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The 1970s

Office workers check the printer output on an IBM Model 138 computer. Introduced in 1976, the Model 138 was similar to other computers introduced in the mid-1970s–faster, more powerful, and easier to use than previous computers. As a result, more and more companies began using computers to speed up their operations and improve their efficiency. Credit: IBM Archive

Computing Grows in Importance

The 1970s saw computers grow in strength, speed, and capabilities. They also began to be integrated into everyday life. By the end of the decade, researchers at large companies like IBM and Xerox as well as hobbyists and backyard inventors like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were building smaller but still powerful computers and software that businesses and individuals could use. Though not quite personal, computers were changing the way people worked and did business, and the number of people who used computers began to grow.


A computer operator at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) makes adjustments to a CRAY-1 supercomputer in the mid to late 1970s. The CRAY-1 machine provided NCAR with invaluable computing for its early efforts in tropical numerical weather prediction. Researchers across the country were beginning to see the potential of using computer networks to access these large and powerful machines from remote locations. Credit: © University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

ARPANET Expands and Advances

Meanwhile, ARPANET began to grow rapidly as more universities and government research laboratories were hooked up to the network using tools such as TCP/IP and other innovations that allowed computers to send and receive data to other computers across the county.


This photo shows the two computers that sent and received the first email message using the ARPANET. The computer in the background, the BBN-TENEXB, sent the message received by the BBN-TENEXA computer in the foreground. The teletype machine on the left was a Teletype KSR-33 terminal that printed the first email. Credit: © 1971 Dan Murphy

First Email

In 1972, researchers sent out the first email message using the now-familiar nomenclature we still use today. By the end of the decade, thousands of individuals across the country will be able to send and receive email. Most of these users are scientists and engineers, who use the speed of email to quickly collaborate with colleagues around the country.


A computer-generated global weather model created by Warren Washington in the 1970s. Around the world, computer scientists and researchers saw the power and potential that computer networking had to speed collaboration and share powerful computing resources. Credit: © University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Network Envy

Even as ARPANET grew in size and complexity, it was only open to select organizations and institutions. This excluded a large number of computer scientists and computing centers that wanted to reap the benefits of such a robust network. By the middle of the decade, ARPA, believed that its network should be maintained by another entity.

An illustration of the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP). Developed in the 1970s by the Global Atmospheric Research Program, GARP used a network of earth-bound sensors, satellites, and research centers to study global atmospheric circulation. It was one example of how researchers were using the power and promise of networking to approach complex scientific concepts and challenges. Credit: © University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Other Networks Arise

The 1970s showed the value and feasibility of large computer networks, but it the networks were still relatively expensive to create and maintain. By the end of the 1970s, NSF began looking into supporting other research networks that would allow more universities and research centers to be networked together. At the same time, computer networks began to spring up in Europe and Asia.


Campus Computer Networks

During this time, several universities began building their own computer networks to aid research. George Strawn, a Chief Information Officer at NSF, was a computer scientist at the University of Iowa in the 1970s. He and colleagues at other universities saw the potential that computer networks had to offer as they began to use email and other innovations. At the same time, the development of micro computers meant that universities were moving away from large research computers in favor of many smaller computers dispersed around campus. This posed a problem for researchers who still needed access to faster, stronger computers and it opened an opportunity to expand fledging networks to more and more users.


George Strawn. Credit: NSF



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