Ray Tomlinson dies aged 74, leaving behind a communication technology that changed the world and is still used today
Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, has died aged 74 following a reported heart attack.
Born in Amsterdam, New York in 1941, Tomlinson studied electrical engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He created the first inter-network messaging system in 1971 while working for Bolt Beranek and Newman (now Raytheon BBN Technologies), where he helped develop the TENEX operating system and ARPANET – an early packet switching network and precursor to the modern Internet.
Email was devised as an early application for ARPANET and allowed users to send messages from one network to another. Tomlinson decided to use the ‘@’ symbol to distinguish from local recipients and addresses on other networks and this has remained standard ever since.
Tomlinson says he doesn’t remember what was said in the world’s first ever email because the text was just “gibberish” written for the purposes of testing or sections from the Gettysburg address.
“The first e-mail is completely forgettable,” he told NPR in 2009. “And, therefore, forgotten.”
In contrast, the first ever SMS was sent in 1992 and said “Merry Christmas.”
Email has since become an essential, if occasionally maligned, business tool. It’s usefulness was enhanced by the invention of attachments in 1992 by Nathaniel Borenstein, even if this increased the possibility of security threats.
In 2012, Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame and is ranked number four on MIT’s list of top 150 innovators and ideas.
“Tomlinson’s email program brought about 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,” reads his biography on the Hall of Fame.
“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.”
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