Official Biography: Elizabeth Feinler

Official Biography: Elizabeth Feinler

Ms. Feinler was born and grew up in Wheeling, WV. She was a 1954 graduate of West Liberty University in West Liberty, WV with a B.S. degree in chemistry. She then did graduate work in biochemistry at Purdue University under Dr. Roy Whistler. From there she joined the Shuman Chemical Co. where she did work on nutritional supplements for sufferers of phenylketonuria. In 1958 she joined Chemical Abstracts Service in Columbus, OH as Assistant Editor for several sections of the Chemical Abstracts 5th Decennial Index.  

Ms. Feinler joined SRI International in Menlo Park, CA in 1960 as an information scientist heading up the Information Research Department before becoming a member in 1972 of Dr. Douglas Engelbart’s Augmentation Research Center, where she began her work on the Internet. Her early networking effort was carried out on Host 2 of the Internet, where she pioneered and managed first the ARPNET, and then the Defense Data Network (DDN), network information centers (NIC) under contract to the Department of Defense (DoD). Both of these early networks were the forerunners of today’s Internet.  

She served as Principal Investigator for the NIC project from 1974, and Director for the Network Information Systems Center at SRI International from 1985-89, when she retired from SRI.  Her group developed the first Internet “yellow-” and “white-page” servers as well as the first query-based network host name and address (WHOIS) server. Her group managed the Host Naming Registry for the Internet from 1972 until 1989. As part of this effort she and her group developed the top-level domain naming scheme of .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org, and .net, which are still in use today on the Internet. The NIC also researched and managed parts of the first Internet audit trail and billing system for the DoD, and registered users for terminal access to these early networks. Her group developed a program called PCSam that retrieved email from server machines and downloaded it to a user’s personal computer. This was an early model for today’s email systems. In addition, Feinler was editor-in-chief for several Internet reference publications such as the DoD Protocol Handbook, the Arpanet/DDN Directory, the Arpanet/DDN Resource Handbook, and the DoD Protocol Implementation and Vendors Guide.

After leaving SRI in 1989, she worked for Sterling Software Corp., as a contractor for NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. Here she was a Network Requirements Manager helping to bring networking to the large NSF and NASA telescope sites. At Ames she also was active in setting up the NASA Science Internet and Globe NICs, and assisted with guidelines for the development and management of the NASA World Wide Web.

She was appointed Delegate at Large to the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Centers; has been a member of ACM, ASIS, IEEE, and was a founding member of the Internet Engineering Task Force; past chair of the IFIP Working Group 6.5 on User Requirements for Electronic Mail; and founder of the Using working group, that later became the IETF Users working group. In 2000 she was inducted into the SRI Alumni Hall of Fame.  

Since retiring, she has been active as a volunteer for the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA where she donated, organized, and described over 350 boxes of archives from the Engelbart and NIC projects. Ms. Feinler takes pride in her work to save for future generations the history of what has turned out to be one of the greatest inventions of the modern world – the Internet.


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