108 Year Old Message in a Bottle Found
The oldest message in a bottle ever found was 108 years old when it washed ashore. Retired German postal worker Marianne Winkler found the bottle on April 17th, 2015. She spotted the bottle on the shore of Amrum–a small island off Germany’s northwest tip–while on vacation their with her husband, Horst, and promptly entered the record books. Guinness actually records the length of time this bottle spent at sea as 108 years, 138 days.
Oldest Message in a Bottle Was Used for Ocean Science
This message in a bottle comes from a vastly different time. It was dropped overboard on November 30th, 1906, by George Parker Bidder. Bidder was a scientist with the UK’s Marine Biological Association, and he was interested in ocean currents. At the time, messages in bottles–also known as “drift bottles”–were the highest technology available for studying ocean currents. He sent about 1,000 messages in bottles to study the North Sea’s currents, and hundreds were found and returned soon after by fishermen who hauled them up in their nets, or by beachcombers like Marianne Winkler.
According to the Washington Post, Marianne broke open the bottle and found a card inside requesting it be mailed back to George Parker Bidder with a bit of information filled out by the finder–like where it was found and when. It seems Marianne did not realize just how old the message in a bottle was at first. Certainly she did not know she had just found the oldest message in a bottle ever.
She later told the Amrum news (I’m translating from German here): “When I found the message in a bottle on April 17th at the northern tip of Amrum, I was not even aware of the age and value of the bottle mail.” But then, she learned that the bottle was sent in 1906.
Message in a Bottle from a Different Time
That’s so long ago that even World War I would only unfold years in the future. This bottled note is ever older than the message in a bottle sent by Richard Platz that I visited in a Hamburg museum. Theodore Roosevelt was president of the USA in 1906. Plenty of Civil War survivors were still around at the time. I mean, this bottle was sent before the Ford Model T was even made! That didn’t happen until 1908. And that is the world in which this message in a bottle entered the ocean, sunk down to the bottom, and began to bob around the vast plains of the North Sea floor.
Eventually, World War I came along. The North Sea, where this bottle lived, was one of the main areas of naval fighting. There were countless–truly countless–underwater mines in the sea. There were all kinds of explosions underwater–and this bottle lived through them all.
Then it continued to bob along deep in the North Sea. For a few more decades, things were peaceful. Then World War II began, and again, unimaginable explosive hell rocked the North Sea. And yet, this bottle survived. It floated along while the Beatles rocketed to international fame, and through the entire arc of Elvis’s career and life, and continued bobbing along after his death. 19 US Presidents have come and gone since then, and we are now on our 20th since this bottle entered the sea. Germany itself has been many different shapes and sizes since then, and even different countries. When this bottle was sent, most people still got around on foot or on horses. But by the time this message in a bottle was found, we had been to the moon and had begun gearing up to visit Mars.
Obviously, this list could go on. It simply boggles the mind how much history has unfolded since this bottle was tossed overboard. My grandfathers, who served in WWII, weren’t even born yet.
Message in a Bottle Surfaces 108 Years Later, Reviving History of Ocean Science
But then, one day in April of 2015, it just washed ashore in Amrum, Germany, and Marianne Winkler found it–the oldest message in a bottle ever found.
“It’s always a joy when some one finds a message-in-a-bottle on the beach,” she told the Amrum News. “Where does it come from, who wrote it, and how long has it been travelling on the winds, waves and currents?”
Back at their lodgings, they worked on getting the message out of the bottle. “My husband, Horst,” she told the Amrum news, “carefully tried to get the message out of the bottle, but there was no chance, so we had to do as it said.” The message “said” to break the bottle, as you can see from the photo at the top of this story. “We did as it asked,” Marianne said, “and the story took its course.”
After the Winklers broke open the bottle, they dutifully filled out the card and mailed it back to the Marine Biological Association in the UK. This left MBA staff a bit confused, since Mr. Bidder had been dead for decades. Why would someone address a letter to him?
Of course, they opened the letter, found the treasure inside, and the rest is record-breaking history. The association tracked down the origin of the note; Guinness confirmed it was the oldest message in a bottle ever found (in terms of the time that passed between sending and finding); and the MBA even mailed the Winklers a silver British schilling as the note promised. Of course, schillings haven’t been minted since the 1970s, so they had to buy one online.
The Winklers went on vacation to Amrum, an island they love, simply to enjoy a bit of peace and a few lovely walks on the beach. And now, here they are–world record holders for finding the world’s oldest message in a bottle.