World’s First Email

Quick on the heels of my recent post denouncing the merits of electronic communication in favour of the joy of letter-writing, I chanced upon an interesting account of the World’s First Email

This blog has always tried to share interesting evolutions in the world of Technology and, in that spirit, I thought it only appropriate to share this gem with you.

According to the BBC :

Ray Tomlinson has been called the father of e-mail because, back in 1971, he invented the software that allowed messages to be sent between computers.  Ray made it possible to swap messages between machines in different locations; between universities, across continents, and oceans…

Mr Tomlinson’s e-mail address was “tomlinson@bbn-tenexa”. BBN was his employer, and Tenex the operating system used by machines at the company. The more familiar .com, .co.uk and so on came much later.

Ray’s own account had this to say about the momentous event:

During the summer and autumn of 1971, I was part of a small group of programmers who were developing a time-sharing system called TENEX that ran on Digital PDP-10 computers…

The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side. The only physical connection they had (aside from the floor they sat on) was through the ARPANET. I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other. The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them. Most likely the first message was QWERTYUIOP or something similar. When I was satisfied that the program seemed to work, I sent a message to the rest of my group explaining how to send messages over the network. The first use of network email announced its own existence.

When asked why he did it, Ray had an interesting response:

Mostly because it seemed like a neat idea. There was no directive to “go forth and invent email”. The ARPANET was a solution looking for a problem. A colleague suggested that I not tell my boss what I had done because email wasn’t in our statement of work. That was really said in jest because we were, after all, investigating ways in which to use the ARPANET.

Fascinating piece of history, isn’t it?!

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