Earliest Web Screenshots

Screenshot #2 on p.6. The W3 Project homepage

The earliest Web screenshots date from around November 1991, just over a year after the first code for the project was written. The screenshots appear in the CERN Computer Newsletter 204 for October to December 1991, in an article called World-Wide Web: On-line information for everyone by T. Berners-Lee, R. Cailliau, J-F. Groff, and B. Pollermann.

This was the first time that the Web had been announced throughout CERN in general, though the project had started in September 1990 and underwent an internal release on 17 May 1991.

The CERN Newsletter article is mentioned shortly after in the first ever W3 Newsletter from January 1992: “The High-Energy Physics world got its first official announcement of W3 in the CERN computer newsletter released at Christmas, with an introductory article.”

About the screenshots

The CERN Newsletter article contained four screenshots. One was the default page of the Line Mode browser. One was the homepage of the W3 Project. The other two were of the CERN phone book.

From the CERN Newsletter editorial on p.i, it appears that the deadlines for issues were the first Sunday in the last month that the issue covered. The due date for this article would therefore have been 1 December 1991, making a November date for the article most likely. This is bolstered by the discovery of a version of one of the pages from the screenshots from 13 December 1991, which contains a slight augmentative change, indicating that the screenshots only shortly precede that date.

Since Bernd Pollermann was also the general editor of the newsletter, however, he would have been able to edit the article to which he contributed after the submission date.

World Wide Web homepage

These screenshots are especially significant because according to Tim Berners-Lee, the page titled "The World Wide Web project" as depicted in one of the screenshows was the first ever webpage. This makes this screenshot the earliest depiction of the earliest webpage. Tim says that the first HTTP page was basically the one at:


A copy of TheProject.html is kept on the W3C site, but it was last modified on 03 Dec 1992 08:37:20 GMT. It still bears a resemblance to this earlier screenshot, but without it we only have a few other scant sources of information about what the first ever webpage looked like even through 1992, and no others from 1991. The most useful of the early 1992 sources is Bernd Pollermann's 17 Feb 92 Line Mode session output.


Using this evidence, it is possible to create a reconstruction of what the world's first ever web page looked like at the time of the web's first known screenshots. The missing information at the bottom of the page had been moved to Technical.html, and is still somewhat conjectural since that page dates to 13 November 1992.


The next known view of the earliest webpage after the screenshot and Pollemann's subsequent term session is from April 1992 by Hallman, with changes from the circa November 1991 version marked:

                                      The World Wide Web project (23/50)
                                  WORLD WIDE WEB
     The WorldWideWeb (W3) is a wide-area hypermedia[1] information retrieval
     initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.     
General Project Information
     See also: an executive summary[2] of the project, Mailing lists[3] you can
     join, Policy[4] , latest W3  news[5] .
  Project Status[6]       A list of project components and their current state.
                           (e.g. Line Mode[7] ,X11 Viola[8] , X11 Erwise[9] ,
                           NeXTStep[10] , Daemon[11] )
  People[12]              A list of some people involved in the project.
  History[13]             A summary of the history of the project.
  How can I help[14]?    If you would like to support the web..
Technical details
1-26, Back, Up, <RETURN> for more, Quit, or Help:

At this point, Technical details and possible further sections had 26 - 14 = 12 links. At this point, then, the rest of the file still probably contained most of what was moved to Technical.html, which ended up with 13 links, 2 of which have large IDs and are the obvious additions, which gives 11 early links, after Pollermann but before Hallman. In Pollermann's version, the technical section has only 9 links.

Line Mode

Screenshot #1 on p.6. The Line Mode default page

The first browser was called WorldWideWeb.app and was developed starting in late September 1990 by TimBL. This only worked on the NeXT, a comparatively rare architecture, so undergraduate Nicola Pelow was brought in to work on a portable browser, which was called Line Mode. This effort started in early December 1990.

When Line Mode opened, the first thing that the user saw was the page stored on the local computer at /usr/local/lib/WWW/default.html, which was installed there as part of the Line Mode package. This default page contained CERN documentation in the early days, since Line Mode could be loaded on the CERN network using the "www" command.

There are three existing early copies of the Line Mode default webpage:

The 12 August 1991 default page is taken from one of the codebases published in 1991. This is the 0.11a release, apparently a quick upgrade based on feedback from the community shortly after the web went public on usenet:

I found that this code still works, though I had to do a minor bit of patching, and in December 2009 I loaded the nearly twenty year old default Line Mode page for the first time in probably about as long:

Next Screenshots

The next known screenshots of the web are from 5th July 1992:

Interestingly, TimBL forgot about the newsletter and the above screenshots, and refers to a screenshot from 1993 as the earliest (in a link to that page).






Created December 2010, by Sean B. Palmer.