In­vented email


Ray­mond Tom­lin­son, the in­ven­tor of mod­ern email and selec­tor of the “@” sym­bol, has died.

Raytheon Co., his em­ployer, on Sun­day con­firmed his death; the de­tails were not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

Email ex­isted in a lim­ited ca­pac­ity be­fore Mr. Tom­lin­son in that elec­tronic mes­sages could be shared amid mul­ti­ple peo­ple within a lim­ited frame­work. But un­til his in­ven­tion in 1971 of the first net­work per­son to-per­son email, there was no way to send some­thing to a spe­cific per­son at a spe­cific ad­dress.

The first email was sent on the ARPANET sys­tem, a com­puter net­work that­was cre­ated for the U. S. govern­ment that is con­sid­ered a pre­cur­sor to the In­ter­net. Mr. Tom­lin­son also con­trib­uted to its de­vel­op­ment.

At the time, few peo­ple had per­sonal com­put­ers. The pop­u­lar­ity of per­sonal email wouldn’t take off un­til years later but has be­come an in­te­gral part of mod­ern life.

“It wasn’t an as­sign­ment at all, he was just fool­ing around; he was look­ing for some­thing to do with ARPANET,” Raytheon spokes­woman Joyce Kuz­man said of his cre­ation of net­work email.

Mr. Tom­lin­son once said in a com­pany in­ter­view that he cre­ated email “mostly be­cause it seemed like a neat idea.” The first email was sent be­tween two ma­chines that were side by side, ac­cord­ing to that in­ter­view.

He said the test mes­sages were “en­tirely for­get­table and I have, there­fore, for­got­ten them.” But when he was sat­is­fied that the pro­gram seemed to work, he an­nounced it via his own in­ven­tion by send­ing a mes­sage to co- work­ers ex­plain­ing how to use it.

Mr. Tom­lin­son chose the “@” sym­bol to con­nect the user­name with the desti­na­tion ad­dress and it has now be­come a cul­tural icon.

Why that sym­bol? Kuz­man said Mr. Tom­lin­son was look­ing at the key­board and needed some­thing that would not oth­er­wise be part of the ad­dress and that seemed to be a log­i­cal so­lu­tion.

“It is a sym­bol that prob­a­bly would have gone away if not for email,” she said.

Mr. Tom­lin­son was hired by Bolt Ber­anek and New­man, known as BBN, in 1967. It was later ac­quired by Raytheon Co., where he still worked at the time of his death, as a prin­ci­pal sci­en­tist.

He lived in Lin­coln, Mas­sachusetts, where he raised minia­ture sheep. At­tempts to con­tact his fam­ily were un­suc­cess­ful.

Raymond Tomlinson said in an in­ter­view he cre­ated email “mostly be­cause it seemed like a neat idea.”

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