Lemelson-MIT Program
Who We Are Awards Outreach News
Invention Dimension Search Site Map Contact Us
Inventor of the Week

Inventor of the Week Archive

Browse for a different Invention or Inventor



Metcalfe Robert M. "Bob" Metcalfe, developer of Ethernet and other Internet-related technologies, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946. So fascinated was he by technology and gadgets as a child, that by the age of ten he already knew he wanted to become an electrical engineer and that he wanted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Metcalfe did attend MIT eventually, and he graduated in 1969 with a bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and business management. In 1970, he received a master's degree in applied mathematics from Harvard University, and he completed his Ph.D. in computer science at Harvard in 1973.

At Harvard, Metcalfe wrote his doctoral dissertation based on research he did on packet switching in the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and Aloha computer networks in MIT's project MAC. Meanwhile, in 1972, Metcalfe began working at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) where he met D.R. Boggs. With Boggs, Metcalfe invented what has come to be known as Ethernet, the local area networking (LAN) technology that turns PCs into communication tools by linking them together. Eventually, the technology would be used to link together more than 50 million PCs worldwide.

In 1976, Metcalfe moved to the Xerox Systems Development Division where he was responsible for a series of developments that led to the Xerox Star workstation. Star was the first PC to include a bit-map screen, mouse, word processing, Ethernet, and software to include text and graphics in the same document.

In 1979, Metcalfe left Xerox and founded 3Com Corporation in Santa Clara, California. At 3Com Metcalfe aimed to promote PC LANs and Ethernet as the standard. Although he was unable to persuade IBM to use Ethernet as a standard, he did bring together Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel, and Xerox and made Ethernet the most widely used LAN.

At 3Com, Metcalfe served as CEO, President, Chairman of the Board, and Division General Manager. He has said, however, that his greatest accomplishment there was when, as head of sales and marketing, he increased sales from zero to $1 million per month. Under his guidance, 3Com, which he named for three words - computer, communication, and compatibility - became a Fortune 500 corporation.

In 1990, Metcalfe retired from 3Com. A year later he travelled to Wolfson College, Oxford University in England, where he spent a year as a visiting fellow. He began a career in journalism when he returned, writing for Computerworld, Communications Week, Digital Media, Network Computing, and Technology Review. In 1993 he became vice-president of technology for the International Data Group, parent company of InfoWorld Magazine.

Metcalfe is still very active on the technology scene, both through his writing and his mentoring of others involved in computer and computer-related technology. Said Metcalfe during a recent interview: "I'm an engineer and I think everyone should be engineers. I have a feeling that there are probably other life choices that are as valid as that. But other people should advocate those. I will advocate science and technology, particularly engineering, engineering being slightly different than being a scientist in the grand scheme of things. So I recommend it. It's a great life. Solving problems. Developing mastery over subjects."

[April 2001]



Invention Dimension
Inventor of the Week Inventor of the Week
Inventor's Handbook Inventor's Handbook
Games & Trivia Games & Trivia
Links & Resources Links & Resources