This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

You might be a redneck if…you’ve ever barbecued Spam on the grill.


May 1, 1978:  Earliest Record of Email Spam

A DEC marketing representative sent out an email to apparently any email address he could find to announce a presentation. This led to a response from a senior administrator saying that this behavior violated the terms of use for the ARPANET (this is before the Internet) and that ‘steps were being taken’.

Spam (shortened from spiced ham)is a canned precooked meat product . . . oops wrong spam.

Spam is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, especially advertising, indiscriminately. While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media.

A typical spam mail from summer 2011. A click on the image in the mail would lead to an unsafe website or invoke the download of a computer virus. The image as such is harmless.

A typical spam mail from summer 2011. A click on the image in the mail would lead to an unsafe website or invoke the download of a computer virus. The image as such is harmless.

Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high.

uf-spam image_thumb







In the year 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages is around seven trillion. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge. Spamming has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions.

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 (DEC) 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 e-mail. Reaction from the net community was fiercely negative, but the spam did generate some sales.

imagesCA0MFM3D spam what-does-spam-stand-for-tinned-ham

Hormel Foods Corporation, the maker of Spam luncheon meat, does not object to the Internet use of the term “spamming”.  However, they did ask that the capitalized version “SPAM” be reserved to refer to their product and trademark.

Using spam to describe unsolicited email started in 1994. A mercenary programmer created a simple script which posted the same message from the now infamous lawyers Canter and Siegel to every single message board on USENET, the world’s largest online conferencing system.

The computer geeks on the conference system – who clearly were big fans of Monty Python – identified the mass mailing as spam and the name caught on. To this day, the term spam refers to the unsolicited junk mails that now make up around 80 to 85% of email.

Monty Python – Spam Sketch


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