What else hath God wrought?
February 14, 2021 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I think many of us know the first line transmitted by telegraph and the first thing said on a phone. But what were the first words transmitted by or recorded to other methods of communication and storage?

I just found out today that the fax machine is much much older than I thought, which made me wonder: what was the first fax? Which led to: what were the first words cast in linotype, or recorded to a wax cylinder, or transmitted over the ham bands, or burned onto a CD? I think a lot of people know the first Morse code telegraph message (above) and we've probably all heard about "Watson, come here, I want to see you." For whatever reason I also know the first words stored on a hard drive: "This has been a day of solid achievement." I bet some of you guys have similar trivia at your fingertips. Google if you must (I haven't), but I'm most interested in hearing the ones you happen to have stored in your brain already.
posted by babelfish to Technology (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Whoops I slightly changed the title so now of course it isn't exactly the first Morse code telegraph message.
posted by babelfish at 8:42 PM on February 14

Google might falsify this, but I believe the first song encoded as mp3 was Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" – because it's a cappella it would be better at showing up any audio issues arising from the compression.
posted by nomis at 8:58 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]

The oldest known written complaint is to Ea-Nasir, from Nanni; apparently the copper was poor quality.
posted by mdonley at 9:01 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]

The first known audio recording is apparently Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville or assistant singing the folksong "Au clair de la lune" in 1860. You can hear the recording at that link. At the time, Scott had no way to play back the recording--that has only come recently. Scott simply recorded a drawing of the waveform in soot.

You can find the history of Edison's cylinder phonograph here. This was the first operational device that was designed to both record and play back sound (unlike Scott's 1860 device, which was record-only). You can listen to the first recording on this device--Edison reciting Mary had a little lamb--here. This was recorded in 1877.
posted by flug at 9:24 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]

As for the first recording on magnetic media (magnetic tape, disk, wire, etc), the first working magnetic media recording device seems to be the magnetic wire recorder invented by Valdemar Poulsen in 1898.

The earliest surviving recording from that system appears to be a greeting from Emperor Franz Joseph recorded in 1900 at the Paris Exhibition. The Emperor says, "...Erfindung hat mich sehr interessiert, und ich danke sehr für die Vorstellung derselben" ([this] invention interests me greatly, and I think you much for presenting it here).

As the earliest surviving magnetic recording, this is the forerunner and first example of not only all types of magnetic audio and video tape, but also computer tape systems and the magnetic floppy and hard-drive computer storage systems we still use today.
posted by flug at 9:39 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]

The first demonstration of the instantaneous transmission of images (ie, the earliest type of television) was by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier in Paris in 1909. They broadcast images of various letters of the alphabet at 8x8 pixel resolution. You can see one of the images (the letter E)--both original and digitized/transmitted version--at the end of this article.
posted by flug at 9:47 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]

The first transatlantic telegraph cable was completed in 1858. The first official transmission over the cable was "Directors of Atlantic Telegraph Company, Great Britain, to Directors in America:—Europe and America are united by telegraph. Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, good will towards men."

That cable failed after just three weeks.

The next, far more successful transatlantic cable was completed in 1866 and this time the first message telegraphed across consisted of quotations from articles on the front page of The Times: "It is a great work, a glory to our age and nation, and the men who have achieved it deserve to be honoured among the benefactors of their race." "Treaty of peace signed between Prussia and Austria."

What about transatlantic radio transmission? The first reception was in 1901. Guglielmo Marconi and his assistant, George Kemp, used a telephone receiver and a wire antenna kept aloft by a kite. They heard Morse code for the letter "S" transmitted from Poldhu, Cornwall.
posted by flug at 10:05 PM on February 14

On October 29, 1969, the first message was sent across the Arpanet (the most direct ancestor of the Internet) from UCLA to SRI (Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto). The message was supposed to be login , but the operator (graduate student Charley Kline) had only typed the two letters lo when the system crashed.
posted by JonJacky at 10:32 PM on February 14 [10 favorites]

"The first test SMS message was sent on December 3, 1992, when Neil Papwort, a test engineer for Sema Group, used a personal computer to send "Merry Christmas" to the phone of colleague Richard Jarvis."
posted by misteraitch at 12:19 AM on February 15

First Extraterrestrial LP? Kurt Waldheim on voyager disc: "I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate."
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:45 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

I believe the first webcam was the Trojan Room coffee pot camera running at Cambridge University while I was a student there (I wasn't personally involved in setting it up but I know people who were).
posted by crocomancer at 1:32 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]

Ray Tomlinson, the man who invented email, doesn't remember what the first email was but it may well have been QWERTYIOP (sic)
posted by TheRaven at 2:11 AM on February 15

Maybe too obvious to mention, but the first words officially transmitted from the Moon were, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Then again, maybe not so obvious, because technically they were, “Contact light. Ok, Engine stop.”
posted by Mchelly at 5:37 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

The History of Digital Recording is pretty interesting. There's no single starting point, just many different people adding bits over time. The artist on the world's first commercial digital recording (depending how you look at it) was Stomu Yamash'ta. Anecdotally, one of the scientists involved in developing digital archiving was obsessed with Enrico Caruso, and wowed the cats at a mid-1970s Audio Engineering Society convention with some re-mastering experiments featuring the vintage tenor.
posted by ovvl at 6:33 AM on February 15

Ray Tomlinson, the man who invented email, doesn't remember what the first email was but it may well have been QWERTYIOP (sic)

And the first unsolicited commercial email / spam message was about Digital Equipment Corporation demoing their DECSYSTEM-20 computer, sent on May 3, 1978.

Read to the end of the article to see a message from one Richard Stallman asking what the big deal is, until people forward the message to him, which resulting in him saying "I eat my words. I sure would have minded it!"

This of course is not to be confused with the first spam telegraph, sent directly to the front door of British politicians almost exactly 114 years prior, about a dental practice's summer hours.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:36 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

The first message sent over a packet switched network (which would become the Internet, sort of) was "LO". They were typing "LOGIN" at the client, but the host crashed. Things have gone steadily downhill in the five decades or so since. True story.
posted by The Bellman at 1:56 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Jack is selling his first tweet. Not sure how that works, but that's the headline.
posted by vespabelle at 10:56 AM on March 8

That first tweet is surely a lie though, right? I mean, he must have already finished setting up his twitter or he wouldn't have been able to send a tweet saying he was just setting it up now.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:31 AM on March 31

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