Ray Tomlinson sent the first network email in 1971 and saved the now familiar “@” symbol from probable extinction.
An engineer at Raytheon BBN Technologies, Tomlinson is being honored as one of the first inductees into the Internet Hall of Fame for his invaluable contribution.
Way back in 1971, Tomlinson made the historic choice to separate the name of his message’s recipient from the name of the host computer using the “@” symbol – now one of the most universally recognized digital icons on the planet.
“The invention of email came out of a personal desire for a more convenient and functional way to communicate,” said Tomlinson.
“Basically, I was looking for a method that did not require the person to be there when the message was sent and enabled the receiver to read and answer communications at their convenience. I still use email every day. In fact, it is my preferred form of communication.”
Indeed, Tomlinson developed ARPANET’s first application for network email by combining the SNDMSG and CPYNET programs, allowing messages to be sent to users on other computers. As noted above, he chose the “@” sign to separate local from global emails in the mailing address. Person-to-person network email was subsequently born and “user@host” became the standard for email addresses – and remains so to this day.
Ray Tomlinson is ranked No. 4 on the list of the top 150 MIT-related “ideas, inventions and innovators,” compiled by The Boston Globe and has received a number of prestigious honors over the years.
In 2000, Tomlinson received the George R. Stibitz Computer Pioneer Award from the American Computer Museum. In 2001, he was honored with a Webby Award from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame.
In 2002, Discover Magazine awarded Tomlinson its Innovation Award and he accepted the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Internet Award in 2004. In 2009, he was named the Prince of Asturias Award Laureate for Technical and Scientific Research, and in 2011, was honored with the Eduard Rhein Kulturpreis Cultural Award.