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First Text Sent 20 Years Ago Today

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Cake with letter candles that spell out "Happy Birthday"

“Merry Christmas”

That familiar holiday greeting was the first text message ever sent, exactly 20 years ago today on December 3, 1992. The sender: then-22-year-old Neil Papworth, software engineer at Vodafone, who sent the inaugural text to Richard Jarvis, his managing director, who was at a Christmas party.

But it wasn’t until 1999, when texts could first be sent and received between networks, that the new medium really caught fire. Just 3 years later, in 2002, over 250 billion texts had already been sent worldwide. Today, Americans alone send over 2 trillion texts a year, and 4 out 5 cellphone owners text regularly.

Papworth revealed in a recent interview that no one foresaw the ubiquitous adoption of SMS. “Back then, it was just intended to be used like an executive pager, to get ahold of people on the road,” he said. “No one knew it would evolve into such a monster.”

A senior analyst at Informa Telecoms reflected on what led to the texting boom: “The characteristics that made SMS an essential mobile communications service [were] that it was inexpensive, universally available on devices and from mobile operators, and interoperable.” The benefits of SMS are as relevant today as they ever were, explaining the massive popularity of the medium still enjoys.

Happy birthday, text message. And many more.

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