Lots of people think that Canter and Siegel are the first internet spammers. Not exactly true. Long before their first excursions into bad taste in 1994, came another: Gary Thuerk of Digital Equipment Corporation. It all started in 1978, with his mass email to all the email addresses in the world (or at least as many of them as he could find and type in to his terminal by hand), advertising the latest and greatest in DEC Systems.
Read the whole story here.
I would love to say I was actively aware of this when it happened, but I can't. In 1978, I was beginning my computing career by writing BASIC programs on an HP mainframe computer to which I was connected over a 110 baud acoustic coupled modem link from a brown-paper teletype. An ASR-33, if I recall correctly. Keep in mind, that was over a hundred years ago, and I was very young.
As far as the first spams I recall personally receiving, or being involved in tracking down and blocking, that's a tough one. Frank Virga and Zvika Lichter were two well known (at the time) bad actors in the email space that I, in collaboration with many other folks, worked hard to push off the 'net. For a long time in the 90s, I had some weird/gross spam from Lichter printed out and taped to my wall at work, as an example of what spam was all about. Back then, not everybody knew what spam was, or why it was bad. I found that showing them one of Lichter's disgusting spam messages was an excellent educational tool. (I won't even described what the spam was offering, lest it haunt your next meal.)