How email got popular

Ray Tomlinson - the inventor of email. An obituary

Today, email is more important than ever. With an estimated 205 billion emails sent per day, it's undeniable how important it is to our society. Hardly anyone is still writing letters in the new millennium. Electronic communication has become well established and has found new forms with WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype & Co.

But who actually invented email?

The American computer scientist Ray Tomlinson invented the e-mail with the @ symbol in 1971 and thus revolutionized the digital world. He died on March 7, 2016 at the age of 74. An obituary.

How Tomlinson Invented Email

Ray Tomlinson first studied electrical engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he graduated with a master's in 1965. He began working on computer programs during his studies and after graduating, he was employed as a computer technician at the private research company BNN.

In 1968 the company was commissioned to build the Arpanet - the predecessor of the Internet. First of all, CPYNET was created, a protocol that could transfer files between computer systems.

This gave Tomlinson the idea of ​​an asynchronous communication service. He used SNDMSG, a program that created mailboxes, and combined it with CPYNET. This modification should make it possible to send messages between two computers.

Finally, in 1971, Tomlinson sent his first email. He sent them from one machine to another that was standing next to him. He can no longer remember the content of this email. When he presented his achievement to his colleague, he asked him: “Don't tell anyone! That's not what we're supposed to be working on. "

The invention of email, of course, quickly made the rounds and spread throughout the United States. However, it took a few years before it got to Germany: On August 2, 1984, Professor Michael Rotert from Karlsruhe received the first email in Germany. It was sent from the United States and took just under half an hour to get into the mailbox.

Small symbol, long history

Where did the @ symbol come from that email is so famous for? There are some myths about the history of the origin of the sign. Allegedly it was already used as a ligature (connection) in the Middle Ages and was shortened from the Latin “ad” (German “bei, zu, an”) to the letter “a”, which was represented by the belly of the “d” s.

It was used by Venetian traders as a symbol for amphorae in the 16th century until it reappeared in London markets in the 19th century, where traders used it to indicate the unit price of a product (“10 potatoes @ 10 pence”). Finally, there is a theory that characters come from the French “à”. So far it has not been possible to clarify clearly what actually created the symbol.

Tomlinson recognized the potential of the small symbol - because it was not used in names, he used it to be able to clearly distinguish the addressees and to assign them locally (eng. “At” - dt. “To”, “at”) . Thus the @ is both a symbol and a preposition. The symbol quickly became popular and spread in Germany in the 1990s, where it was initially referred to as the “spider monkey”. In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City added the sign to its inventory.

Tomlinson's legacy

Much has changed since Tomlinson invented email. With the development of the Internet in 1989, triggered by the scientist Tim Berners-Lee, completely new possibilities of electronic communication emerged.

Today, email is one of the most important communication channels worldwide and the most ROI-intensive and popular channel in marketing. From a technological point of view, e-mails are becoming more and more complex and have long since not only consisted of texts, but are also provided with images, buttons, CTAs, gifs and videos.


The future still holds many developments in store. And last but not least: Our company would not even exist if Raymond Tomlison had not had his groundbreaking idea in 1971. Tomlinson's achievement is also important as it demonstrates what makes any human initiative successful: rethinking.

Take nothing for granted. Dare to innovate. We will continue to use Tomlinson's legacy as inspiration to continuously develop, question, and improve our technology - and we say goodbye to a great inventor in gratitude.