20 years ago, a young British engineer named Neil Papworth sent the world’s first text message from a computer to his boss’s mobile phone.
Nokia introduced the 1011 on the 10th of the 11th 1992. It was the first mobile phone capable of sending and receiving SMS texts. Three weeks after engineers got the system live, so what did the first text message actually say? It was ‘Merry Christmas’.
When he sent that Christmas greeting on December 3, 1992, Papworth never imagined he’d make history. “For me, I was doing a day’s work and I just thought: ‘OK, if this thing works, what am I doing tomorrow?”.
He was 22 years old at the time of the inaugural text, working as a software engineer for the British company Vodafone to improve pager and mobile phone messaging systems at a time when few people even carried mobile phones.
Vodafone wanted to develop the technology as an improvement on paging, Papworth said, and no one realised then how it would change the culture of communication forever. “They thought it would be used as an executive pager so that secretaries could get hold of their bosses while they were out and about and they could send them messages and tell them what to do and where to go”.
Papworth was working for a company called Sema Group Telecoms at Vodafone’s offices in Newbury, southeast England, developing what was known as a Short Message Service Centre (SMSC).
“I used to talk to my friends about what I do, and they’re like: ‘Text what?’ No one had a mobile phone back then,” he said.
The bricks of the 1980s were heavy on the arm muscles but light on uses with only the option of making a call. Mobile phones have now evolved into multi-tasking smartphones and text messaging has become part of our daily interactions.