Who is Ray Tomlinson, and what is he famous for? Tomlinson invented email 40 years ago this summer, in 1971. Tomlinson was born in New York state and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he participated in a program with IBM. Tomlinson received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from RPI in 1963.
After graduating from RPI, Tomlinson entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to continue his electrical engineering education. At MIT, Tomlinson worked in the Speech Communication Group and developed an analog-digital hybrid speech synthesizer as part of his Master's thesis. He received a S.M. in Electrical Engineering degree in 1965.
In 1967, he joined the technology company of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman — now BBN Technologies — where he helped develop the TENEX operating system, including ARPANET, which was the beta for the Internet. He was asked to do something with the system; computers were not talking to computers then. He started going down a path to find a way for people to communicate when they did not answer the phone.
He says he can't remember the content of the first test message he sent — his guess is “QWERTYUIOP,” the top line of letters on a computer keyboard. He determined that the “@” symbol was the best way to separate a user from his machine and allow messages to be sent between computers. Tomlinson kept the email message system under wraps at first, but it soon took off.
The word “email” was coined in 1982, and the Queen of England was the first public official to send an email in 1976. Ray, thanks for the 200-plus emails I get each day — though I am not sure if I love you or hate you for this gift.