The History of the #Hashtag

Emily Steinke | @emzGS The hashtag, or as it was originally named — the pound sign, has become one of the most important parts of every modern marketing strategy today. In New Jersey in the mid 1960s, the touch-tone innovators Bell Laboratories researched what symbols the public would like to use in technology. They discovered it was the asterisk (*) and the hashtag (#), and through this streamlining of the keyboard and touch-tone phone, the hashtag was born. Actually years earlier, it was called the “octothorpe” because Bell’s Don McPherson combined the eight points (octo) with his favorite Olympian athlete Jim Thorpe.

How it later became the “pound sign” is a bit of a mystery. Some do say that on typewriters the British pound symbol shared a key with the number three. As you can see today, the hashtag now occupies that same space, so that might be the connection to its second name. Interestingly enough, the British didn’t call it the pound as that name was reserved for their currency. In fact, they called it the “hash,” which is another connection.

Finally in 1988, there was the IRC (Internet Relay Chat). This network allowed users to communicate through channels and used the # to categorize themes into groups and/or channels. Wanted to talk about singles? There was a channel for that.

Later in 2007, famed designer Chris Messina became the first person to “hashtag” on Twitter after asking his followers if they wanted to use it to group topics on a micro-blogging platform. Chris tweeted, “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?" Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, thought it would never catch on. Too bad he was beyond wrong.

As you know, the rest is history. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ eventually caught on to this widespread, revolutionary idea. In fact it’s even been used for some pretty stellar campaigns such as the #AskObama campaign in 2008. Clearly this little symbol had more potential than anyone thought it would. When you look at it, sometimes it feels like such a simple idea. Don’t you ever wish you could have thought of that? I do! Next time you use the infamous #NoFilter hashtag, you’ll feel a little more appreciative of this powerful symbol for its meek beginnings. I hope you enjoyed your little history lesson. See the infographic below for a more detailed history of the hastag.


  • History of the Hashtag

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