Sending Out an S.O.S.

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

In the next few weeks, a 26-foot, 2.7-ton bottle launched by the Norwegian soda company Solo is expected to make landfall. The bottle, which is currently floating off the coast of French Guiana, contains a 129-square-foot message in multiple languages explaining that the finder will get to have a party thrown in his honor. Of course, the vessel is only the most recent addition to aquatic note-passing’s long and sloshy history.

310 B.C.
The earliest known message in a bottle is sent by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, one of Aristotle’s pupils, as a way of testing his hypothesis that the Atlantic Ocean flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

Queen Elizabeth appoints a royal “Uncorker of Ocean Bottles” and makes the unauthorized opening of an “ocean bottle” a capital crime.

The United States Coast & Geodetic Survey begins releasing messages in bottles into the ocean en masse to gather data on ocean currents.

A message in a bottle that reads “From Titanic. Goodbye all. Burke of Glanmire, Cork” washes ashore in Dunkettle, Ireland.

As the ocean liner Lusitania is sinking—after being torpedoed by a German U-boat—one passenger has time to pen this message: “Still on deck with a few people. The last boats have left. We are sinking fast … The end is near. Maybe this note will—”

Amateur fisherman Harold Hackett of Prince Edward Island, Canada, sends the first of over 4,800 messages in bottles. He’s since received more than 3,100 responses.

A bottle is discovered in the River Thames sent from World War I private Thomas Hughes, who wrote a message for his wife and tossed it into the English Channel as he left to fight in France in 1914. He was killed in battle two days later. The bottle is delivered to his 86-year-old daughter in New Zealand.

After being abandoned at sea off the coast of Costa Rica, 88 South American refugees are rescued when a fishing vessel receives their plea for help in a bottle tied to one of the boat’s fishing lines.

In a land-based discovery, workers near Auschwitz find a message in a bottle written by prisoners of the Nazi camp dated September 9, 1944, and bearing the names, camp numbers, and hometowns of seven men.

After the Italian bulk carrier Montecristo is hijacked by Somali pirates, the crew is rescued when NATO warships receive a message stating that it is safe to board the ship.

A note written by Sidonie Fery, who died at 18 in 2010, washes up in the Hurricane Sandy debris. The message, written when Fery was 10, reads: “Be excellent to yourself, dude.”

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Sending Out an S.O.S.