Who Invented Email?

It’s fair to say that we are in the midst of a digital revolution and technology is advancing at a rapid rate. 10 years ago, no one would ever have thought that you’d be able to send an email from a wrist watch that you wrote with your voice. More than 40 years after the invention of email, it is now one of the most used form of communications. As advancements in technology continue to amaze, let’s look back to when email was born.

Depending on what you consider an email system to be, email itself has multiple creators. The most credited inventor, however, was Raymond ‘Ray’ Tomlinson, who created the first form of inter-network electronic communication in 1971.

Tomlinson was a computer programmer from New York, USA who was working as an ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Networks) contractor when he first discovered the opportunity to create electronic messaging between separate computers.

At the time, it was possible to send electronic communications, but only between different users of the same computer. To be able to send a message across a network, there needed to be some way to direct the message to a specific user of a specific computer. This is when Tomlinson decided to choose the @ symbol to easily identify the destination of the message; you would simply need to address your message to “computer-user-name@host-computer-name” for it to be delivered to the correct user. It was from then that the @ symbol became internationally recognized in the language of email communication.

Since its invention, email and electronic communication have come a long way. Email, as it is today, is the combined effort of many different developers, Ray Tomlinson himself stated that “any single development is stepping on the heels of the previous one and is so closely followed by the next that most advances are obscured. I think that few individuals will be remembered.”

Today there are multiple forms of electronic communication, including SMS (short message service) message, instant messages, social media and video conferencing. It’s now hard to imagine a world where these didn’t exist, but we can thank inventors like Ray Tomlinson for it, as email is where it all began.