Electronic Mail and the @ Sign
Tomlinson b. 1941
1972 Ray Tomlinson revolutionized the digital age without knowing it. Tomlinson,
a principal scientist at Bolt, Beranek and Newman, was developing an electronic
mailbox program which allowed programmers working on the same computer to leave
messages for one another. He had already written a mail program that was running
on the ARPANET. This program had two parts: a program called SNDMSG for sending
messages and another program called READMAIL for receiving messages. Mailboxes
in the early '70s were simply files with a name. Users could add to the file,
but they could not overwrite what was there. SNDMSG/READMAIL could not transmit
messages from one machine to another.
Tomlinson had also worked on a mail
program called CPYNET which could send and receive files, but did not allow users
to add any information as SNDMSG did. Tomlinson decided to combine the two programs
to allow a message to travel through the open network and become electronic mail.
In late 1971, Tomlinson was sending messages from one computer to another
in his lab in Cambridge. His first e-mail announced to the rest of the group the
existence of network e-mail and explained how to use it, including the use of
the @ sign to separate the user's name from the host computer name.
did he do this? As Tomlinson says, "Mostly because it seemed like a neat idea."