A brief history of email: Celebrating Ray Tomlinson’s business-changing invention

This weekend, Ray Tomlinson – the man who invented email – sadly passed away from a suspected heart attack at the age of 74.

Credited with establishing the first networked email system on ARPANET in 1971, Tomlinson’s familiar ‘user@host’ format became standard in 1977, drastically changing the way people communicate.

PCR thought it would be fitting to take a look at how Tomlinson’s invention has evolved over the years to become such an integral part of communication between businesses, customers, friends, family and pretty much anyone with an internet connection.

1962 – The very first iteration of what we know as ‘email’ today was actually the Autodin network, which was first operational in 1962 and provided a message service between 1,350 terminals. Autodin was supported by 18 large computerised switches, and was connected to the United States General Services Administration Advanced Record System.

1971 – It wasn’t until this year that US programmer Ray Tomlinson came up with the idea of taking electronic messages and sending them across a network. His first networked email consisted of simply “QWERTYUIOP”. Tomlinson also thought up the idea of using the @ symbol to connect the user’s name and the machine – which was where the mailbox was located.

1977 – While Tomlinson’s method worked for networked computers using the same software, many users began using the Department of Defence’s ARPA to connect outside of networks.

1981 – The ASCII encoding scheme becomes the standard for representing characters with a numeric code, whittling down the English alphabet, numbers and punctuation to just 96 characters.

1985 – Academics, students and Government employees become common email users.

1989 – The World becomes the first commercial ISP in the US, with thousands of ISPs following suit.

1991 – The first email from outer space is sent aboard the Atlantis space shuttle from a Macintosh Portable. In the same year, Tim Burners-Lee creates the World Wide Web.

1996 – One of the first web-based email services, Hotmail, launches. Just one year later Microsoft buys it for $400 million.

1998 – Rom-com You’ve Got Mail hits theatres and the word ‘spam’ is added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a way to describe electronic junk mail.

2003 – RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones launch with a strong focus on email.

2005 – CNN reports that ‘BlackBerry addiction is everywhere’, stating in an article that the smartphones have conquered the world and the simple concept of being able to push email automatically from the company server to the end user has ‘revolutionised’ corporate life.

2008 – Obama admits his addiction to his BlackBerry and continues to use it in office despite security concerns.

2010 – A study on workplace communication by Playtronics finds 83 per cent of US knowledge workers feel email is critical to their productivity at work.

2012 – There are more than three billion email accounts around the world with approximately 294 billion emails sent per day.

2013 – Email is the most common activity that US adults do on their smartphones, according to a study from IDC.

2015 – There are over 4.35 billion email accounts, with this figure predicted to reach 5.59 billion by 2019.

2016 – Tomlinson, the man who made all this possible, sadly passes away.

With the ability help families keep in touch, provide instant communication between businesses and customers, and much, much more – email has gone hand-in-hand with the World Wide Web to truly help people stay connected. It will be around for years to come and we can’t wait to see how it advances even further.

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