I always thought text messages were limited to 160 measly characters because of some archaic pre-1970s technical standard. But apparently, it's because some German dude thought 160 was "perfectly sufficient."
Friedham Hillebrand was a communications researcher who was working with a group on developing a standard for mobile phones to send and receive text messages. So he sat down on his typewriter and banged out a bunch of random sentences and questions, counted up the number of characters it took, and decided 160 was the magic number. I'm actually somewhat curious as to how an old German dude would've come up with messages that short in the days before ROFLcopters swarmed in the sky.
Anyways, as chairman of GSM's nonvoice services committee he came up with the idea of backdooring the messages in the radio channels phone already used to figure out reception stength—which initially limited them to 128 characters, not the 160 Hillebrand had decided was perfect. After some serious tweaking, they raised the limit 160 characters. Then he forced every carrier to support SMS, or die in a fiery fire of doomy doom. Friedham Hillebrand, modern-day hero. [LA Times via HardOCP]