It was 3 May, 1978. Gary Thuerk, sales rep at the Digital Equipment, corp. (DEC), was hard at work promoting the company's latest computers, which were installed in open houses in Los Angeles and San Mateo, on the Pacific coast of the United States. Thuerk wanted to promote the computers among the scientists on the ARPAnet, the predecessor of today's internet, as the new machines in the DECSYSTEM-20 line (the machines in question) and the TOPS-20 operating system had support for ARPAnet built-in. Thuerk, however, did not feel like sending 600 individual email messages to all the people on the ARPAnet, so he had a brainwave: why not send the same message to all of them? At once?
Carl Gartley, engineer at DEC during those times, was burdened with writing the actual message - as well as manually typing in the 600 email addresses. Since the system could only handle 320 recipients, the remainder of the addresses flowed through into the actual message. The message was resent to those addresses. Written in all caps (...) the first spam message read as follows:
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 [PDP-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.
The rest of the message consisted of invitations to come and see the new machines at the open houses, or to contact the nearest DEC office if you were unable to attend.
The response to the message was rather fierce. ARPAnet was supposed to be used for US government related matters only, and this did not really fit in. The most interesting complaint I have read so far, however, came from 'Jake', as it really highlights the novelty and exclusiveness of ARPAnet. Jake said that only a few companies have access to ARPAnet - and US companies only, at that - and that as such, allowing them to advertise via ARPAnet would give them an unfair advantage over their competitors. In addition, Jake said that the same was true for job applications sent via ARPAnet.
You have to thank a DEC sales rep and his brainwave 30 years ago for that one.