108-Year-Old Message in a Bottle Is Oldest Ever Found

Now considered the oldest message in a bottle, this post card was thrown into the North Sea in 1906.
Now considered the oldest message in a bottle, this post card was thrown into the North Sea in 1906. (Image credit: Marine Biological Association)

The oldest message in a bottle spent 108 years, 4 months and 18 days at sea.

After being cast into the sea by the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA) in November 1906, the message washed up at Amrum Island, in Germany, on April 17, 2015. This year, Guinness World Records recognized it as the oldest message in a bottle ever found.

One of more than 1,000 bottles thrown into the North Sea by marine biologist George Parker Bidder, the bottle was part of a research project on the patterns of ocean currents. More than a century later, a letter containing an original postcard from one of his bottles arrived in the mail at the MBA's Plymouth laboratory in the United Kingdom. [History's 10 Most Overlooked Mysteries]

A German woman discovered the bottle while visiting Amrum, one of Germany's North Frisian Islands. The postcard inside promised a reward of 1 shilling (a former unit of currency that was equivalent to 12 pence) for filling in some information and returning the postcard. The MBA was determined to send her the proper reward.

"We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay," Guy Baker, communications officer at MBA, told the Guardian. "We sent it to her with a letter saying thank you."

Bidder's 1906 experiment was a form of what is now called "citizen science." The bottles were reportedly returned at a rate of around 55 percent — largely from fishermen encouraged by the reward — and the marine biologist was able to prove that the North Sea's deep-sea current flowed from east to west.

Though this bottle's recent discovery missed its place in Bidder's original research, it now has its own place in history as the Guinness World Record holder for the world's oldest message in a bottle.

Messages in bottles have long fascinated the public and researchers alike.

Indeed, they've long been fixtures of heartwarming stories. In 2014, a bottle was discovered containing a message written by a young German man during a nature hike on May 17, 1913, Live Science reported. After the discovery, researchers were able to locate his granddaughter and give her a note from her grandfather, whom she'd never met.

Another rare find was a message in a bottle found not at sea, but under a rock pile in the Canadian Arctic. Left by American glaciologist Paul T. Walker in 1959, the message described his glacial research and was found by other researchers 54 years later.

Walker's message was particularly impactful, as he suffered a stroke during that expedition and died shortly thereafter. "We were reading some of his last words," said Warwick F. Vincent, director of the Center for Northern Studies at Laval University in Canada, and one of the researchers who found the message, as reported by Live Science.

Messages can be adrift (or buried) for decades, but some more modern messages in bottles have been discovered as well. For instance, in 2011, a bottle was found on an Australian beach, 6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers) from its origin, 14 years after being cast into the sea — during a cruise in February 1997, retired Texas Tech professor George Tereshkovich had written out a message, placed it in a bottle with his business card, and tossed it into the ocean.

"I told the wife what I was going to do," Tereshkovich said in a statement. "She thought I was seasick or something, throwing a note overboard. We continued cruising, and I completely forgot about it."

Whether a decade or a century passes, each message in a bottle has a story to tell.

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Kacey Deamer
Staff Writer
Kacey Deamer is a journalist for Live Science, covering planet earth and innovation. She has previously reported for Mother Jones, the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, Neon Tommy and more. After completing her undergraduate degree in journalism and environmental studies at Ithaca College, Kacey pursued her master's in Specialized Journalism: Climate Change at USC Annenberg. Follow Kacey on Twitter.