The inventor of modern day email, Raymond Tomlinson, has died. He was 74.
Until Tomlinson’s invention in 1971, messages could be sent and received between users within the confinements of a limited network. There wasn’t a way to send messages to a specific person at a specific address before the first network person-to-person email was born.
The Los Angeles Times notes that Tomlinson wrote and sent the first email on what is considered a forerunner to the Internet, the ARPANET system, a network that was developed for the U.S. government. He is also credited with contributing towards the development of the network.
“It wasn’t an assignment at all, he was just fooling around; he was looking for something to do with ARPANET,” said Joyce Kuzman, spokeswoman for Raytheon Co., where Tomlinson worked as principal scientist at the time of his death.
The symbol @, known in the world of email as a sign that associates a username with the destination address, was chosen by Tomlinson. “It is a symbol that probably would have gone away if not for email,” Kuzman said. The Museum of Modern Art featured the symbol in its architecture and design collection in 2012. They called it “a defining symbol of the computer age.”
Tomlinson was also inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society in 2012. Tomlinson was honored for “having brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally chanding the way people communicate.” While accepting the honor, he said, “I’m often asked, did I know what I was doing? And the answer is, yes, I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever of what the ultimate impact would be. What I was doing was providing a way for people to communicate with other people.”
According to New York Times, Tomlinson, born in 1941 in Amsterdam, N.Y., northwest of Albany, obtained his electrical engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1964. He went on to pursue his graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1967, he was hired by Bolt Beranek & Newman, known as BBN, which was later acquired by Raytheon Co.