The First SPAM

No, I’m not talking about Monty Python or a manufactured meat product. No I’m speaking of our old friend the unsolicited commercial email.

I ran into Brad Tempelton’s web site and thought this information might interest my readers as well.

Apparently the first SPAM message was sent on May 3rd, 1978, to numerous email addresses on the then Government sponsored ARPA NET.

An aggressive DEC marketer, Gary Thuerk, believed that developers involved with the ARPANET project would find DEC’s DEC-20 and TOPS-20 operation systems of interest as they contained the ARPANET protocol natively.

Carl Gartley, an engineer at DEC, actually loged in to Mr. Thuerk’s account and sent the message on May 3rd and the rest is history.

I’ve included the message below; as you can see the mail program would only receive 320 addresses so the addresses typed into the message actually flowed over to the body of the message. Upon learning that some of the intended recipients did not receive the message Thuerk and Gartley recent the message a second time.

DIGITAL WILL BE GIVING A PRODUCT PRESENTATION OF THE NEWEST MEMBERS OF THE
DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY; THE DECSYSTEM-2020, 2020T, 2060, AND 2060T. THE
DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY OF COMPUTERS HAS EVOLVED FROM THE TENEX OPERATING SYSTEM
AND THE DECSYSTEM-10
COMPUTER ARCHITECTURE. BOTH THE DECSYSTEM-2060T
AND 2020T OFFER FULL ARPANET SUPPORT UNDER THE TOPS-20 OPERATING SYSTEM.
THE DECSYSTEM-2060 IS AN UPWARD EXTENSION OF THE CURRENT DECSYSTEM 2040
AND 2050 FAMILY. THE DECSYSTEM-2020 IS A NEW LOW END MEMBER OF THE
DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AND FULLY SOFTWARE COMPATIBLE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER
DECSYSTEM-20 MODELS.

WE INVITE YOU TO COME SEE THE 2020 AND HEAR ABOUT THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY
AT THE TWO PRODUCT PRESENTATIONS WE WILL BE GIVING IN CALIFORNIA THIS
MONTH. THE LOCATIONS WILL BE:

TUESDAY, MAY 9, 1978 – 2 PM
HYATT HOUSE (NEAR THE L.A. AIRPORT)
LOS ANGELES, CA

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 1978 – 2 PM
DUNFEY’S ROYAL COACH
SAN MATEO, CA
(4 MILES SOUTH OF S.F. AIRPORT AT BAYSHORE, RT 101 AND RT 92)

A 2020 WILL BE THERE FOR YOU TO VIEW. ALSO TERMINALS ON-LINE TO OTHER
DECSYSTEM-20 SYSTEMS THROUGH THE ARPANET. IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND,
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT THE NEAREST DEC OFFICE
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EXCITING DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY.

In Thuerk’s defense, the Internet as we know it today was not in the foreseeable future except in the minds of a few ARPANET engineers. At the time there was no reason for Thuerk to feel he had violated any social goodwill; after all, he was in uncharted waters.


Further Reading:
Reaction to the DEC Spam of 1978 – by Brad Tempelton
Guinness World Records talks to Gary Thuerk

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