Ray Tomlinson, The Inventor Of The Email, Dies At 74

Ray Tomlinson, a programmer who created the first email system on the ARPANET system, has died of a heart attack at the age of 74, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Ray Tomlinson was born in Amsterdam, New York, on April 23, 1941, with his family moving to the village of Vail Mills, New York, following his birth. Tomlinson attended Broadalbin Central School in Broadalbin, and later went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. It was there where he took part in the co-op program with IBM. Tomlinson then earned his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from RPI in 1963.

Following his graduation, Tomlinson enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he continued his education on electrical engineering. At MIT, Tomlinson participated in the Speech Communication Group and developed an analog-digital hybrid speech synthesizer as the subject of his Master’s thesis. Tomlinson eventually received a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering degree in 1965.

Just two years later, Ray joined the Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) Technologies, where he worked on the TENEX operating system, which included him helping with the ARPANET Network Control Program and TELNET implementations. Ray wrote a file-transfer program called CPYNET, which was intended to transfer files through the ARPANET. When asked to update a program called SNDMSG, which sent messages to other users of a time-sharing computer, to run on TENEX. Ray put in code that he got from his file-transfer program, CPYNET, and applied it to SNDMSG, which would allow messages could be sent to users on other computers — this was the birth of the very first email.

“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. We were supporting a larger group working on natural language. Earlier, I had worked on the Network Control Protocol (NCP) for TENEX and network programs such as an experimental file transfer program called CPYNET. I was making improvements to the local inter-user mail program called SNDMSG. Single-computer electronic mail had existed since at least the early 1960’s and SNDMSG was an example of that. SNDMSG allowed a user to compose, address, and send a message to other users’ mailboxes.”

One of his colleagues suggested that he shouldn’t tell his boss about the email, because it was not part of his objective. And he only did it because it seemed like an interesting idea.


“We were working on ways in which humans and computers could interact,” Ray Tomlinson told Guy Raz from NPR. “The keyboards were about 10 feet apart. I could wheel my chair from one to the other and type a message on one, and then go to the other, and then see what I had tried to send.”

Ray Tomlinson’s “accidental” email-creation brought was a game-changing move in the world of technology and radically altered the way people communicate with one another. This has also impacted how huge corporations conduct their business and has also had an influence on the way people today with shopping and various errands. Tomlinson’s has helped billions communicate with family members and friends, no matter where they are in the world. Hundreds of millions of people are currently using several email-enabled devices in their everyday lives. Email has always been the most popular application, with over 1.5 billion users from all over the world.

“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,” Ray Tomlinson said.

[Photo via YouTube]