History of Email

When you look at the history of email, it becomes readily apparent that it was an evolution of the use of technology as much as an act of outright invention that led to email being created. The evolution of email starts with a system called ARPANet. There were several different versions of network-based communication that were used along the history of email. As each of these systems of network communication evolved further, they eventually turned into more practical solutions and, at a certain point, email as we understand it today was invented.


Ray Tomlinson


If you were on a game show and had the category History of Email, and were asked for a simple answer to who invented email, you would do well to say Ray Tomlinson. Ray Tomlinson actually pioneered the idea of using the @ symbol to reach people over electronic communications. His system was very similar to what is still in use today. In the system that Ray Tomlinson devised, the name of the person preceded the @ and the @ was followed by the name of the computer. Of course, in today's world, we use the name of the domain. Ray Tomlinson is probably the most important name in the history of email.


The history of email, if we use Ray Tomlinson as the inventor, began in 1972. The history of email does not actually begin there, however. Different systems were used to provide the same type of functionality that email provides today. The history of email, in fact, begins with somebody using a directory as shared storage.


I Put it In Your Network Folder


The history of email actually starts with the history of networking. When the first networked computers were brought online, they operated off a mainframe. The computer you actually sat behind and typed on was what was called a dumb terminal. A dumb terminal had no intelligence--that is to say, processing power--of its own, and was therefore given the unfortunate moniker "dumb". When people were using these dumb terminals, the history of email began, if we are to understand it as a service rather than a specific incarnation of the service.


In those networked folders on those mainframes, users would sometimes drop files into somebody else's folder. The difference between this and the present-day usage of email is that people were effectively sharing files on what amounted to the same computer. Even though this is the case, the use of mainframe folders as ways of sharing information is an important development in the history of email. In fact, it is probably the first instance where people shared information exclusively in electronic form rather than printing it out and sharing it on paper, which is the heart of email.


The Military


ARPANet was very much attached to the United States military. It's not surprising, then, that some of the first adopters of electronic communications in the history of email were military personnel. Some sources estimate that, by the early 1970s, there were hundreds of people using email services in their earliest form over military networks.


The history of email for civilians begins somewhere around the mid-1990s. During this period people started to become familiar with the actual workings of the system and they started to realize it could be a tremendous resource for them in terms of communication. Today, email lookup services, free email services, paid email services through your ISP and more all represent the current state of the history of email. It's doubtful that, in the future, email will not evolve into an even more complex and useful product than it already is.

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