The origins of email can be traced back to the 1960s. The inception of ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet developed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), set the stage for the invention of email. The point of the project was to create a network that would allow computers to communicate with each other. This project marked the dawn of computer networking and paved the way for the digital era we are familiar with today.
But it wasn’t until 1971 that Ray Tomlinson, an electrical engineer, sent the very first networked email, a simple yet profound act that would shape the way we interact and communicate in the digital age. Tomlinson’s innovation wasn’t just about sending a message between two computers; it was the introduction of the “@” symbol as a separator between the user’s name and the computer’s name. This eventually became standard to email addresses.
Tomlinson sent the first email because he needed to test the implementation of ARPANET’s new software, the ARPANET Network Measurement Center (NMC), which allowed messages to be sent across the network. To do this, he placed two computers side by side. As this was just a test, the content of the first message he sent was relatively mundane: “QWERTYUIOP”.
Although this test may have seemed business as usual for ARPANET employees, it marked a significant milestone in the development of electronic communication and laid the groundwork for the email systems we use today.