First appearance of telemarketers

When did telemarketers first start calling? How were they greeted?

There was a blurb in Scientific American about this several months ago. It was in their 50/100/150 years ago section. As I recall, a dry cleaner called all of the houses with phones in the area to tell them about a sale. That’s the best I have.


Slashdot are talking about the centenary of Cunard’s “you’ve won a cruise” scam. Well, maybe it wasn’t a scam then…

Haj: I should also have asked what were they selling. Makes sense though that it was something relatively innocous, as opposed to say time shares.

Gor: Interesting. The earliest sort of “spam” I could think of offhand was Wrigley sending a couple sticks of gum to everyone in the phone book. I’m unsure if it was every phone book or just those around Chicago. I’m pretty sure it’s older than that example, but it’s not really “spam” in the sense of using telecommunications to bother people. I wonder how often that sort of thing was done.

I think the second telegram sent by Samuel Morse was, “Make Money Now!!!”

Congratulations!You have been entered in our draw to win a free ride on a Tyrannosaurus Rex when you purchase our De-Luxe Pterodactyl Cleaning System.If I could have your name,tribe and cave number…

The earliest reference I’ve found is about a Fairmont, Minnesota store in 1903. I have a small review about this on my webpage at – look for the third paragraph from the bottom, which begins “There were even some early reports of the telephone being used for direct marketing”.

“Watson…come here…I want you…to answer a few quick questions because you’ve been pre-approved for a Visa Gold card with a credit limit up to $25,000…”