A Condensed History of HTML

Tina Holmboe

  1. References
  2. Document Information

Once upon a time ... publishing meant carefully hand-crafting manuscripts in, of necessity, small numbers. When Johannes Gutenberg re-invented movable type in 1436, and applied them to a feasible printing-press, this all changed. Literally over night it became possible to set a document once, and print it an untold number of times.

Over the next couple of centuries, an entirely new profession emerged, complete with its own nomenclature and standards - typograhy. Early on, copy editors added commands to manuscripts which instructed typesetters on how various parts of the document should be set.

By the mid 1950ies this technique saw use also in electronic documents, and word-processing files were soon riddled with control codes dictating precise formatting. This practice is known as "specific coding".

In September 1967, William Tunnicliffe - chairman of the Graphic Communications Association's (GCA) Composition Committee - held a presentation to the Canadian Government Printing Office in which he is widely acknowledged as having started the generic coding movement.

In generic coding, descriptive tags are used in place of specific commands. Instead of instructing a typesetter - human or machine - that a section of a manuscript is to be set "120 points wide, 12 point line height, 11 point lead", the same section is labelled as being "a paragraph". This technique is called "markup".

Some obvious advantages can be gained from using generic coding methods -

The concept soon gained support in the printing business. By 1969 a team at IBM led by Charles F. Goldfarb had begun work on the Generic Markup Language, proving that a generic system can be used to mark up documents from various fields and with different content. By 1980, a first working draft of a standardised language - SGML - was presented.

When Tim Berners-Lee suggested his hypertext project to CERN in May 1990, nothing much was said on the topic of document formats, but SGML was already in wide use internally and the choice was, presumably, an easy one. A new language was created, based on the SGML application "GUID", and by December 1990 the very first HTML document was written. At that time the browser in use ignored tags it didn't know, and so already existing SGML documents could also be parsed.

The rest is history.

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg
Born c. 1395 Mainz, Germany — died probably Feb 3rd 1468, also Mainz.


Title Author Date
History of the Web Oxford Brookes University 2002
HTML “1.0” Dan Conolly and CERN 1992
HTML+ (draft) Dave Ragget November 1993
HTML 2.0 MIT/W3C November 1995
HTML 3.0 (draft) W3C March 1995
HTML 3.2 W3C January 1997
HTML 4.0 W3C April 1998
HTML 4.01 W3C December 1999
Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press About.com and Mary Bellis

Document Information

First published: 24th of May 2007
Last update: 6th of October 2008
Prerequisite: None
Author: Tina Holmboe
Maintained by: Tina Holmboe