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This non-inventor helped create two major highway systems       By Paul Niemann

[FEB. 17, 2005]  One way to judge an invention's importance is to imagine life without it. This story includes two such inventions or, more accurately, we should refer to them as innovations.

Both innovations came about due to the efforts of a man who wasn't even an inventor. Both were a result of war, namely World War II and the Cold War. In order to keep his identity secret at this point, we will refer to him by the initials in his first and middle names -- D.D.

The first innovation affected our communication system, while the second one affected our transportation system. In February of 1955, exactly 50 years ago, D.D. said, "The united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear -- United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts."

When D.D. visited Germany during World War II, he noticed how the autobahns improved that country's transportation system. He also felt that an improved highway system was necessary for a strong national defense.

The result of his work is our nation's interstate highway system. It began in 1956 when the president signed the Federal Aid Highway Act. Here are a few little-known details about our interstate system:

  • The longest interstate is I-90, which covers 3,081 miles from Boston to Seattle, while the shortest interstate is I-878 in New York City. It covers seven-tenths of a mile -- exactly 3,696 feet.
  • Only one state has no interstate highways. That would be Alaska. Hawaii has three.
  • When the last stoplight on the interstate system was removed in the 1980s in Wallace, Idaho, the locals gave it a proper burial in the local cemetery, complete with a 21-gun salute.

Pretty neat, but the other highway system credited to D.D. circles the world many times each day. That would be the Internet, or information superhighway.

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the U.S. government figured that a nuclear attack could wipe out our intelligence system. To prevent this, the Department of Defense created ARPA, which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency. By 1969, computer scientists had begun efforts to connect supercomputers from four major universities -- UCLA, Stanford, UC-Santa Barbara and the University of Utah -- that could exchange information with each other. This computer network became known as the ARPAnet.

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The National Science Foundation linked these supercomputers together and they eventually replaced the ARPAnet in 1990, becoming what is now the Internet. It was D.D. who made the decision to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency, even though he did not work for the Department of Defense.

If you haven't figured out who D.D. is, here's one more clue: We celebrate Presidents Day on Feb. 21 to honor all 43 U.S. presidents.

"D.D." is Dwight David Eisenhower, the man for whom the Eisenhower Interstate System is named. President Eisenhower was our 34th president, from 1953 to 1961. In addition to playing a major role in creating both the interstate highway and the Internet, he also put an end to the Korean War.

Here are a few interesting facts that you might not have known about the Internet:

  • In 1991, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, chose not to patent it so that everyone could have access to the Web, bypassing a sure fortune in the process. He also knew that the only way it could reach its full potential was to leave it unpatented.
  • The early version of the Internet was designed to allow military installations to exchange information with each other by computer.
  • Despite the fact that there are now millions of websites, there were only 130 in 1993.

We managed to make it through an entire story about the Internet without cracking a single joke about Al Gore claiming to invent it.

This story is not over yet, so there's still time. Actually, Al Gore's father, Sen. Al Gore Sr., was regarded as one of the fathers of the interstate highway system, along with President Eisenhower and two congressmen.

Now the story is officially over.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann is the author of Invention Mysteries. He can be reached at niemann7@aol.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2005


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