personnel) from MIT's Rad Lab, which closed at war's end. Out of the AFCRL came digital networking, the modem, and slowed-down video. Key elements in the making of Information Technology.
Just around the corner.
Not far from the AFCRL on Albany Street in Cambridge, MA was the Barta Building on Massachusetts Avenue, where the Whirlwind computer, the world's first real-time, electronic digital computer, was under construction. Neither group knew of the other until a 36-year-old physicist named George Valley made the introductions. The eventual union brought together digital computing with digital networking.
Serendipity at a taxi stand pays off bigtime.
Valley's journey in uniting both groups sprung from a fateful meeting at the Pentagon taxi stand in September of 1949. Bigger still was Valley's rescue of the Whirlwind computer when its construction finances were cut off. On March 6, 1950, Valley put up a half million of Air Force money to take on the computer project; Valley's Air Force checkbook actually contained some $116 million, which came courtesy of the work of Generals Muir Fairchild and Gordon Saville's oratory in Congress. Evenutally, the combined technology from both the AFCRL and Whirlwind, would enable the first cross-continental, computer-to-computer exchange and the beginning of ARPANET, the forerunner to the Internet.
Read all about it--and much more!--in "Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology." Order online from the publisher AK Peters, Ltd.
Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology
by Tom Green
with a special Foreword by Jay W. Forrester
360 pages; footnotes, bibliography and index; archival photo collection. ISBN: 978-1-56881-4766