1971 - SNDMSG, by Ray Tomlinson

"I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other... The test messages were entirely forgettable. . . . Most likely the first message was QWERTYIOP or something similar." -Ray Tomlinson

In the 1960's, computer "timeshare" users could use talk to communicate in realtime using text, but if a person was not logged into the timeshare computer, you could not leave them a message. Ray Tomlinson wrote SNDMSG to allow timeshare users to leave messages for each other, but it only worked for users on that particular computer. There was no way to communicate with users of other computers. When the ARPAnet began to be deployed, it was a network looking for a use. Tomlinson extended SNDMSG to enable it to send messages across the fledgling ARPAnet and email as we know it was born. Six months later, email was large majority of the traffic on the ARPAnet.

"It soon became obvious that the ARPANET was becoming a human- communication medium with very important advantages over normal U.S. mail and over telephone calls. One of the advantages of the message systems over letter mail was that, in an ARPANET message, one could write tersely and type imperfectly, even to an older person in a superior position and even to a person one did not know very well, and the recipient took no offense. The formality and perfection that most people expect in a typed letter did not become associated with network messages, probably because the network was so much faster, so much more like the telephone."     - J.C.R. Licklider,

I find the discovery of email to be quite interesting because all of the pieces were simple, separately developed and only moderately useful. But once they were put all together, it became almost something else entirely. It was the first killer app for the fledgling ARPANET, which until then had no real use.


The Invention of Email
BBN's take on the invention of email
How Email Was Invented

Part of the Non-Linear History of New Media Timeline, an ITP class taught by Michael Naimark.

Assembled by Hans-Christoph Steiner