On a May evening in 1864, several British politicians were disturbed by a knock at the door and the delivery of a telegraph—a most unusual occurence at such a late hour. Had war broken out? Had the queen been taken ill? They ripped open the envelopes and were surprised to find a message relating not to some national calamity, but to dentistry. Messrs Gabriel, of 27 Harley Street, advised that their dental practice would be open from 10am to 5pm until October. Infuriated, some of the recipients of this unsolicited message wrote to the Times. "I have never had any dealings with Messrs Gabriel," thundered one of them, "and beg to know by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is simply the medium of advertisement?" The Times helpfully reprinted the offending telegram, proving its senders with further free publicity.
This was, notes Matthew Sweet, a historian, the first example of what is known today as "spam".