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Message in a bottle

A message in a bottle is a form of communication whereby a message is sealed in a container (archetypically a glass bottle, but could be any medium, so long as it floats and remains waterproof) and released into the sea or ocean. Such messages are not intended for a specific person, but to end up wherever the currents carry them. Because of their simplicity they are often associated with people stranded on a desert island, attempting to be rescued.[citation needed] However, many people release such messages for pleasure, to see how far their message can travel and to make new friends. They are also used for scientific studies of ocean currents. The phrase "message in a bottle" has also come to refer to any message sent without an intended destination.[citation needed]



The first recorded messages in bottles were released around 310 BC by the Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus, as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean.

On his return to Spain following his first voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus's ship entered a severe storm. Columbus threw a report of his discovery along with a note asking it to be passed on to the Queen of Spain, in a sealed cask into the sea, hoping the news would make it back even if he did not survive. In fact, Columbus survived and the sealed report was never found.

In the 16th century, the English navy, among others, used bottle messages to send ashore information about enemy positions. Queen Elizabeth I even created an official position of "Uncorker of Ocean Bottles", and anyone else opening the bottles could face the death penalty.[1]

In 1914, British World War I soldier, Private Thomas Hughes, tossed a green ginger beer bottle containing a letter to his wife into the English Channel. He was killed two days later fighting in France. In 1999, fisherman Steve Gowan dredged up the bottle in the River Thames. Although the intended recipient of the letter had died in 1979, it was delivered in 1999 to Private Hughes' 86-year old daughter living in New Zealand.[2]

In May 2005 eighty-eight shipwrecked migrants were rescued off the coast of Costa Rica. They had placed an SOS message in a bottle and tied it to one of the long lines of a passing fishing boat.[3]

The oldest message in a bottle spent 92 years 229 days at sea. A bottom drift bottle, numbered 423B, was released at 60º 50'N 00º 38'W on 25 April 1914 and recovered by fisherman, Mark Anderson of Bixter, Shetland, UK, at 60º 50'N 00º 37'W on December 10, 2006.[4]

Similar methods using other media

Balloon mail is a similar method of sending undirected messages through the air. The advantage of balloon mail is that it can be launched anywhere and can in principle reach any point on Earth. A further advantage is that it can be launched more easily, since a bottle dropped into the ocean could be washed back to land by the surf.

The U.S. space agency NASA has launched several interstellar "messages in bottles." A graphic message in the form of a 6 by 9-inch gold-anodized aluminium plaque, known as the Pioneer plaque, was bolted to the frames of the Pioneer 10 (launched on March 2, 1972) and Pioneer 11 (launched on April 5, 1973) spacecraft.

In August and September 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, together called the Voyager Project. Each carries a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk, known as the Voyager Golden Record, containing recorded sounds and images representing human cultures and life on Earth.

The glass interior shell of the Westinghouse Time Capsules of the 1939 New York World's Fair and 1964 New York World's Fair was made of Pyrex, where the exterior metal casing was a special copper alloy of "Cupaloy" (1938) or "Kromarc" stainless steel (1965) to withstand the effects of 5000 years of time, when they are expected to arrive to the people intended.

A digital variant is where a message is stored on a flash memory data storage device, usually as a text file, and then left in a public place in hopes that a random person will eventually read the message.

In popular culture

  • Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story entitled "MS. Found in a Bottle", possibly intended as a satire of sea tales.
  • The Police recorded a song titled "Message in a Bottle" in 1979. It was their first number one hit in the United Kingdom.
  • Eyedea wrote a song called "Bottle Dreams", which refers to a girl who sends a daily message in a bottle into a river; after her death. About 500 messages in bottles are found.
  • Nicholas Sparks's novel Message in a Bottle was made into a film of the same name in 1999.
  • In the 1977 Disney animated film, The Rescuers, captured protagonist Penny sent out a distress message in a bottle at the beginning of the movie in the hopes that someone will find it and rescue her.
  • In the 2009 BBC Radio 4 comedy sketch series Bigipedia one sketch covered the history of "The Desert Island Bore", a woman who has written more messages in bottles than anyone in history, but has never been rescued from the desert island because all the letters are boring.

See also


  1. ^ Kraske, Robert (1977). The twelve million dollar note: Strange but true tales of messages found in seagoing bottles. T. Nelson; 1st ed. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0-8407-6575-4. 
  2. ^ . 1999-05-18. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  3. ^ "Message in bottle saves drifting migrants". 2005-05-31. Retrieved 2006-05-27. 
  4. ^ Oldest Message in a Bottle - Guinness World Records

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