The first recorded messages in bottles were released around 310 BC by the Ancient Greek philosopherTheophrastus, as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean.
On his return to Spain following his first voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus's ship entered a severe storm. Columbus threw a report of his discovery along with a note asking it to be passed on to the Queen of Spain, in a sealed cask into the sea, hoping the news would make it back even if he did not survive. In fact, Columbus survived and the sealed report was never found, or at least, its discovery never reported.
In the 16th century, the English navy, among others, used bottle messages to send ashore information about enemy positions. Queen Elizabeth I even created an official position of "Uncorker of Ocean Bottles", and anyone else opening the bottles could face the death penalty.
In 1784 Chunosuke Matsuyama sent a message detailing his and 43 shipmates' shipwrecking in a bottle that washed ashore and was found by a Japanese seaweed collector in 1935, in the village of Hiraturemura, the birthplace of Chunosuke Matsuyama.
In 1914, British World War I soldier Private Thomas Hughes tossed a green ginger beer bottle containing a letter to his wife into the English Channel. He was killed two days later fighting in France. In 1999, fisherman Steve Gowan dredged up the bottle in the River Thames. Although the intended recipient of the letter had died in 1979, it was delivered in 1999 to Private Hughes' 86-year old daughter living in New Zealand.
In February 1916 the doomed crew of Zeppelin L 19 dropped their last messages to their superiors and loved ones into the North Sea. These washed up on the Kattegat coast near Gothenburg, Sweden six months later.
On a lonely night in December 1945, American World War II veteran Frank Hayostek tossed a bottle over the side of his ship. It was recovered by an Irish milk maid, Breda O'Sullivan who set off an exchange of letters that lasted seven years before the two finally met amid an international media circus. Despite (or perhaps because of) the media attention, the two were never able to get their romance off the ground.
In May 2005 eighty-eight shipwrecked migrants were rescued off the coast of Costa Rica. They had placed an SOS message in a bottle and tied it to one of the long lines of a passing fishing boat.
According to Guinness World Records, the oldest message in a bottle spent 92 years 229 days at sea. A bottom drift bottle, numbered 423B, was released at 60° 50'N 00° 38'W (about halfway between Aberdeen, Scotland and the coast of Denmark) on April 25, 1914 and recovered by fisherman Mark Anderson of Bixter, Shetland, UK, on December 10, 2006.