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First Electromagnetic Spam Message
“William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone’s electromagnetic telegraph took England by storm shortly after commercial service began in 1837. By 1868, there were more than 10,000 miles of telegraph wire in the United Kingdom supporting 1,300 telegraph stations; four years later, there were 5,179 stations, serviced by more than 87,000 miles of wire.
With a capability to reach large numbers of people quickly and easily, the world’s first unsolicited, electrically enabled advertisement was sent in London late in the evening of May 29, 1864, according to historian Matthew Sweet. The message was from Messrs. Gabriel, a group of unregistered dentists, who sold a variety of false teeth, gums, toothpaste, and tooth powder.
The message, sent to current and former members of Parliament, read as follows:
Messrs. Gabriel, dentists, Harley-street, Cavendish-square. Until October Messrs. Gabriel’s professional attendance at 27, Harley-street, will be 10 till 5.
In 1864 there were no telegraphs in private residences; the message appeared on the swinging needles of the Cooke-Wheatstone electromagnetic telegraph, where it was transcribed by operators, carried by a boy sent from the London District Telegraph Company, and placed into the hand of a member of Parliament.
That M.P. wrote about his annoyance in a letter to the editor of the local paper: “I have never had any dealings with Messrs. Gabriel, and beg to know by what right do they disrupt me by a telegram which is simply the medium of advertisement? A word from you would, I feel sure, put a stop to this intolerable nuisance.”
But it wasn’t shame that put a halt to spam sent by telegram: it was the cost. Advertising by telegraph just wasn’t cost effective, due to the high price of sending the messages. That price plummeted with the birth of email, which was used to send a bulk, unsolicited advertisement for the first time in 1978.
SEE ALSO First Internet Spam Message (1978)
On May 29, 1864, Messrs. Gabriel, a group of unregistered dentists, sent members of the British Parliament the earliest known unsolicited electronic message. One recipient complained to the newspaper.