May 1: Birthday of SPAM

Reaction to the DEC Spam of 1978

You want to believe that greed was never as intense as it is now, and that the lows to which salesmen of reputable companies stoop in order to make a sale were not always as the lows achieved by modern SPAMmers. Then you encounter articles like the one above, about the first incidence of SPAM email. You assume that it happened in the mid 1990s, just when email use was becoming prevalent. But, no. It was in 1978, very soon after email was born. And, the culprit was not some shady internet character trying to pitch something illicit or unsavory. It was a salesman from Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) trying to sell wares to the members of the then internet: mainly defense contractors and academics (who were probably acting as defense contractors).

The link above appeared in this Google history widget. It is amazing that a DEC salesman carried out the deed. After all, DEC was renowned as an engineering powerhouse that made due without any fancy marketing by relying on the strength of its products. (This ultimately led to DEC’s demise in 1998, when it was bought by Compaq, a company too inept to use DEC’s technology to survive.) In this context, it is perhaps sad that this salesman’s efforts were so horribly misplaced temporally. Ten years later, this marketing may have been of some use to DEC. After all, the ultimate irony is that DEC did not have this sort of aggressive marketing when it needed it.

Image from Doug Jones’ Collection of DEC Logos

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