The inventor of modern email as we know it today, and the man who chose to use the @ symbol to connect usernames and addresses, has died of a suspected heart attack, aged 74.
A spokesperson for the Raytheon Company, Mike Doble, where Tomlinson still worked as a principal scientist said that Tomlinson was a… “true technology pioneer… the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers.”
Internet hall of fame
Tomlinson was one of the early inductees to the Internet Hall of Fame, with his biography on the site stating that his invention of the modern style email program was:
“…a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate, including the way businesses, from huge corporations to tiny mom-and-pop shops, operate and the way millions of people shop, bank, and keep in touch with friends and family, whether they are across town or across oceans. Today, tens of millions of email-enabled devices are in use every day. Email remains the most popular application, with over a billion and a half users spanning the globe and communicating across the traditional barriers of time and space.”
Tomlinson created and amended the protocols that allowed him to send the first email in 1971, on the ARPANET system. ARPANET was a computer network created for the US government that is widely considered as an essential forerunner to the internet.
Tomlinson himself explained once how he came up with the @ for email addresses:
“I chose to append an at sign and the host name to the user’s (login) name. I am frequently asked why I chose the at sign, but the at sign just makes sense. The purpose of the at sign (in English) was to indicate a unit price (for example, 10 items @ $1.95). I used the at sign to indicate that the user was ‘at’ some other host rather than being local.”
Ray Tomlinson was the recipient of several awards for his work and held electrical engineering degrees from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and MIT. He is also ranked number 4 on the MIT list of the top 150 innovators to have studied at MIT.
He began work for Bolt Beranek and Newman, known as BBN, in 1967. When the company was later aqquired by Raytheon Co, Tomlinson stayed on.