A Brief History of Email

On average, 10 emails are sent every day, and email is an important form of communication in daily work. Although there are now instant messengers as well, the ideas all stem from email.

Are you interested in knowing the development history of email? Here is a collection of information, organised into an article, in order to briefly describe the history of email development.

The Enlightenment of Email

In the 1970s, computers were already being used by various research organisations, most notably the US military. At that time, ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency), a branch of the U.S. military, designed ARPANET (Apa Network), a network for exchanging information between computers in different places, which is the ancestor of the Internet today, to protect information exchange between U.S. military organisations.

At that time, workers (scientists) could only work through dumb terminals (Dumb Terminal), which were connected to large computers through a serial interface. Dumb terminals had no memory and no hard discs, so they had to input character commands to the mainframe computer to perform calculations.

However, the dumb terminals connected to the same mainframe computer are in the hands of workers in different time zones. It was sometimes difficult to reach people by phone. In 1965 MIT developed MailBox, the world's first programme for sending messages on the same mainframe.

Initially, mail was actually a specially protected folder. Other people could store message files inside the folder and see the messages when they logged on to the host. It was similar to a desktop notepad.

The Birth of Email

In 1967, Ray Tomlinson, a humble computer engineer, received his PhD in computer engineering from MIT and went to work in computer research at BBN "Bolt Beranek and Newman". The company was hired by the US Department of Defence to work on the construction and maintenance of the Arpanet. Here he left his brilliant career in the computer industry.

Although MaiBox can send messages, it is only limited to the same computer. So how could we make it possible to send messages between different computers?

One day in 1971, Tomlinson accomplished the world's first real nominal email send. He wrote a mail program called SENDMSG on the TENEX operating system running on a PDP-10 machine, and drafted a simple file transfer protocol, CPYNET, to enable the SENDMSG programme to send messages from one computer to another.

He tested it on two PDP-10 computers side-by-side at BBN's Cambridge office, where the only physical connection between the two computers was that they were both connected to the ARPANET, and he sent a test message from one computer to the other to himself. Because there was so much to test, he could not remember what the first test message was. He recalls that it may have been a QWERTYUIOP or something similar.

The first computer that sent the message

After the test was successful, he was so pleased with it that he messaged the rest of their group to tell them how they had achieved the message occurring between the two computers. Although Tomlinson himself could not remember the content of that first e-mail, it was a moment of historical significance: e-mail was born.

In early 1972, the next version of TENEX was released, including a version of SNDMSG with webmail capabilities. The CPYNET protocol was soon replaced by a true file transfer protocol with specific mail processing capabilities.

The origin of the '@' identifier in electronic mail

Ray Tomlinson is famous for SENDMSG and CPYNET.

Ray Tomlinson

In late 1972, he merged the CPYNET code into SENDMGS in order to enable messages to be sent between two computers, to provide a way of distinguishing between local mail and web mail. How should it be represented? How to find a character to make the distinction that wouldn't also appear in a person's name. He stared down at the teletype printer (Model 33 Teletype) keypad and then selected @ to make the distinction. He indicated that the "@" would not be in the person's name, but also meant at (at). To indicate that someone is on another computer, user-name@the-computer-name. He didn't even realise at the time that he had created the "@" that no one in the world knows about.


After Tomlinson's invention of e-mail, he was inducted into the first Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society (ISOC), and Forbes Magazine once commented on Tomlinson: "For him personally, the '@' is nothing more than a small invention, but for the world as a whole, it is undoubtedly a great invention. But for the world as a whole, it was undoubtedly a great invention."

Sadly, the father of email, Ray Tomlinson, passed away on 5 March 2016 at the age of 74 years.

The formative years of ### email

The "@" was embraced by the ARPANET staff and began to promote the use of email. In 1974, more than a hundred people under ARPNET were using email, and email became the preferred method of communication at ARPANET.

Interestingly, another computer engineer, Larry Roberts, added the folder feature to the mail server. The original intent was to make it easier for his boss to categorise emails to make it easier to find them.

By 1976, email was becoming popular and business tools were emerging. And 75% of the traffic between APRNET computers was email content. This was closely followed by advertising emails, with the world's first email adverts appearing on US government and university networks.

1981 IBM introduces the new IBM 5150 computer, and the personal computer is born. Following the popularity of personal computers, the high cost of internet connection was a considerable burden, and a minute's phone call cost a lot of money. This also led to a small advancement in email. The software called "offline readers" was created, which allowed email users to store their messages on their PCs. It allows email users to read and reply to emails at any time and only requires an internet connection when sending emails. Being able to send email offline and then online is a great way to save on connection costs.

In 1982, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) was customised to receive and send email using a uniform standard. In the same year, the famous smiley face - :) - appeared in the world of e-mail.

In 1888, Steve Dorner developed the world's first graphical e-mail client, called Eudora

Eudor email client

In 1989, voice-over artists recorded "Welcome", "Done", "Goodbye", "You have a You have new mail."

The rapid growth of e-mail

In the 1990s, the World Wide Web developed and Yahoo and Hotmail introduced free web-based e-mail addresses. It was easy for everyone to get an email account, and hundreds of millions of people around the world used email. + In 1997, Microsoft buys Hotmail for $400 million and launches Outlook in the same year.

Email History Chart

email History Development Chart