E-mail just arrived in my inbox from 2004. How?

March 7, 2004, to be exact, from a former colleague who has been former for quite some time. It popped up as “NEW!” and took its place at the top of the stack. Now it has migrated to its rightful place at the bottom–where it belongs timewise.

Yes, the date on the email was clearly 2004. Did I see it originally back when it should’ve arrived? don’t know–ten years later, who can remember?

Anyway, wondering what the mechanism for this type of delay might have been. I understand there may be more than one answer. Anybody know?


Sounds like a glitch that showed it as new. You probably did receive it back then. A gmail user said the had the same happen and and an answer was given as;

Is it possible that the mail is new but that the date in the headers is wrong?

No, the colleague in question left at least 6-7 years ago, and the email referred to something that would’ve happened back in '04. Reasonable thought, though.

I’m intrigued that only this one came in; judging from Antinor01’s explanation it sounds as though thousands of emails should have poured in, the whole line of 'em for the last decade. But that didn’t happen. Strange. Maybe I’m misreading the response, though.

I had a similar experience about a year ago. One email from ~3 years prior showed up as unread at the top of my inbox. In my case, I did remember receiving it the first time. No idea what caused it. That was the only affected message and it hasn’t happened since.

I’ve also received a new message with a sent by date from 1964. No idea what happened there either.

I had a similar experience many years ago, but the e-mails weren’t a decade old, only months.

What happened was that the e-mail system would occasionally spool a message and forget about it, but it didn’t do it all the time. Since it only lost track of messages once in a while, no one really noticed. After all, how do you notice not receiving a message that you didn’t know was coming? Once in a while someone would lose a message that they knew was coming, but since the e-mail system otherwise worked fine and didn’t lose most messages, it was just shrugged off as the message getting lost somewhere on the internet and no one gave it a second thought.

Until the machine finally spooled up so many lost messages that it completely filled its disk. Which was followed by the machine promptly crashing.

The folks in charge of the machine finally figured out what was happening, and all of the messages that the machine had spooled up and lost over the preceding months (maybe even a couple of years, I don’t remember) were all sent out at once. along with a message explaining what had happened.

Are you sure it was 1964 and not some other old date? Unix computers basically count seconds from 1970, where Windows computers count seconds from 1980. If the counter gets zeroed out (like say when you have a dead motherboard battery and shut off the computer) then it will reset to those dates.

Perhaps it was in his outbox when his computer was last used or turned on. I recently updated the login for one of my accounts and before I knew it a half-dozen long-forgotten messages had gone out.

Wibbly wobbly…

Email headers don’t use either Windows or Unix system time. They specify the year as a 4-digit number of years after 1900. So you can very easily send someone an email with a date anytime after 1900. You can also send one with a date far in the future. I’ve seen lots of cases of people sending emails “from the past” either as a joke or as some kind of spam/marketing gimmick.

Well, it’s possible the server has a bug where emails get resent as new, but the bug only happens rarely with individual emails, rather than broadly with all of them.

This is by far the most likely reason.

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was some time in the 1960s.

ETA: It definitely wasn’t a joke. It was a business email sent by one of my colleagues.

Insufficient postage.

I blame it on Obamacare.