Email inventor Ray Tomlinson dies aged 74

Ray Tomlinson

Ray Tomlinson, credited as the creator of electronic mail between computers, and the use of the “@” symbol in usernames, has died at the age of 74.

In 1971, the American computer programmer came up with the idea for sending direct electronic messages between computers, to be known as email. Up until then, messages could only be sent to each other using the same computer – personal computers were almost unheard of back then.

Tomlinson introduced the @ symbol, which separated the name of the computer being used from the username, which allowed the emails to be sent across the network to a different computer. In the 1990s, email finally became a mass form of communication.

Tomlinson graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He wrote a blog, which recorded his progress with the development of email, to ensure that his actions were known, rather than others’ speculation being seen as the facts of his progress.

He wrote: “The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side. The only physical connection they had was through the Arpanet.”

“I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other. The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them. Most likely the first message was QWERTYUIOP or something similar.”

A spokesperson from his employer, Raytheon – a defence contractor and electronics company – said that he died on Saturday 5 March, although the cause of death was not confirmed.

His employer released a statement, saying: “A true technology pioneer, Ray was the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers. His work changed the way the world communicates and yet, for all his accomplishments, he remained humble, kind and generous with his time and talents, he will be missed by one and all.”