Ray Tomlinson

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Ray Tomlinson

Raymond Samuel Tomlinson (1941-) [1] is a US programmer who implemented an email system in 1971 on the ARPANET. It was the first system able to send mail between users on different hosts connected to the ARPAnet. (Previously, mail could be sent only to others who used the same computer.) To achieve this, he used the @ sign to separate the user from their machine, which has been used in email addresses ever since.[2]

The first email Ray Tomlinson sent was a test e-mail. It was not preserved and Tomlinson describes it as insignificant, something like "QWERTYUIOP". This is commonly misquoted as "The first e-mail was QWERTYUIOP".[3] Tomlinson later commented that these "test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them."[4]

At first, his email messaging system wasn't thought to be a big deal. When Tomlinson showed it to his colleague Jerry Burchfiel, Tomlinson said "Don't tell anyone! This isn't what we're supposed to be working on." [5]


Tomlinson was born in Amsterdam, New York, but his family soon moved to the small, unincorporated village of Vail Mills, New York. He attended Broadalbin Central School in nearby Broadalbin, New York. Later he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York where he participated in the co-op program with IBM. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from RPI in 1963.

After graduating from R.P.I., he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to continue his electrical engineering education. At MIT, Tomlinson worked in the Speech Communication Group and developed an analog-digital hybrid speech synthesizer as the subject of his Master's thesis. He received a S.M. in Electrical Engineering degree in 1965.

In 1967 he joined the technology company of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, now BBN Technologies, where he helped develop the TENEX operating system including ARPANET Network Control Program and TELNET implementations. He wrote a file-transfer program called CPYNET to transfer files through the ARPANET. Tomlinson was asked to change a program called SNDMSG, which sent messages to other users of a time-sharing computer, to run on TENEX. He added code he took from CPYNET to SNDMSG so messages could be sent to users on other computers — the first email.

Awards and honors

In 2000 he received the George R. Stibitz Computer Pioneer Award from the American Computer Museum (with the Computer Science Department of Montana State University). In 2001 he received a Webby Award from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for lifetime achievement. Also in 2001 he was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2002 Discover Magazine awarded him its Innovation Award. In 2004, he received the IEEE Internet Award along with Dave Crocker. In 2009, he along with Martin Cooper was awarded the Prince of Asturias award for scientific and technical research.[6] In 2011, he was listed at #4 on the MIT150 list of the top 150 innovators and ideas from MIT. In 2012, Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society.[7]


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  2. http://openmap.bbn.com/~tomlinso/ray/firstemailframe.html
  3. http://openmap.bbn.com/~tomlinso/ray/mistakes.html
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  7. 2012 Inductees, Internet Hall of Fame website. Last accessed April 24, 2012

External links