Email Creator Ray Tomlinson Dies at 74

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Ray Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971-- prior to his invention, electronic messages could only be shared on a very limited network.

Ray Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971-- prior to his invention, electronic messages could only be shared on a very limited network.

Ray Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971– prior to his invention, electronic messages could only be shared on a very limited network.

He’s the guy who gave  us a whole new use for the ‘@’ symbol, the only preposition on your keyboard.

Ray Tomlinson, widely credited as the creator of email, died Saturday at 74, according to his employer, Raytheon.

Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971. His system helped lay the groundwork for email and the Internet explosion of the 1980’s and 90’s.

Among those paying tribute was Gmail, one of many offshoots of Tomlinson’s creation.

“Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map,” Gmail’s Twitter account said.

Tomlinson was working for a Boston technology firm in 1971 when he decided to figure out a way for people to send messages via computer. At the time, ARPANET — the Internet’s predecessor — was fairly new and the idea of sending messages from computer to computer was novel. Computers themselves were often giant mainframe beasts that filled entire rooms.

The birth of the @ world

With mailbox protocols he’s seen being too complex, Tomlinson hacked together a simpler plan that included such now-commonplace concepts as the @ sign — to attach the user name to the name of their machine.

The reason for the @ sign was mundane, he told NPR: Not only was it a little-used symbol, but “it’s the only preposition on the keyboard.”

Why bother at all, given the limited number of people using computers in those days?

“Everyone latched onto the idea that you could leave messages on the computer,” he said. “As the network grew and the growth of all that accelerated, it became a really useful tool: there were millions of people you could potentially reach.”

 

Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.