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How Did Geocaching Start?

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/3/2011

How did geocaching start? To answer this question, we have to go back hundreds of years to the time when treasure hunting was born. The birth of geocaching started with a celebration but it immediately went through a lot of growing pains. Discover how geocaching started by reading this article.

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    Geocaching is an activity conducted outdoors where GPS receivers and other navigation methods are used to look for containers, often called geocaches, hidden anywhere in the world. These geocaches are usually plastic containers and they may contain trinkets, collectible items or just a simple logbook. Geocaching can be considered a high tech version of treasure hunting or letterboxing. Read Geocaching - A Real-World "Treasure Hunt" Played with a GPS Unit to learn more about what geocaching is.

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    How Did Geocaching Start?

    How did geocaching start? This questions may be a little tricky to answer. The basic idea behind it - items are hidden in a secret place and clues are given to participants to help them find the items - goes back hundreds of years. The history of geocaching can actually be traced back to the beginnings of treasure hunting.

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    Geocaching can be considered as the modern version of treasure hunting and letterboxing, outdoor activities that started hundreds of years ago. It is the spiritual descendant of those old activities. The basic idea of treasure hunting is a list of items that are hidden in different places must be procured by the participants and the first one to collect them all is declared the winner. Letterboxing involves participants following clues from place to place and the first one to solve the last clue and acquire the prize is declared the winner. Geocaching is a mix of both activities with the added element of global positioning receivers and other navigational tools.

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    The Birth of Geocaching

    The main idea behind geocaching may have been around for hundreds of years, but geocaching itself was born in 2000. In early May of 2000, selective availability on civilian GPS receivers was removed. Before this time, only the military had the ability to get accurate GPS readings. Without selective availability, civilians are also able to get accurate GPS readings. To celebrate this new found freedom in global navigation, a civilian named Dave Ulmer started The Great American GPS Stash Hunt. The person who found the cache was Mike Teague of Vancouver, Washington. The caches contained videos, books, software, money, food and a slingshot. It was contained in a black plastic bucket which was buried in the ground. Later that month, the term “geocaching" was coined.

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    The Origin of the Term

    The outdoor activity was originally called “GPS Stash Hunt" but after a discussion between participants at eGroups, which is now Yahoo!, it was decided that the term “stash" may have negative connotations. On May 30, 2000, the term “geocaching" was suggested and ultimately decided upon. The next day, it was made official.

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    In September 2000, was announced to be the main listing site of geocaches around the world. Other geocaching sites emerged in succeeding years but only a few had staying power. is currently the oldest and largest listing site. Jeremy Irish, the owner of this site, encountered a lot of controversies due to his less popular decisions like claiming to be the originator of the word “geocaching", threatening to sue new geocaching listing sites and commercializing the hobby.