Wandering the farther reaches of the net, I came across the Institute of Internet History (IOIH). Having learned recently of Otlet's early work on hypertext, I should perhaps not have been surprised to learn of this little-known precursor to today's Internet, namely, Beardie's pioneering work in the 1840s on a steam-powered Internet.
As the IOIH recounts, "[T]oday's Internet has its roots in the huge silk and cotton mills which grew up in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution." Facing the need to control a growing number of industrial mills, Aldous B. Huxley proposed:
to record a single copy of each pattern on a stack of perforated rotating metal disks and then distribute the information contained on these disks via a series of pressure pulses through a system of steam pipes to each loom.
Then, in 1847, a brilliant engineer, E. H. Beardie (pictured):
presented a paper titled, "An International Industrial Network of Steam Gulleys and Mechanical Actuators" to the Royal Society of Industrialists. The paper described in some detail Beardie's vision for the phased building of a wide area network connecting mills.
This paper has apparently been lost, but the rest is history.