When we think about the early days of computers and the internet, we usually think of very primitive machines that barely functioned. It would take hours just to send a simple email. But it turns out that from the moment the internet was started, there was one thing people made sure it could do: Sell weed.
According to several researchers, the first thing that was ever bought and sold over the internet was marijuana. The origins come from a 2005 book written by John Markoff, called What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. Here is a quote from the book:
In 1971 or 1972, Stanford students using Arpanet accounts at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory engaged in a commercial transaction with their counterparts at Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Before Amazon, before eBay, the seminal act of e‑commerce was a drug deal. The students used the network to quietly arrange the sale of an undetermined amount of marijuana.
Another book written by Jamie Bartlett called The Dark Net features a similar anecdote, as noted by Gizmodo.
In 1972, long before eBay or Amazon, students from Stanford University in California and MIT in Massachusetts conducted the first ever online transaction. Using the Arpanet account at their artificial intelligence lab, the Stanford students sold their counterparts a tiny amount of marijuana.
Now, some people will argue whether this deal was actually “sold over the internet.” While the students used the computer network to facilitate the sale, the actual handling of the money was done in person. Smithsonian Magazine notes that the first time someone purchased an item by entering their financial information into a computer was 1994 when a guy sold a Sting CD to his friend who entered his credit card information online using data encryption.
So it may technically be more accurate to say the first deal facilitated by a computer network involved marijuana. But that’s not nearly as fun to say.