Raymond Samuel Tomlinson, the man credited with inventing email and coming up with the “@” in email addresses, has died at the age of 74. Mr. Tomlinson came up with the “@” symbol to connect the user name with the destination address, and to distinguish internal email from outside email.
“I chose to append an at sign and the host name to the user’s (login) name. I am frequently asked why I chose the at sign, but the at sign just makes sense,” he wrote in a post about the first network email. “The purpose of the at sign (in English) was to indicate a unit price (for example, 10 items @ $1.95). I used the at sign to indicate that the user was “at” some other host rather than being local.”
Tomlinson noted that it’s possible he was responsible for saving the “@” sign from extinction, as some were considering removing it from the computer keyboard.
“No, I did not invent the at sign! The at sign has been around for centuries. It’s possible I saved the at sign from extinction since some were considering removing the at sign from the keyboard and it would have followed the cent sign into exile. Now we all use the at sign sending email. Read about the history of the at sign.”
Tomlinson was born in Amsterdam, New York in 1941, and studied at MIT after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1963. In 1967, he joined research and development company Bolt Beranek and Newman, which is now Raytheon BBN Technologies.
It was 1971 when Tomlinson developed ARPANET’s first email application, by combining two separate programs he was working on. SNDMSG was a local inter-user mail program, while CPYNET was an experimental file transfer program. Combining the two allowed users to send messages to users on other computers. (ARPANET was the network that became the basis for the Internet.)
Vinton G. Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist, described the death of Tomlinson as “very sad news.” Google’s Gmail also acknowledged Tomlinson’s contributions, thanking him for “inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map.”