internet is network of networks. I’d say the advent of the telegraph or telephone exchanges (whatever came first) would be the first internet.
This author says the Victorian Internet was taking shape around the 1870s:
“Over the course of the 19th century this primitive network of flapping, clanking machines evolved into a global communication system. Independently invented in England and the United States, the electric telegraph soon crisscrossed continents with copper wire and linked them with underwater cables. Nimble-fingered operators sent, received and retransmitted messages day and night. Webs of pneumatic tubes moved printed copies of messages between nearby stations and, in Paris and other major cities, throughout the urban center. And cadres of messengers ran telegrams from the end of the transmission line directly to the recipient’s home or office. “By the early 1870s,” Standage writes, “the Victorian Internet had taken shape….”
I think that’s what makes Steampunk so fascinating (to me). You can write a story based on today’s internet and set it back in the 1870s, just by switching the technology a little.
I *love* the at that banks in the USA today *still* use pneumatic tubes. They’ve been using pneumatic tubes for almost 120 years now. Imagining a whole city criss-crossed with a pneumatic tube system is just amazing to me – and it existed back then.