The top network inventors of all time

A look back at the network industry's greatest inventors

Although boxing legend George Foreman, a judge on the second-year CBS reality show American Inventor, has yet to invent a network device, his Lean Mean Grilling Fat-Reducing Machine has been used by countless techies to quickly cook sandwiches and hamburgers after a long day in the data center.

The show on which Foreman appears also inspired us to take a look back at the network industry's greatest inventors. And who knows, maybe the winner of American Inventor will someday join our list.

Inventors: Herman Andrew Affel and Lloyd Espenschied

Invention: Coaxial cable -- 1929

The story: Affel and Espenschied invented what they called the Concentric Conduction System at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1929. (OK, we could have included Alexander Graham Bell on our list, but didn't want it to be too predictable). Coaxial makes it possible to carry thousands of phone calls on long-distance circuits. It was first commercially used in 1940 and a year later, AT&T used it to establish a transmission system between Minneapolis and Steven's Point, Wisconsin, that could carry 480 telephone conversations and one television program. Coaxial gave way in 1983 to fiber-optic cabling. Coaxial cable also helped LANs get off the ground

Inventors: Paul Baran and Donald Davies

Invention: Digital packet switching -- 1950s

The story: Baran, the brains behind digital packet switching, came up with a replacement for circuit-switched networks with his Packetized Ensemble Modem. Baran's work at RAND resulted in a distributed mesh network that could reconfigure itself around non-working areas. His work was in response to U.S. concerns about its defense system surviving a first strike from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In Baran's and Davies' packet switched network, communications were broken into packets that would be rejoined at their destination and nodes were interconnected to many other nodes so that data could be transmitted over alternate paths. In 1964, Baran also came up with the idea of a doorway gun detector, like those used in airports.

Inventor: Robert Metcalfe

Invention: Ethernet -- 1973

The story: Metcalfe invented the Ethernet protocol at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1973. The patent was filed as Multipoint Data Communication System with Collision Detection. A quarter billion Ethernet switch ports now ship annually. Metcalfe, who founded 3Com on the heels of his invention, has gone on to fund other companies as a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners.

Inventors: Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn

Invention: TCP/IP -- 1974

The story: Cerf and Kahn designed the Internet architecture and the protocols that let computers access and use it. Known as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the suite of protocols became the standard way to interconnect and use the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and today's modern networks. Cerf is now vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google. Kahn is chairman of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, a nonprofit company involved in the development of the National Information Infrastructure.

Inventors: William Yeager and Andy Bechtolsheim

Invention: Multi-protocol router software and hardware --1980-1981

The story: Yeager, an engineer at Stanford University, was charged with linking the engineering and computer science networks across the campus. He developed the EtherTIP routing code. Yeager claims he permitted Len Bosack, the director of Stanford's Computer Science Department, to use the source code. Unbeknownst to Yeager, Bosak and Sandy Lerner incorporated Cisco Systems and used the router source code as the basis of the first Cisco IOS. Bechtolsheim, a Stanford Computer Science Department student, came up with the router hardware. He went on to co-found Sun, where he is chief scientist.

Inventors: Mark Dean and Dennis Moeller

Invention: Computer peripheral bus -- 1984

The story: Dean and Moeller created the PC Bus for attaching peripheral devices such as disk drives and printers to the personal computer. Technology genes unveiled themselves early for Dean, who built a tractor from scratch as a child; at IBM, Dean is a Fellow. Moeller also is with IBM. Without their technology, iTunes would have to be dowloaded to an iPod through a telephone connection.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Deni Connor

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?