Message in a bottle

Message in a bottle
Start (Hurtigruten, 2011)

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. Among other purposes they are used for scientific studies of ocean currents.



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.[verification needed]

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, or at least, its discovery never reported.[verification needed]

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 1784 Chunosuke Matsuyama sent a message detailing his and 43 shipmates' shipwrecking in a bottle that washed ashore and was found by a Japanese seaweed collector in 1935, in the village of Hiraturemura, the birthplace of Chunosuke Matsuyama.[2]

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.[3]

In February 1916 the doomed crew of Zeppelin L 19 dropped their last messages to their superiors and loved ones into the North Sea. These washed up on the Kattegat coast near Gothenburg, Sweden six months later.[4]

On a lonely night in December 1945, American World War II veteran Frank Hayostek tossed a bottle over the side of his ship. It was recovered by an Irish milk maid, Breda O'Sullivan who set off an exchange of letters that lasted seven years before the two finally met amid an international media circus. Despite (or perhaps because of) the media attention, the two were never able to get their romance off the ground.

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.[5]

According to Guinness World Records, 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 (about halfway between Aberdeen, Scotland and the coast of Denmark) on April 25, 1914 and recovered by fisherman Mark Anderson of Bixter, Shetland, UK, on December 10, 2006.[6]

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 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.

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 spacecrafts, 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.

In 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2008 the Yevpatoria RT-70 radio telescope has transmitted messages to any potential extraterrestrial civilizations:

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. ^ Robert Kraske, "The Twelve Million Dollar Note: Strange but True Tales of Messages Found in Seagoing Bottles" (1977), pp.30-32. ISBN 0-8407-6575-4.
  3. ^ "Sweet message in a bottle". BBC News. 1999-05-18. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  4. ^ "Das Tragödie von L19" (in German). Zeppelin-Museums Tondern. Retrieved 10 June 2010. "Der Kommandant, Kapitänleutnant L wkireugqire qei bqehr bqrdfw3qbh qfe o e w e, an seine Vorgesetzten: Mit fünfzehn Mann auf der Plattform ... versuche ich eine letzte Berichterstattung. ... Am 2. Februar 1916 nachmittags, etwa ein Uhr - ist wohl die letzte Stunde. Loewe ... an seine Frau: 2.2.16, mittags 12 Uhr. Letzte Stunde" 
  5. ^ "Message in bottle saves drifting migrants". CNN. 2005-05-31. Archived from the original on 2005-7-29. Retrieved 2006-05-27. 
  6. ^ "Oldest Message in a Bottle". Guinness World Records. 

External links

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