Queen Elizabeth II, on the internet, in 1976.Photo: Peter Kirstein

The Origins and History of Email

July 5, 2023

In today’s digital age, email has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. It revolutionized the way we communicate, enabling instant and efficient exchanges of information across the globe. Email has truly transformed the landscape of communication, connecting people from all walks of life and bridging the gaps of time and distance. But have you ever though about the origins and history of email? In this blog post, we delve into the fascinating history and explore the pioneers behind the invention of email, unravelling the intricate details of its evolution and impact on society.

Long before the term “email” came into existence, researchers and computer enthusiasts were exploring ways to sed messages electronically. The quest for efficient electronic communication can be traced back to the 1960s when visionaries began envisioning a future where information could be exchanged seamlessly through digital channels. This era marked the birth of various technologies and systems that laid the foundation for what would later become the modern email we know today.

One name that stands out in the annals of email history is Ray Tomlinson (1941-2016). In 1971, Tomlinson, an American computer programmer, made a groundbreaking contribution by introducing the first email system. Working at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN), a company that played a significant role in the development of the early internet, Tomlinson embarked on a journey to redefine communication.

Tomlinson had this clever idea to combine the existing file transfer protocol (FTP) with the use of the @ symbol to show the destination computer. This ingenious innovation revolutionized the way messages were sent and received, allowing users to directly communicate with specific recipients on a network. The early email systems, although limited to communication within a single mainframe computer or network, served as the stepping stones for future advancements that would shape the way we interact and connect.

In the early 1970s, the United States Department of Defense made ARPANET, a revolutionary computer network that connected different research institutions. It was within this groundbreaking environment that email took another momentous leap forward, transcending boundaries and opening up new avenues for communication.

In 1972, Ray Tomlinson further refined his original email system and merged it with the ARPANET network. The culmination of his tireless efforts gave birth to SNDMSG (Send Message), a transformative invention that enabled users to send electronic messages to different individuals on the network. This pivotal development marked a paradigm shift, expanding email beyond closed networks and propelling it into the realm of widespread use as a communication tool.

As email continued to evolve, remarkable advancements and milestones began to shape its trajectory. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II made history by becoming the first head of state to send an email, a testament to the growing importance and acceptance of electronic communication on a global scale.

The year 1978 saw the emergence of another significant breakthrough when computer scientist Larry Roberts introduced the first email management program, aptly named “MSG”. This innovative program boasted features such as folders to organize emails, an inbox to receive and store messages, and the ability to forward messages to other recipients. These core functionalities laid the groundwork for the modern email clients we use today, enhancing productivity and efficiency in our communication endeavors.

The evolution of email is a captivating journey that showcases the ingenuity and perseverance of visionaries who sought to transform the way we connect and communicate. From the early days of electronic communication to the advent of groundbreaking inventions, email has undeniably revolutionized the world of communication, empowering individuals and organizations to bridge gaps and foster meaningful connections. As we continue to embrace the digital age, email remains an enduring symbol of progress, enabling us to stay connected and engaged in an increasingly connected world.

In the 1980s, email started spreading beyond schools and the military, reaching more people. Companies like CompuServe and MCI Mail offered commercial email services, letting individuals and organizations send messages across different networks.

The invention and evolution of email have changed the way we communicate, transforming how we exchange information. While Ray Tomlinson gets credit for creating email, it’s important to remember that it involved a lot of other innovations and contributions from different researchers and pioneers.

Today, email is still a big part of personal and professional communication. With the constant improvements and the rise of mobile devices and cloud-based services, email will continue to be an important tool for years to come. As we effortlessly send and receive emails, it’s worth thinking about how clever those early pioneers were for creating this game-changing way of communicating.

Until next time, keep those emails rolling!

– Jim

Jim Gibbs

Jim Gibbs, Senior Account Executive at Critical Impact

Jim is Critical Impact’s Growth Channel team lead and has been selling and closing for a long time and is known to be able to sell bananas to monkeys.