Celebrating 40 Years of Email & Ray Tomlinson

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.

20 comments on “Celebrating 40 Years of Email & Ray Tomlinson

  1. Anand
    June 23, 2011

    Al Maag,

     Thanks for the post. Let me confess, I didn't knew anything about “Ray Tomlinson” till i read your post. Thanks to Ray for inventing Email because it is one great communication tool which has revolutionized the way we communicate.

  2. Clairvoyant
    June 23, 2011

    Wow, hard to believe it's been 40 years since the beginning of email.

  3. Tim Votapka
    June 24, 2011

    Wow. That brings back fond memories…like the first AOL install CD…the shrill chatter of an external modem connection…floppy disks when they were floppy.

  4. saranyatil
    June 24, 2011

    Al Maag,

    Thanks for the post! Wow we have come so far where Email has become bread and butter for most of us.

    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.

     Sometimes even I keep wondering why do we have emails, it gets so monotonous when we spend half the time in replying to emails. at the same time an email is a  mightier tool for communication.

  5. mario8a
    June 24, 2011

    This is a great article, what if Ray charge 1 Cent for each e-mail send/received during 40 years?

    Just like an e-mail might replace a phone call or a visit to your office / home, what could replace e-mail 40 years from now? 




  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 24, 2011

    Thanks to Ray Tomlinson for foreseeing the future 40 years back.  As I remember , back in early nighties it was the free email accounts provided by Hotmail and Yahoo that truly made this a medium for mass communication.  Here in India we had very slow internet speeds then with those 56K dialup modems. The free email accounts came with 1MB of storage space then and the attachments of even 100k size would take sometimes hours to download. Todays broad band, fast processors and  unlimited stoarge space on email accounts has created a very versatile medium for official as well as personal communications today , so much so that our day does not start and or end without  those emails.


    I remember the time when as the IT head of my company we installed our first email server. We had  a lot of difficulty in explaining our staff and customers  how the @ sign in the email address had to be typed as @ and not as “at” especially when giving somebody's email address on phone.

  7. mfbertozzi
    June 24, 2011

    The other thing I would like to mention is about Google (as email, it plays a key role in our connected life). If we consider it came from Edward Kasner as expression conceived  in 1920 to state big numbers, we could think our Internet technology and era has started about one century ago…

  8. jbond
    June 24, 2011

    It is hard to believe that email has been around for forty years. I have to admit that I never knew Ray Tomlinson invented email until I read your article. It is amazing to see the progression of email through all the years. Now our inboxes are full of junk mail instead of our mailboxes. I'm curious to see how the next 40 years change the email system.

  9. Taimoor Zubar
    June 24, 2011

    “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.”

    Interesting post, Al Maag. I am not sure if I agree with the last line. I don't think any technology alone can be blamed for it's harmful effects. It's the usage of the technology that makes people either love it or hate it. I can relate to your feelings about handling tons of spam and junk emails every day, however, this cannot undermine the importance and usefulness of emails in our lives.

  10. alawson
    June 24, 2011

    @jbond – I was thinking the same thing as I read this post–about the next 40 years of change. However, I believe its already begun–its just that those of us entrenched in email usage daily have yet to see it. But I'm catching on quickly…

    I recently saw Socialnomics author, Erik Qualman's updated “Social Media Revolution” video on YouTube and a couple of things caught my eye:

    1. Generation Y and Z consider email passe

    2. Many universities have stopped distributing email addresses to students

    These weren't the most powerful insights in the video, but are relevant here. So when you think of the next 40 years and what that means for email, I'm afraid it means the end for it as a viable medium. How can email compete with such fast-moving entities as Texting, Twitter, etc.?  Even I find little time to check my personal email. I get my news and my greetings and have my conversations with tools that provide fast, if not immediate feedback.

    I may be the anomaly for folks my age, but I am the norm for the coming generation. But that's personal email. What about businesses?

    My real question is, could business communication survive without email?

  11. Tim Votapka
    June 24, 2011

    TaimoorZ is right; you can' t blame the technology. I once saw a great “Code of Honor” list that included a line:

    “Do not accept or give any communication you are not prepared to take in or give out.”

    Sounds easy, but when you think about it, it really is as simple as that where email is concerned.

  12. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 24, 2011

    Email technology is awesome, but it comes with some minor inconveniencies (spams, unsollicitated ads …) we just have to bear.

    Besides there are tons of ways to get rid of junk emails.  

  13. Ariella
    June 24, 2011

    This 40 years of email history was made into an infographic, which you can view here

  14. itguyphil
    June 24, 2011


    Great plug! I love those.

  15. t.alex
    June 26, 2011

    Interesting bio about the history of email. I belive it is by far the most effective form of communication. Businesses cant grow fast without emails right?

  16. t.alex
    June 26, 2011

    Interesting bio about the history of email. I belive it is by far the most effective form of communication. Businesses cant grow fast without emails right?

  17. Anna Young
    June 27, 2011

    Awsome! Did not realise Ray Tomlinson invented email.

    This is a good achievement. E-mail has enhanced communication in many respects both privately and publicly. It has equally contributed to the reduction of paper usage (it's quicker to email than write a letter), reduce the cost of posting letters and most importantly accelerate and connect people, businesses all over the world.

  18. itguyphil
    June 27, 2011

    the USPS wouldn't agree with you.. but I do!

  19. Wale Bakare
    June 30, 2011

    Many great thanks to the inventor of email – Ray Tomlinson. It worths celebrating considering the impact of email technology in the world today.

  20. Al Maag
    August 2, 2011

    that was cool/thanks

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