Electronic mail was invented by Ray Tomlinson in the 1960s. It wasn't until a couple of decades later that the World Wide Web would begin to take shape in the form we know and love today. The first spam email was sent in 1978 by Gary Thuerk to several hundred users on ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). Since then, lots of nefarious companies and individuals have jumped on that bandwagon, plaguing our inboxes with unwanted junk.
In 1947, computer pioneer Grace Hopper found herself working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University. It was at this time that her associates discovered a moth had gotten trapped in one of the computer’s relays and was causing an error. The operators removed the moth and taped it in their log book, identifying it as the “first actual case of bug being found.” Word got out that the team had “debugged” the computer, hence leading to the phrase’s use in computing and pop culture. Hopper readily admitted that she was not there when the incident occurred, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of her favorite stories. Hopper died of natural causes on January 1, 1992, at the age of 85. For those interested, the offending moth’s remains, along with the original log book, can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. And while this is the "modern" use case of finding a computer bug, the original use of the word dates further back in time to Thomas Edison, who in an 1878 letter used the term "bug" to refer to a technological glitch. While he worked on the quadruplex telegraph, he said it needed a “bug trap” to function properly.
Chip and PIN-based payment cards are still relatively new in the US, comparatively speaking. It wasn’t until late 2015 that Visa and Mastercard started implementing the tech in the States, but did you know that such smart cards had been around and in use in other parts of the world decades earlier? In the mid-70s, a French inventor named Roland Moreno patented what would become the first smart card. Two German engineers reportedly came up with a similar idea in the late 60s but it was Moreno that was first to get it through a patent office. It’d be another decade or so before the concept would gain widespread use in the financial services industry and much longer before it would become commonplace worldwide. Despite never achieving much notoriety for his invention, he made plenty of money from it. According to a 2012 piece from The Guardian, Moreno’s company had collected around 150 million euros in royalties. In 2006, he told France Soir that the idea came to him during a dream.
E-mail spam is an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age. It’s the modern equivalent of junk mail that gets delivered to your physical mail box, and nobody – except the people that profit from it – like it. What many people may not know, however, is that spam e-mail is named after canned meat. Spam, as you may know, is a brand of canned pork that has been in production by the Hormel Foods Corporation since 1937. During World War II, it became a key part of soldiers’ diets due to its versatility and shelf life. After the war, the canned meat product surged in popularity around the world. Fast-forward to 1970 when a Monty Python sketch famously featured Spam as its focus. In the bit, the word “spam” was repeated time and again, no doubt in reference to its perceived ubiquity. In the early 90s, when the first unsolicited messages started going out in bulk, it reminded one Usenet newsgroup user of the spam skit from Monty Python. The name stuck, and now, the word “spam” is commonly used to refer to unsolicited communications or performing an action repeatedly.
In 1991, the Defense Communications Agency was renamed the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). A few months later, the agency contracted a company called Network Solutions, Inc. to operate the domain name system (DNS) registry. Network Solutions in 1992 received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop the registration service for the Internet and the following year, the company became the lone domain name registrar for .com, .net and .org top level domains (TLDs). What many people may not realize is that until 1995, domain names were given out free of charge. That changed when the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) purchased Network Solutions for $4.7 million. Following the acquisition, the NSF granted the new owner the authority to start charging for domain name registrations. That eventually led to the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), paving the way for competition in the domain name industry – but that’s another story for another time.