Inventor of the email, Ray Tomlinson, dies Age 74


Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971 CREDIT: BBN TECHNOLOGIES

The person widely accredited with the invention of the Email, Ray Tomlinson, has died aged 74. Ray Tomlinson set up the first email system on the ARPANET system, a precursor to the Internet, in 1971.

The first emails sent by Ray Tomlinson were between two computers that were situated side by side, with the contents consisting of random letters, reported to be “QWERTYUIOP,” which for the eagle-eyed among you is the top line of letters on the keyboard. In a summary of the events leading to the first email, Tomlinson stated:

The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side. The only physical connection they had (aside from the floor they sat on) was through the ARPANET. I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other. The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.

It is quite amusing that the email system nearly didn’t happen, at least, not at that time. When Tomlinson showed his colleague Jerry Burchfiel, at the firm Bolt Beranek and Newman, Burchfield reportedly said “Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on.”

Of course, Tomlinson at the time was employed to work on Arpanet, the precursor of the internet. Their specific task was to create an operating system to run on bargain-basement hardware. Instead, Tomlinson came up with a simple “Send Message” program; that evolved into a cross-Arpanet mail system.

The email system took off when Larry Roberts, director of DARPA, started using the system to carry out all his communication via the new email system. This forced anyone seeking to work with DARPA, in turn, to get online and also use the email system.

Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012. They commented that “Tomlinson’s email program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate.” You can view Tomlinson’s acceptance speech for this honor below:

In addition to the email system, Tomlinson is also credited with saving the “@” symbol. While he wasn’t the one who invented the symbol, at the time, it was in danger of being dropped from the keyboard. By using that symbol as part of the email system, it safeguarded its place on the keyboard.

In a fitting tribute, Google commented on his passing via their Gmail Twitter account:

Vinton Gray “Vint” Cerf, an American Internet pioneer who is recognized as one of “the fathers of the Internet” also tweeted:

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