A History Lesson With Booze ®

The Short History of the First SMS

How postcards, holiday greetings, and a whole bunch of random sentences created the text messaging protocol that defined a decade.

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PIERRE ANDRIEU / Getty

OMG! Are you sick of cell-phone abbreviations, like “OMG”? You can blame them on Friedhelm Hillebrand.

The year was 1984, long before most people owned or cared about cell phones. Hillebrand and other telecom engineers were already working on a way to not only let cell users make calls, but also send each other text messages.

The problem was data bandwidth back then was in short supply, so messages would have to be short enough to not use much data, while also long enough to convey a useful amount of information. What should the maximum length be?

One night, Hillebrand sat down and typed out a bunch of random sentences. He found that all of them contained about 160 characters, as did the typical message on a standard post-card.

Eight years later, on December 3rd, 1992, the first text ever was sent via SMS, the Short Message Service Hillebrand helped create. Maximum message length: 160 characters.

Hillebrand didn’t send that first text; a 22-year-old engineer did the honors, typing the message out on a computer and sending it to the phone of Richard Jarvis, an executive at the company Vodaphone. The message read, “Merry Christmas.” Jarvis couldn’t respond. His then cutting-edge cell phone had no way of inputting text.

No one knew if text messages would ever catch on with the public – but we all know they did, especially as other messaging services allowed longer character counts. In 2010, users sent 6.1 trillion texts – BTW, that’s about 193,000 per second.

The Hillebrand

The Hillebrand cocktail from Shakers Cocktail Bar in Bonn, Germany
Photo: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Composed, briefly, by Tayfun Babayigat, bartender at Shakers Cocktail Bar in Bonn, Germany where Friedhelm Hillebrand was from.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Fresh lime juice
  • Sprite or 7UP soda

Instructions:
Combine the simple ingredients and top with soda. Add a cherry if you want to make it extra cheery – like an emoji for your drink.