E-mail was one of the greatest innovations in the history of computing. Developed as a necessity and function of ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, its invention would change the way we communicate and interact through technology. But how was the e-mail invented?
Back when he was a young engineer at Bolt Beranek and Newman (known today as BBN Technologies) Ray Tomlinson had been given the task to figure out something interesting to do with ARPANET, the newborn computer network that was the predecessor of the Internet. He tested the interaction (or the lack of it) between colleagues who didn’t answer their phones. Most computers at the time allowed users to message one another, but as so few computers were networked, there was little reason to send messages across computers. He eventually found a way to send messages from one computer to another, inventing the system we now know as e-mail.
His email software (SNDMSG – short for “send message”) only worked locally; it was designed to allow the exchange of messages between users who shared the same machine. Such users could create a text file and deliver it to a designated “mail box.” The first message using the new command was sent in the end of 1971 and was sent between two machines, that were literally side by side
Tomlinson is also responsible for the elevation of the @ sign from symbol to icon. To send messages between different computers, he needed a way to separate the names of senders and recipients from the names of their machines. In addition to his significant contributions to network email, he played a leading role in developing the first email standards (developing the required services in network electronic mail, creating a protocol for moving email between machines, setting a standard format for email messages, designing a tool for creating and reading email, to name just a few.)
His email software was widely distributed for years, and proved to be an exceptionally innovative solution. In 1996, for the first time in USA more electronic mail was being sent than postal mail. In 2010, the number of emails sent reached 107 trillion In 2012 total number of email accounts was 3.3 billion and is expected to increase to over 4.3 billion accounts by 2016.