Ray Tomlinson, email inventor who picked the @ sign for addresses, dies

Raymond Samuel Tomlinson died at 74, according to the Internet Hall of Fame

Raymond Samuel Tomlinson, who is credited with inventing email and putting the now ubiquitous “@” sign in addresses, has died at the age of 74.

Tomlinson, who helped in the evolution of single-computer email into electronic mail that could send communications across network connections to other hosts, used the sign in the address to connect the user name with the destination address and provide a way to distinguish local mail from network mail.

“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.”

By doing this, he could have saved the sign from extinction as some were considering removing it from the keyboard, he wrote.

In an interview to Computerworld in 2007, Tomlinson said that of all the available punctuation marks available on the keyboard only the “At” sign conveyed a sense of place. He could have used the "On" or "Of" signs for the purpose, but there are no such characters, he added.

Born in Amsterdam, New York in 1941, Tomlinson studied at MIT after attending college at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1963, according to his Internet Hall of Fame biography. In 1967, he joined research and development company Bolt Beranek and Newman, which is now Raytheon BBN Technologies.

By 1971, Tomlinson developed ARPANET's first application for network email by combining the local inter-user mail program SNDMSG he was working on and an experimental file transfer program called CPYNET, allowing messages to be sent to users on other computers.

Tomlinson told Computerworld he wanted to build the first e-mail system that would allow messages to be sent from a person on one computer over a network to someone who was using an entirely different computer.

The death of Tomlinson has been mourned by a number of Internet notables including Vinton G. Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist, who described the death of Tomlinson as “very sad news.” Google’s Gmail also tipped its hat to Tomlinson, thanking him for “inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map.”

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?