The history of email

The history of email

Nowadays, we take email for granted but many people do not know the history of email and how it came to be such an effective and widely-used communication tool. Therefore, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to document a brief history of email, so that people who use it on a day-to-day basis can appreciate just how it came about and how it functioned in its early days.

Firstly, it should be noted that email wasn’t invented per se but instead evolved from simple beginnings into what we recognise today. But, as you’ll see, email has come a long way from its early application and it’s not hard to comprehend that today we would be concerned about email archiving, or that companies would need to develop mechanisms enabling the transfer of large files via email, such as Mimecast’s large file send.

For example, as far back as 1962 there were some 30 million messages being sent on a monthly basis on the AUTODIN network. This system linked 1,350 terminals in the U.S. Department of Defence and is seen by many people as the first use of electronic messages.


However, these messages were primitive and cannot be considered ‘email’. In fact, they merely amounted to leaving a message in another user’s directory space, which would be seen upon login. AUTODIN’s successor, ARPANET, however, was another technology developed by the U.S. Department of Defence that paved the way for the internet as we know it today.

In 1971, after systems had been implemented to link mail programmes between different organisations over dial-up networks, the first ARPANET email message was sent by a man by the name of Ray Tomlinson.

Tomlinson is credited with choosing the “@” symbol on a keyboard to join the recipient’s name and the recipient’s computer. More specifically, he sent a message from a computer in DEC-10 to the computer situated right next to it. Tomlinson’s work would soon be adapted and developed further and email would become one of the most significant technologies to spawn from ARPANET.

By 1975, capabilities were emerging that most of us are familiar with today. For example, John Vital created a system which organised email and by 1976, 75% of all the traffic flowing over ARPANET was email.

Email, however at this time, was still very much a technology being utilised by military users but the phenomenal growth of personal computers such as the Apple II lead to email being used by more and more people. The personal computer solutions though required that both parties be subscribers of the relevant system, in order for them to communicate remotely.

The Apple II

The Apple II

Meanwhile, as email was emerging as a technology that the public could use, companies were further developing and extending their local area network email systems. This enabled emails to be sent on a much larger scale and would eventually lead to the huge corporate networks and their corresponding bulk email traffic.

The internet would ultimately enable the modern email systems that we know today to function and inevitably open up email to the world. Eudora is a great example of an early commercial email system and is actually still in-use today

This sponsored article is in collaboration with Mimecast.

comments powered by Disqus
WinWeb Business Cloud - Creating Financially Sustainable Businesses