The First Mass Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, i.e. Spam

May 3, 1978

Gary Thuerk, a marketing representative for Digital Equipment Corporation, sends out an e-mail promoting an open house for the company’s latest computer systems to 393 recipients on the ARPANET, a precursor to the modern Internet. While this number sounds small by today’s standards, this was all the ARPANET users on the west coast of the United States. Given that this was an unsolicited commercial e-mail, it is now considered the first of its kind. In other words, the first spam message well before the term was coined. It brought a quick and negative response from many users and Thuerk was warned by ARPANET administrators that mass mailings were not an acceptable use of the network. The backlash notwithstanding, the open house was largely successful with over $12 million dollars of DEC equipment being sold. I guess it was better to ask forgiveness than permission in this case!