Back From the Past: Stanford Resurrects First U.S. Website

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory created the first known U.S. website—and staff members saved the data

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Back From the Past: Stanford Resurrects First U.S. Website
The very first U.S. web page, built by researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, went live in December 1991.

In 1991, the World Wide Web was just a toddler. Tim Berners-Lee at European particle physics laboratory CERN had developed the idea two years earlier and used his NeXT computer to host web pages for the laboratory, but there were few followers. Then in December the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory put up what is thought to be the first website hosted in the United States.

Then SLAC physicist Tony Johnson saw a Web demonstration at a 1991 conference in France. He and SLAC physicist Paul Kunz, using software brought back from the conference, set up the first known U.S. web server. SLAC rolled out its first web pages between 6 and 12 December 1991.

The home page  [pictured above] had just a few lines of text and links to a phone book and a database. This web site design was quickly superseded by later versions. And that, of course was before there were any formal efforts to preserve web pages. It was before anybody knew you’d want to look at an old web page—and long before the Internet Archive started its Wayback Machine preservation effort in 1996.

But a few SLAC staff members did tuck away the code for those first versions of their website. So “Stanford Wayback,” a project that’s part of Stanford Libraries’ web archiving initiative, was able to bring the original web site back in honor of the Web’s 25th anniversary this year. They’ve also revived several other versions of the SLAC site.

It’s worth taking a moment to look and remember how far we’ve come from a few lines of text and links.

imgSLAC’s home page in September 1993.

imgSLAC’s home page in December 1997.

imgSLAC’s home page today.

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