AT&T Tech Channel

About this video

This film contains an interview with George Stibitz himself, at age 86. He passed away five years later.

George Stibitz, back in 1940, put together a neat and unusual project. He imagined that one could use radio relays to transmit information to computers. So an experiment was set up—one that ended up being, essentially, the first data transmitted over a phone line, a proto-modem. He presented this at a symposium at Dartmouth College in September, 1940. After presenting his paper, he demonstrated his system, which was connected via the phone lines to the computer at Bell Labs in NYC. The system was open to members of the audience for the next few hours. It did simple calculations in NYC and transmitted the solutions back to New Hampshire.

It's the first instance of the remote operation of an electrical digital computer. The computer was Stibitz' Model I, the specs for which are below:

Model I:
Began operation January 8, 1940. Demonstrated to the public September 11, 1940, Dartmouth College, dismantled in 1949. Cost: Approx. $20,000.
Programming: Fixed program to perform the four operations of complex arithmetic. Speed: Approximately one minute per multiplication.
Input/Output: Ordinary teletype with a modified keyboard.

It was another 22 years before the first modem, the Bell 103, was invented, also at Bell Labs.

Though invented at Bell Labs in 1958, in 1962, the first commercial modem was manufactured - the Bell 103 by AT&T. The Bell 103 had a speed of 300 bits per second, or 300 bauds.

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

Release date: 10/19/2011