The following history of LWP was written by Gisle Aas, one of the creators of LWP and its current maintainer.
The libwww-perl project was started at the very first WWW conference held in Geneva in 1994. At the conference, Martijn Koster met Roy Fielding who was presenting the work he had done on MOMspider. MOMspider was a Perl program that traversed the Web looking for broken links and built an index of the documents and links discovered. Martijn suggested turning the reusable components of this program into a library. The result was the libwww-perl library for Perl 4 that Roy maintained.
Later the same year, Larry Wall made the first "stable" release of Perl 5 available. It was obvious that the module system and object-oriented features that the new version of Perl provided make Roy's library even better. At one point, both Martijn and myself had made our own separate modifications of libwww-perl. We joined forces, merged our designs, and made several alpha releases. Unfortunately, Martijn ended up in disagreement with his employer about the intellectual property rights of work done outside hours. To safeguard the code's continued availability to the Perl community, he asked me to take over maintenance of it.
The LWP:: module namespace was introduced by Martijn in one of the early alpha releases. This name choice was lively discussed on the libwww mailing list. It was soon pointed out that this name could be confused with what certain implementations of threads called themselves, but no better name alternatives emerged. In the last message on this matter, Martijn concluded, "OK, so we all agree LWP stinks :-)." The name stuck and has established itself.
If you search for "LWP" on Google today, you have to go to 30th position before you find a link about threads.
In May 1996, we made the first non-beta release of libwww-perl for Perl 5. It was called release 5.00 because it was for Perl 5. This made some room for Roy to maintain libwww-perl for Perl 4, called libwww-perl-0.40. Martijn continued to contribute but was unfortunately "rolled over by the Java train."
In 1997-98, I tried to redesign LWP around the concept of an event loop under the name LWPng. This allowed many nice things: multiple requests could be handled in parallel and on the same connection, requests could be pipelined to improve round-trip time, and HTTP/1.1 was actually supported. But the tuits to finish it up never came, so this branch must by now be regarded as dead. I still hope some brave soul shows up and decides to bring it back to life.
1998 was also the year that the HTML:: modules were unbundled from the core LWP distribution and the year after Sean M. Burke showed up and took over maintenance of the HTML-Tree distribution, actually making it handle all the real-world HTML that you will find. I had kind of given up on dealing with all the strange HTML that the web ecology had let develop. Sean had enough dedication to make sense of it.
Today LWP is in strict maintenance mode with a much slower release cycle. The code base seems to be quite solid and capable of doing what most people expect it to.