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White House recognizes Ethernet inventor Metcalfe

President George W. Bush presents alumnus Robert Metcalfe with the National Medal of Technology on March 14.
President George W. Bush presents alumnus Robert Metcalfe with the National Medal of Technology on March 14.
Photo / Marjorie Weisskohl, U.S. Department of Commerce

Ethernet inventor Robert M. Metcalfe, an MIT alumnus, accepted the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technical innovation, at a White House ceremony on March 14.

President George W. Bush honored Metcalfe for his leadership in the invention, standardization and commercialization of Ethernet.

"I love my country, the United States of America," said Metcalfe. "Now it's official: My country loves me back."

"Ethernet was invented in a memo I wrote at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center on May 22, 1973," Metcalfe explained. He shares four patents on Ethernet, the local-area networking (LAN) standard. "Ethernet is plumbing for the Internet, which is in turn plumbing for the World Wide Web, which is plumbing for Google."

In 1979, he founded 3Com Corp. and took it public in 1984. "By 1981, there were people buying Ethernet whom I had not met," Metcalfe recalls. "By 1986, there were people inventing Ethernet whom I had not met. It has proliferated and evolved way beyond what Dave Boggs and I were thinking while building the first Ethernets in the mid-1970s." According to IDC, a global market intelligence firm that specializes in information technology, more than 200 million new Ethernet ports were shipped in 2004.

Metcalfe earned double S.B.s in electrical engineering and management from MIT in 1969. He went on to obtain a Ph.D. at Harvard, taught at Stanford and was elected in 1997 to the National Academy of Engineering. During the 1990s, he wrote a popular weekly Internet column in InfoWorld reaching more than 500,000 information technologists. Today, he is a high-tech venture capitalist at Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham, Mass. He serves on the boards of several Polaris-backed startups, including Ember, Narad, Paratek and SiCortex. He has been a member of the MIT Corporation since 1992 and was elected to a life membership in 2003.

As an MIT student, Metcalfe helped build the hardware that linked MIT to the ARPANET. "Everything I needed to know about Ethernet I learned at MIT," said Metcalfe.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 16, 2005 (download PDF).

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