Hacking and Blue Boxes

The blue box built by Steve Wozniak, on display at the Computer History Museum, gift of Rick Prelinger

Today in 1963, the earliest known use of the term “hacking” appeared in The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper. From a Brief History of Hackerdom“The beginnings of the hacker culture as we know it today can be conveniently dated to 1961, the year MIT acquired the first PDP-1. The Signals and Power Committee of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club adopted the machine as their favorite tech-toy and invented programming tools, slang, and an entire surrounding culture that is still recognizably with us today.” 

The 1963 article in The Tech described some of the achievements enabled by the new tech-toy:  “The hackers have accomplished such things as tying up all the tie-lines between Harvard and MIT, or making long-distance calls by charging them to a local radar installation. One method involved connecting the PDP-1 computer to the phone system to search the lines until a dial tone, indicating an outside line, was found…. To quote one accomplished hacker, ‘the field is always open for experimentation.'”

Two of the most famous experimenters were Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who, in 1971, developed (Wozniak) and sold (Jobs), as their first business venture, a “Blue Box” for making free long-distance phone calls. Wozniak told Dan Lyons recently: “I didn’t do it to make money but just to build a device to explore it, not to save money on phone calls. I was so honest I would not use the blue box to make long-distance calls. But if I wanted to play pranks, like route signals around the world and make them come back to the phone next to me. We did prank calls. I would call a hotel in Paris and make a reservation. At the dorms in Berkeley we would go door-to-door selling blue boxes. One hundred and fifty bucks was the price... We were doing a demo of a blue box in a dorm room. I called Italy, then asked for Rome, then asked for the Vatican. I told them I was Henry Kissinger calling from a summit meeting in Moscow. It was 5:30 in the morning in Italy. They told me to call back in an hour. I did, and I spoke to a bishop who said he had just spoken to Henry Kissinger in Moscow.”

Today, phone hacking is still in the news, but more as a security threat than making pranks and free phone calls.

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About GilPress

I launched the Big Data conversation; writing, research, marketing services; http://whatsthebigdata.com/ & https://infostory.com/
This entry was posted in Computer history, Social Impact, Telephone, This day in information. Bookmark the permalink.

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