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Flash Back to 1991 with Access to the First US Website

The SLAC homepage in 1996, announcing itself as "home of the first U.S. WWW site" (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
The SLAC homepage in 1996, announcing itself as “home of the first U.S. WWW site” (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Now you can go back to where the World Wide Web started in the United States with the country’s first website. Launched in December of 1991, the website for the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory had little more than text and a few links.

The original SLAC site was revived this week as part of an evolving Stanford University project to preserve internet history. Stanford Libraries Web Archiving Service Manager Nicholas Taylor explained in a report from the university that they were able to resurrect the website only because “a handful of staff at SLAC who worked on the early web fortuitously saved the files, along with their timestamps, associated with the first and several subsequent versions of their website.”

The 1991 SLAC website (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
The 1991 SLAC website (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Thanks to Stanford Wayback — a take on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine — different versions of the SLAC site are available up through 1999. This is the first browsable access to the original 1991 site since it was launched. Most of the links don’t go anywhere and there are no flashy images, but the site represents the realization of an idea taken directly from the source that spawned the World Wide Web. Over at CERN in Europe, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee imagined the platform for connecting information in 1989. (CERN also has its first website available to explore online.) SLAC physicist Tony Johnson witnessed the innovation and, when he returned to Stanford, worked with fellow physicist Paul Kunz on a server for SLAC.

In observance of the 25th birthday of the internet, other institutions are sharing their first web efforts, like the White House, which launched its first site 20 years ago this month — complete with a digital guest book. Internet history and archiving is still an experiment, and Stanford is planning to add other sites to its Wayback system as part of their web archiving project. Rudimentary as the early websites were, they’re the starting point for the current digital landscape, and as websites constantly change and are lost, that history could easily disappear.

Explore the archive of the oldest American website at Stanford University Libraries.

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