The first hacker was a magician

April 27th, 2012 | David Mitchell | Filed Under General’s website is a merry source of information. However apparently the worlds first hacker wasn’t a teenager playing chess with a mono-chromatic opponent bent on world domination. Read on for more.

From WarGames to The Matrix and, um, Hackers? We guess? 3L337x0rz hackers have been sticking it to The Man ever since the Web was invented.

But Previously, in the Real World …

One afternoon in June of 1903, John Ambrose Fleming and his boss, Italian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, were about to demonstrate Marconi’s new high-tech wireless telegraph system to a crowded theater in London. But right before Fleming was scheduled to receive a wireless message from Marconi, the equipment started tapping out the word “rats” over and over, followed by the Edwardian era equivalent of a rap battle diss:

“There was a young fellow of Italy
Who fiddled the public quite prettily”

And all the ladies swooned while the gentlemen got their flummox on, loudly exclaiming things like “I say!” and “Why I never!” Fleming and Marconi were understandably furious that someone would so lewdly interrupt their demonstration — Marconi actually went on record describing it as “scientific hooliganism” (dibs on the Tumblr name!). But who could have possessed the resources and know-how to hack into wireless technology that had barely even been invented yet?

The answer came four days later when Nevil Maskelyne, a fabulously mustachioed magician whose grandson you may have heard of, confessed to the prank in a letter to The Times. When Marconi arrogantly started bragging about not only the efficacy but also the impenetrable security of his new wireless system, Maskelyne, being a proud member of his multigenerational anachronistic scientist/battle-magician bloodline, did the only reasonable thing: He promptly whipped up his own homemade radio tower and proceeded to hack into Marconi’s “secure” signal.

Maskelyne justified his actions by stating that he simply wanted to expose the security risks of the new wireless technology to the public — which is basically word for word what modern hackers say when you ask them why they replaced every uppercase “I” on the CIA website with a crude cartoon dick. Funny, though: It seems so much more plausible coming from the smirking space directly beneath an old-timey magician’s mustache than from the Twitter account of an acne-pocked teenager in Denmark.


  1. Dominic T.D on:

    “The first hacker was a magician” Of course hacker and geek are often conduct to magic. Looks something like this.
    Programmer -> Gamer -> Why not lockPicking ? -> Hum… Card Cheating interesting … -> awesome magic !
    this case is my patern remove or add steps but allways looks like
    programmer … -> -> magic
    geek … -> -> magic
    Sooner or later

  2. UnboredTimez on:

    Hahaha thats so true, me and my friend (both programmers) love to do illusions!

  3. Same here, i’m programmer, and i love being a magician