The internet has a much more convoluted history than you might think. The internet is often seen and used as something that has “always existed”, but understanding the history of it will easily punch holes in that false idea (which is often used in literature and film, for some reason; refer to link above). There’s way too much for me to go through, so I’m just going to highlight a few key points.
Preceding the internet was the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which was born from necessity as there were only a limited number of powerful research computers at the time. ARPANET was the world’s first operational packet switching network, allowing researchers access to the aforementioned computers even if they were geographically separated from them. In the 1980s, Al Gore promoted legislation that funded an expansion of the ARPANET, eventually allowing greater public access and thus enabling the creation of the internet. This alone is enough for me to put Al Gore in the Hall of Fame (which I will do later).
In 1971, the first ARPANET email was sent (yes, the email predates the internet) and by 1973, the ARPANET made its first trans-Atlantic connection with the University College of London. By now, email accounted for 75% of ARPANET activity. In 1974, there was a proposal to link networks similar to ARPANET together into an “inter-network” with no central control, operating around a transmission control protocol (eventually becoming TCP/IP). In 1983, ARPANET computers met the deadline for switching over to TCP/IP protocols (which is what modern internet functions on) and in 1984, Domain Name System (DNS) was created. By 1987, there were nearly 30,000 hosts on the internet (as the TCP/IP switch allowed for a much larger number of hosts). 1989 saw the proposal for a World Wide Web (originally called “Mesh”), written by Tim Berners-Lee. He finished the protocols for the World Wide Web in 1990, along with standards for HTML, HTTP and URLs. I’ll stop our journey in 1991 when the first web page was created; the page explained what the World Wide Web was.
As mentioned, the internet was born of the need for a greater communications network for researchers. There is a theory floating around that the internet began with some military computers in the Pentagon that were designed to survive a nuclear attack, but Bob Taylor (the Pentagon official in charge of ARPANET) insists the purpose was not military but scientific. The term “internet” was a social influence on the term “inter-network”, though no one is quite sure when the word became standard.