What Was The First Meme?

Memes – there’re everywhere nowadays, and it does seem a bit like they’ve always been here. It’s hard to work out when they first really took hold of the internet, but actually, they predate the internet by a long way!

What Was The First Meme?

There’s a bit of debate about which one was the absolute first meme, but the earliest one which has been confirmed was traced back to a magazine called the Wisconsin Octopus from 1919, and it played on the “expectation vs. reality” idea.

It’s similar in style to cartoons, but the things which really makes it a meme is the fact that it was spread and shared – it appeared in a satirical magazine called The Judge, published by the University of Iowa, in 1921.

It seems that a meme can’t be a meme unless it’s shared.

The word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene’, in which he called memes “ideas that spread from brain to brain”. So a meme cannot be a meme without being shared.

However, does the 1919 meme really count? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, memes are images, videos or text that are copied and spread by internet users, often with variations. Which means that, since the recognisable form of today’s internet – the World Wide Web – didn’t get invented until 1990, the title of the first meme going to the Wisconsin Octopus image is debatable… Still, an interesting precursor either way.