Email pioneer and @ symbol re-inventor Ray Tomlinson dies aged 74

Outlook 2016

We might have witnessed the meteoric rise of instant messaging in modern times, but email remains a critical aspect of communication today. The man credited with inventing it – Ray Tomlinson – has died.

Tomlinson died on Saturday morning, but the cause of death isn't clear yet. He was 74-years-old.

He sent the first email in late 1971 – or rather, the first email across a network to another machine, because as he noted in a Raytheon PDF recalling those early days, there were "many earlier instances of email within a single machine." He picked out the now-ubiquitous @ sign to show the user was at another host rather than local.

That first message was sent via ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network – which laid the foundation for the internet) from one computer to another, the machines in question literally being sat right next to each other. The initial batch of emails were simply test messages, the contents of which were entirely forgettable according to Tomlinson.

The first message of any real substance, aside from the initial testing mails, simply announced the availability of network email – and also imparted instructions on how to use the @ sign.

A time before spam...

Tomlinson recalled that emails of the early 1970s were apparently much like those today, save for the fact that they were plain text only – and there was no spam!

Raytheon spokesman Mike Doble commented on his passing: "A true technology pioneer, Ray was the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers."

As you'd expect, plenty of tributes have poured in via Twitter, with Gmail making its own statement: "Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map."

While Ray might not be with us on this planet any longer, it's likely that email will remain firmly entrenched in the world for the foreseeable.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).