It’s no surprise that people have been finding new ways to meet people for centuries. Though it’s hard to remember a time before dating apps, a quick stroll down memory lane reminds us — we’ve got it pretty good. The history of online dating as we know it has its origins in a time before the first newspaper had even been published in the U.S. Yes, believe it or not, the desire to connect with new people is older than “hook-up culture,” the internet, and even traditional media.

Before you could show your interest with the ease of a right swipe, singles went to great lengths to meet their match. Technology and social trends have vastly shaped how we connect, when we connect, and who we connect with. Today, the stigma of meeting online has mostly dissipated. According to a 2017 study published in Statista, 30 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 currently use dating sites and apps. As new dating apps step onto the scene, our old favorites continue to find innovative ways that make it easier for us to step outside of our comfort zones.  

Whether you’ve found love, are still waiting to find love, or could give a bleep less if you ever find love, a quick trip through history shows us that people have always sought romantic connections. We’re just fortunate enough to now have that ability at our fingertips… literally.

History of Online Dating


Enter: a 17th-century hook-up platform creepier than Ashley Madison. Long before dial-ups, high-speed Wi-Fi, and smart phones, the first known personal ads begin to appear in a British agriculture journal. It was mostly high-society men looking for pretty young things, a format that was ahead of its time.


Asking a guy out may feel terrifying, but back in the 1700s, the consequences could be a lot scarier. The first woman to post a personal ad gets more than rejection in return. The mayor responds to Helen Morrison’s quest for love by having her committed to an insane asylum for a month.


Apparently, Silicon Valley has always been ahead of the game: SF is responsible for publishing the first newspaper for singles in the U.S., allowing ladies to post for free while men forked up a cool 25 cents a post.

Tinder History of Online Dating


Before sites like MilitaryCupid were launched, soldiers in World War I begin seeking pen pals for companionship in between battles. Still too busy to text someone back?


Things pick up in the 1940s: a Newark-based company begins using data as the foundation of matchmaking. To increase the likelihood of successful matches, the company paired people with their social equivalents.


Ladies get to step into the digital age first: England’s Joan Ball launches the first computer generated matchmaking service.


Personal ads start to meet their match: Singles are given a gift that will prove to pay off when a team of Harvard undergrads creates the first computer dating service: Operation Match.

history of online dating


For some time, those who placed personal ads were prosecuted in the U.K. In ’67, Britain loosens up and Lonely Hearts are free to post personals without retribution from the police.


Enter the world of mail-order brides: Scanna International launches, giving men a chance to play the field in Russia and Eastern Europe.


Online dating gets a modern makeover with, followed quickly by, launched by Gary Kremen, a year later.  

history of online dating


Finally, a website where you can find a relationship, peruse jobs, and seek out rental apartments all at once: Craigslist launches free personal ads.


RSVP launches on Valentine’s Day in Australia. It’s still a popular dating app Down Under today, with 30,000 new members joining every month.


Yahoo gets personal, launching a matchmaking service in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, with 10 international partnering sites.


As email becomes a daily form of communication, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan legitimize online romances in “You’ve Got Mail.” Looking for inspiration? You can read their email exchange here.

Tinder History of Online Dating


Four Harvard students launch what will become OKCupid. Users fill out a list of bio prompts and questions to reveal how likely it is they’ll get along with potential matches. Today, you can get struck by cupid on the go: The site launched its mobile app in 2009.


Skout launches as a social networking app, but its makers soon realize most of the users are using the app for dates. They relaunch in 2009, bringing their game face and match potential.  


The Craigslist Killer begins making headlines, letting the masses draw their own conclusions about personal ads and inspiring one hell of a Lifetime movie.


Dating meets smartphones: Grindr is the inaugural mobile-first platform on the scene, launching a location-based dating app for gay men.

Tinder History of Online Dating


Yahoo finds love: becomes the exclusive dating site featured on Yahoo, consuming Personals and revealing that a match can happen when you least expect it.


With the popularity of making connections through dating sites and social media, it was only a matter of time before people realized they could pretend to be anyone online. The documentary “Catfish” is released, giving viewers insight into the catfished — and the catfishers.


Tinder swipes onto the scene, allowing users to use their intuition and location to find potential matches. The swipe and double opt-in (you have to “like” each other before you can chat) are born, and a new era of dating quickly follows.


Elite Singles launches in Australia (it previously launched in Europe and the U.K.).


Hackers publish stolen data from Ashley Madison, the dating site synonymous with infidelity. The breach reveals account details, including addresses and credit card info of about 32 million users, sending some notable B-list celebs into a panic.


Can’t stop won’t stop: Tinder becomes the first dating app to slide into the top grossing spot in the App store. Sup now, Candy Crush!?