|Project Gutenberg began in 1971
when Michael Hart was given an operator's account
with $100,000,000 of computer time in it by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe
at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois.
This was totally serendipitous, as it turned out that two of a four operator crew happened to be the best friend of Michael's and the best friend of his brother. Michael just happened "to be at the right place at the right time" at the time there was more computer time than people knew what to do with, and those operators were encouraged to do whatever they wanted with that fortune in "spare time" in the hopes they would learn more for their job proficiency.
At any rate, Michael decided there was nothing he could do, in the way of "normal computing," that would repay the huge value of the computer time he had been given. . .so he had to create $100,000,000 worth of value in some other manner. An hour and 47 minutes later, he announced that the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but would be the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries.
He then proceeded to type in the "Declaration of Independence" and tried to send it to everyone on the networks. . .which can only be described today as a not so narrow miss at creating an early version of what was later called the "Internet Virus."
A friendly dissuasion from this yielded the first posting of a document in electronic text, and Project Gutenberg was born as Michael stated that he had "earned" the $100,000,000 because a copy of the Declaration of Independence would eventually be an electronic fixture in the computer libraries of 100,000,000 of the computer users of the future.