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IN THE U.S., where the lower classes had access to some education, joke sharing spread like wildfire. Here is an excerpt from the letter of a Union infantryman in the Civil War:
The boys is Generly well & well satisfied Soldiers I believe tho Some of the boys is taken bad with Small Pox & dipteria but I hope most of us will be Spared. I Exspect that we will have a Fight at Fredricsberg If we Do we will Do the verry best that we can.—Well Sarah please write Soon & send me more of those jokes for I was near to die of Laughing at that last one you Sent called If Gen'l Lee was a Muleskinner & the boys all hollered too when they Seen it.

Letter from the private collection of the Moreby family.

THE REST OF THE HISTORY of forwarded jokes is well-known to almost everyone: the last years of the frontier ("Top Ten Reasons to Buy Alaska"), Gertrude Stein's contributions ("A Blonde is a Blonde is a Blonde") and so on. Then came the technological breakthroughs of our modern era: the invention of the silkscreened T-shirt, the fax machine and lastly, the one thing that made the joke transmission that we enjoy today possible—Suzanne in Accounts Payable. And e-mail, of course.

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