Inventor of Email Dies

Mar 09, 2016

Pioneer Ray Tomlinson bequeathed the @ sign to billions of Internet users

Ray Tomlinson, inventor of the global communication technique known as email, has died at the age of 74. The cause of death is not confirmed at this writing, but early reports suggest a heart attack. Tomlinson was born in Amsterdam, New York, in 1941 and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic University, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1963. He earned a Masters degree from MIT in 1965.

Tomlinson invented email in 1971 while working at the research and development company Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (now BBN, a subsidiary of Raytheon) on supporting software for ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet. He adapted a program called SNDMSG, which was intended to send messages to terminal users of a single time-sharing system, so it could send messages to other computers. Tomlinson chose the @ symbol as a handy indicator that would target the message to a single user of the destination machine.

When asked why he took the time in the middle of another project to develop the program for email, Tomlinson reported “because it seemed like a neat idea.” After showing the new system to a colleague, he famously warned, “Don't tell anyone! This isn't what we're supposed to be working on.”

According the entry in Wikipedia, Tomlinson preferred “email” over “e-mail,” stating in a 2010 interview, “I'm simply trying to preserve the world's supply of hyphens.”

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