Inventor of Email and Savior of the @ Sign passed away at 74

Monday, March 7, 2016 - 16:47

Engineer Raymond Tomlinson, the inventor of email, died on Saturday morning of a heart attack at the age of 74.

Tomlinson sent the very first email back in 1971. While working at R&D firm Bolt Beranek and Newman in Boston, Tomlinson developed a system to transmit images between computers using the ARPANET protocol. It was then that he chose to use the @ symbol to separate a user’s name from their host — cementing its place in internet history, CNN reports.

Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971. Before his invention, electronic messages could be shared only on a very limited network.

He also decided to use the @ symbol to designate a user from its host. The decision lifted the humble symbol from obscurity to international icon. The fact it was little-used at the time made it appealing to Tomlinson, as it reduced ambiguity. Also, as he liked to say, "It's the only preposition on the keyboard."

Unfortunately, the very first email has been lost to time. As he said in an NPR interview from 2009, they were just random strings of text. "The first e-mail is completely forgettable ... and, therefore, forgotten."

Among those paying tribute was Gmail, one of many offshoots of Tomlinson's creation:

Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map. #RIP

— Gmail (@gmail) March 6, 2016

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