The man who chose text-messaging’s magic number—160 characters—did so in a decidedly low-tech way, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 1985, German Friedhelm Hillebrand typed message after random message into his typewriter, and found that 160 was “perfectly sufficient,” he said. And now sufficiency is king: Americans sent more texts last year than they made cell phone calls.
Hillenbrand headed the non-voice division of the Global System for Mobile Communications, which ruled in 1986 that all cellular carriers and phones had to support standardized short messaging. They looked to postcards and Telex to confirm that 160 characters would be enough. Now, the model has taken hold on Twitter: Tweets are held to 140 characters, with 20 reserved for a user’s name.