Raymond Tomlinson, the inventor of modern email and a technological pioneer, has died at the age of 74. According to reports, he suffered an apparent heart attack.
“A true technology pioneer, Ray was the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers,” his employer Raytheon’s spokesman Mike Doble said in a statement.
The birth of the new world
In 1971, Tomlinson was part of a small group of programmers who were working in Boston at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN), now Raytheon, a company that was instrumental in the development of a very early version of the internet, called ARPANET. He wanted to figure out a way for people to send messages from one computer to another when he stumbled upon a breakthrough.
Tomlinson came up with an SNDMSG (Send Message) command, which sent mail files to the recipient’s computers, unlike before, where messages could be shared only on the same computer. The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side.
He also used the @ sign to denote the location of the correspondents. Years later, explaining the reason why he chose the now ubiquitous symbol, Tomlinson wrote that, “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.”
In an interview to The Verge magazine, Tomlinson told his invention had worked out pretty much as he’d imagined, though the scale was far greater.
“I see email being used, by and large, exactly the way I envisioned. In particular, it’s not strictly a work tool or strictly a personal thing,” he said. “Everybody uses it in different ways, but they use it in a way they find works for them.”
Tributes started to flow on social media, as news of his death got out.
Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map,” read a Tweet from Gmail’s official Twitter account.
Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map. #RIP
— Gmail (@gmail) March 6, 2016
Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf called his death “very sad news.”
Very sad news: Ray Tomlinson has passed away. https://t.co/Ghi8B2m3IX
— vinton g cerf (@vgcerf) March 5, 2016
RIP Ray Tomlinson. The man who invented and sent the first email. You are a modern day hero. pic.twitter.com/kkNhQ1r6Nl
— Historical Pics (@HistoricalPics) March 6, 2016
Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.