Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) Establishes First N.A. Web Site

At SLAC, the “WWWizards” have servers running on VM and Unix, making available the “SPIRES” database information…

World­Wide Web; Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau; Sep 1992.

The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center was the first web site in North America, and also helped establish the first web site in Asia.

Tim Berners-Lee released the first web browser for the NeXT computer at CERN in March, 1991. A few months later on September 13, Paul Kunz came to visit CERN from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in Stanford, California, U.S.A. SLAC is also a high energy research laboratory located on 460 acres a few miles from the Stanford University campus, run by Stanford and funded by the US Department of Energy, with a mission is to conduct basic physics research into the atomic structure of matter using x-rays, electrons, and positrons.

Kunz was an instant convert to the web, and since he also used the NeXT computer, he had the skills to use it. When he returned to SLAC in September, he brought a copy of Berners-Lee’s web browser and server with him. Working with Terry Hung, they installed the server on the laboratory’s IBM Virtual Machine operating system, and the first web server in North America went live on December 12, 1991.

Louise Addis, the head librarian at SLAC, immediately saw the utility of the web for providing access to the wealth of documentation produced by the laboratory. She persuaded George Crane to write a web interface to SPIRES-HEP, a 300,000 record bibliographic database which SLAC made available to the high energy physics community over the Internet. Soon a range of individual departments in the laboratory put up their own home pages. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory put up a web site not long thereafter, and the web began to spread throughout North America.

During the summer of 1992, Tony Johnson at SLAC created the third web browser for Unix, called Midas. One of the innovations of Midas was its ability to display postscript documents, which was the preferred online format for physics researchers because it could be printed on most printers, and it printed scientific formulae exactly as they were graphically displayed on paper. Midas was made available on the Internet, and helped provide another option for people to get onto the web.

SLAC’s embrace of the web helped legitimize it in the physics community, and provided it with a base from which it could grow. SLAC also helped establish the first web site in China, at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing.

The SLAC WWW technical committee continues to hold open meetings a couple of times a month to discuss technical issues related to web services at the center.