On This Day in 1978, the first spam message was sent.
Arguably, the first instance of ‘spamming’ occurred in the pre-internet era, when, in the late 19th century Western Union allowed telegraphic messages on its network to be sent to multiple destinations. The first instance of this was in May 1864 when British politicians received unsolicited advertising from a dentistry shop, starting a limited trend of mass unsolicited commercial telegrams
The earliest documented spam (although the term had not yet been coined) was a message advertising the availability of a new model of Digital Equipment Corporation computers sent by Gary Thuerk to 393 recipients on ARPANET in 1978. Rather than send a separate message to each person, which was the standard practice at the time, he had an assistant, Carl Gartley, write a single mass email. Reaction from the net community was fiercely negative, but the spam did generate some sales.
Spamming had been practiced as a prank by participants in multi-user dungeon games, to fill their rivals’ accounts with unwanted electronic junk. The first known electronic chain letter, titled Make Money Fast, was released in 1988.
The first major commercial spam incident started on March 5, 1994, when a husband and wife team of lawyers, Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, began using bulk Usenet posting to advertise immigration law services. The incident was commonly termed the “Green Card spam”, after the subject line of the postings. Defiant in the face of widespread condemnation, the attorneys claimed their detractors were hypocrites or “zealouts”, claimed they had a free speech right to send unwanted commercial messages, and labeled their opponents “anti-commerce radicals.” The couple wrote a controversial book entitled How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway.
Within a few years, the focus of spamming (and anti-spam efforts) moved chiefly to email, where it remains today. Arguably, the aggressive email spamming by a number of high-profile spammers such as Sanford Wallace of Cyber Promotions in the mid-to-late 1990s contributed to making spam predominantly an email phenomenon in the public mind. By 1999, Khan C. Smith, a well known hacker at the time, had begin to commercialize the bulk email industry and rallied thousands into the business by building more friendly bulk email software and providing internet access illegally hacked from major ISPs such as Earthlink and Botnets.
By 2009, the majority of spam sent around the World was in the English language; spammers began using automatic translation services to send spam in other languages as the internet spread to more foreign parts of the globe.