Seems it all started one innocent spring day in 1978. What now makes up over 90% of all e-mail in some regions and accounts for over a hundred billion unsolicited messages each day – and growing – began with a simple idea. According to a New Yorker article, marketing guy Gary Thuerk wanted to let the still nascent tech world know about a new computer system his company DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) was about to release.

So, taking advantage of the Arpanet, a wide-area network of government and university computers, he sent out a mass e-mail – something that, as far as anyone knows, had never been done before. And he got plenty of flack for it. But DEC also sold over 20 of the pricey systems at more than a million a pop – and those are 1978 dollars!

And thus spam was born.

Pandora’s box had been opened and a new plague was unleashed on the world. One that each day gets more aggressive, more slimy, and more slickly spread. And, while there are vast and noble armies of techies fighting this plague attempting to stop it at every turn, that only means that more and more spam must be unleashed so that even if a tiny percentage get through, that’s enough to meet the needs of the ever-growing industry.

And, according to Michael Specter in this week’s New Yorker, it seems we have Gary Thuerk to thank for all of this. But of course, we know if he hadn’t thought of it, someone else would. And at least the very first spam had nothing to do with Nigerian money transfers, penile growth, or anything with “xxx” in the subject line!


To read Michael Specter’s article in The New Yorker:

Damn Spam: The Losing War on Junk E-mail