Inventing Ethernet
with Bob Metcalfe
Filmed December 2008

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INTERVIEWER:

We have this diagram that somebody said maybe that's what you sketched on a napkin or whatever?

BOB METCALFE:

Well, now, this was in the memo. This is a diagram of the memo that I wrote on May 22nd, 1973.

INTERVIEWER:

This is when you started working on the problem?

BOB METCALFE:

Well, I'm gonna be brutally honest here. One of my skills is marketing.

So, somewhere in the '80s, it became useful to me to have a birthday for Ethernet, to hook, you know, an event. It needed to have a birth, when was Ethernet born was the question.

So, I'm in charge of that. So, I sat down to say, "Well, God, when was it born?" And so, Ethernet was not invented on a single day. But if it were, it was May 22nd, 1973.

So, I declared this to be Ethernet's birthday. So, that's a bit of an approximation of what really happened.

So, no, it wasn't invented on a single day, and it wasn't really invented in this memo. Got named in this memo. And its general principles were all laid out on May 22nd, 1973.

But of course, there had been a few memos before. And there had been the ALOHANET before and the ARPANET before. Then there was 35 years of hard work following the memo.

So, it's hard to, but if Ethernet were invented on a particular day, this would be it. And that was the memo, this is the memo that I wrote on that day in which, you'll see the word “ether”.

Notice it's hand-written. So oh, this isn't the actual memo. This is somebody retyped the memo, actually. 'Cause the original memo was written on a Selectric typewriter using the Orator ball.

I, that's how I wrote, that's how we wrote then. We didn't have personal computers. We didn't have Microsoft Word. We hadn't invented that at Xerox PARC yet.

So on an Orator ball, I typed this memo. And then, by hand, drew this diagram and wrote the word, "ether."

So, that's where the word Ethernet, the word ether first appeared. And this is an extremely insightful diagram, written as it was in 1973 'cause all this has happened.


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