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Not-so-instant messaging: The oldest message in a bottle is found 108 years later

Published Aug 24th, 2015 10:45PM EDT
Oldest Message Bottle 108 Years
Image: Winkler family handout

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We live in a world where we crave instant results, instant iMessage responses and immediate rewards. And technology makes it all happen. Just pull whatever smartphone you favor out of your pocket and you’ll get lots of digital content to keep you entertained, and – most importantly – access to instant communications.

But that wasn’t the case in the more distant past, when other messaging techniques were the norm, including messages in bottles. The oldest such message was found on a beach in Germany this April, after being released into the sea sometime between 1904 and 1906.

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Unfortunately, this message from the past isn’t a passionate love letter, a desperate call for help or a treasure quest. As The Telegraph reports, this message in a bottle is part of a large batch of bottles that were thrown into the North Sea for research.

The message urged the person finding the bottle to break it. Inside the bottle, there was a postcard promising the finder a shilling for filling in some information and sending the letter to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth.

Researchers released 1,020 bottles in the sea between 1904 and 1906 to study deep sea currents and fish movements. Modern technology would let researchers use advanced gadgets for the same purposes. But, at the time, former president of the Association George Parker Bidder thought of this particular method for completing his research.

“It was quite a stir when we opened that envelope, as you can imagine,” communications director at the Marine Biological Association Guy Baker said.

“It was a time when they were inventing ways to investigate what currents and fish did,” Baker said. “The association still does similar research today, but we have access to technology they didn’t have, such as electronic tags.”

“Many of the bottles were found by fishermen trawling with deep sea nets. Others washed up on the shore, and some were never recovered.”

The returned bottles helped Bidder prove for the first time that the deep sea current flowed from east to west in the North Sea and that plaice fish usually swim against the deep current.

Oh, and the woman who  found the message got a shilling, as promised.

“We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay,” Baker said. “We sent it to her with a letter saying ‘Thank you’.”

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.