RIP Ray Tomlinson, inventor of modern email

Published March 7th, 2016 - 10:00 GMT
Ray Tomlinson is credited with the invention of email and chose the '@' symbol. (
Ray Tomlinson is credited with the invention of email and chose the '@' symbol. (

Computing legend Ray Tomlinson passed away due to a heart attack on Saturday, according to reports. He was 74 years old.

Ray Tomlinson is credited with being the inventor of email, way back in 1971. At the time he was working in Boston at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), a company that played a vital role in the development of a very early version of the internet, called ARPANET. In an interview, he mentioned that as an employee he was “looking for problems [ARPANET] could solve.” Earlier, others had thought of a similar way to send messages to other users, however it was limited to sharing notes to someone on the same computer. Until Tomlinson came up with the SNDMSG command, which sent mail files to the recipient’s computers, making it the first networked messaging program.

Tomlinson also decided on using the @ symbol to designate a user from its host. Soon the humble symbol grew to become and international icon, even used to represent the Internet itself. The fact it was little-used at the time made it appealing to Tomlinson, as it reduced ambiguity. Also, as he liked to say, “It’s the only preposition on the keyboard.”

Sadly, the contents of the first email he sent has been lost in time, but according to an older interview with Tomlinson, the email just had random strings of text. Although his first email was forgotten, he would not be.

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