The birthplace of the computer networking1 is shown in this aerial photo over South Truro on Cape Cod. The photo is from the mid-1950s. The radar installation shown in the photo was known as the
"Cape Cod System." Analog data from the radar equipment at the site was converted to digital form and then
transmitted via modems and dedicated phone lines to the
Whirlwind computer, which was housed a hundred miles away on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This setup was the first example of a long-distance computer network.
The Cape Cod System was built by MIT for the Defense Department. The Cape Cod System was the prototype for the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) system, a large network of computers and radar installations designed to detect and warn of bomber attacks from the Soviet Union. The innovations introduced in the SAGE system, such as CRT displays, pointing devices, real-time computing, and computer networking, all pointed the way for the Internet and the World Wide Web that we know today.
Remnants of the Cape Cod System can still be seen in South Truro. Google Maps shows what the site looks like today as well as our tour route.
For more complete information on the Whirlwind computer, the Cape Cod System, and Project Sage, check out
Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology.
|Our guided tour begins at a fire road for the Cape Cod National Seashore off of Collins Road in South Truro. For directions to the fire road from Route 6, see Google Maps. The turn-off for Collins Road is on Route 6 right after entering Truro from Wellfleet.|
|This is a walking tour. Only National Park Service vehicles are allowed on the fire road. We are headed to the first radar site as shown by Google Maps.|
|Heading down the fire road, we can see power lines that were constructed for the Cape Cod System in 1953. Except for an environmental monitoring station at the first radar site, the power lines are unused today.|
||Also along the fire road, we see a marker for underground phone lines, which are used by the environmental monitoring station. The Bell logo on the marker was used by AT&T from 1969 to 1984. After the break-up of AT&T, the logo was used by New England Telephone from 1984 to 1992. The phone lines used by the Cape Cod System were likely overhead lines.|
|Approximately 1/4 of a mile down, the fire road forks into two. We head to the left, following the warehouse sign.|
|At the top of the hill, we come to a turnaround and the former site of the first radar installation. (See also the Google Satellite Map)|
|The security fence and a rusty warning sign tell people to keep out of the site.|
|After the National Park Service took over the radar site in the 1960s, the radar building was turned into a warehouse. The building is now abandoned.|
|In mid-1950s, this site contained a number of large radar units. All that is left of the original site is a security fence, a power substation, a building and concrete footings for the radar units. All radar equipment was removed from the site.|
Here is how the radar site looked in the mid-1950s.
Picture used with the permission of The MITRE Corporation.
Copyright © The MITRE Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
|An example of a concrete footing used by a radar unit.|
|The site is now used as an environmental monitoring station for a number of different programs such as the IMPROVE program and the National Atmospheric Deposition Program.|
|The environmental monitoring station has an interesting collection of instruments.|
|Back at the turnaround at the front of the radar site is a power substation used by the radar equipment.|
||An old General Electric breaker box is one of the only pieces of equipment left over from the radar site.|
|We now head back down the branch fire road and return to the fork. At the fork we turn left onto the main fire road again. In about 100 yards, we hit a second fork. We head up the hill on the right. Our route can be seen on Google Maps.|
|In about a quarter of a mile we come to the abandoned biology lab of the National Park Service. In the 1950s, this was the second radar site used in the Cape Cod System. This site is also protected by a security fence. (See also the Google Satellite Map)|
|Walking around to the rear of the site, we find a set of footings for a radar unit right outside of the security fence.|
|We now head back down the branch fire road and make a right back onto the main fire road. In a few minutes, the fire road forks again. To our left is a dirt road shown in the photo that goes down to the Featherbed Swamp. We will continue on the main fire road, up the hill to the right. Our route can be seen on Google Maps.|
|At the top of the hill, we come to the Park Service's former geology lab. In the Cape Cod System, this large site contained a number of radio antennas. (See also the Google Satellite Map)|
||This site also contains a power substation and GE breaker box.|
|These footings were used to support the semi-circular antenna array that can be seen clearly in the aerial photo of the Cape Cod System.|
||This shed sits on a concrete platform that was originally built for a tall radio tower. Notice the left-over cabling in front of the shed.|
|When we continue on the fire road around to the back side of the radio site, we come to a warning sign about an active gun range used by park rangers of the National Park Service. The sign is always up even though the gun range is only lightly used.|
|We now head down the fire road, which has become a dirt road.|
|At the bottom of the hill, we come to the gun range which is built in an old sand pit.|
|A locked storage shed is located on the back end of the range.|
|We now continue on the fire road and in a few minutes we come to the Atlantic Ocean and one of the beautiful beaches for which Truro is famous. We are standing on a sand cliff about 100 feet above the ocean.|
There is an unofficial path down the cliff to the beach below. It is not for the faint of heart.
Our tour is now over. Another important site to see in the Cape Cod National Seashore is the North Truro Air Force Station, which was an actual SAGE system installation. The station was deactivated in 1994 and is now used as an art center and is home to an FAA radar installation. In addition, be sure to check out the Marconi Wireless site in South Wellfleet and this YouTube Video.