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Go Back in Time with Email’s 1st Birthday🎂

Email now has over 2.6 billion active users and over 4.6 billion email accounts in use. As a result, email is considered the most significant and commonly utilized communication channel on the internet.

Email’s modest origins

The first electronic message was sent in 1965.

The earliest example of email may be discovered on computers at MIT in 1965, in a software named “MAILBOX.” Users of MIT computers could simply use this application to leave messages for other users, who would view the messages the next time they logged on to the computer.

A woman uses a computer in the 1960s.
Computers were all about spools of paper and tape back when the first email was sent in the 1960s. Photograph: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Corbis

The method was intriguing and effective.

So, in 1969, the US Government of Defense established ARPANET, an acronym for Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, a network linking multiple computers throughout the department for internal communication.

ARPANET’s first message was delivered from computer to computer on October 29, 1969.

It appeared as follows:

Source: Really Good Emails

Ray Tomlinson conceived and developed electronic mail as we know it today by developing ARPANET’s networked email system.

ARPANET computers that sent first emails
The first email was sent between these two ARPANET computers.

Tomlinson and @ – 1971

The notion of rapid communication between machines inside an organization or group was so advantageous and practical that it quickly spread.

However, with the introduction of internal networks, message delivery methods got increasingly sophisticated. How would one specify the intended destination of a message sent from one computer to another inside a network?

Ray Tomlinson had the solution:

Tomlinson launched the @ symbol paired with the electronic mail.

Tomlinson introduced the @ sign in conjunction with electronic mail.

His most lasting contribution to the internet was the “@” sign. Indicating a message’s destination became as easy as addressing it: “username@name of machine,” which is how email has been addressed ever since.

By 1978, electronic mail accounted for 75% of all ARPANET traffic. The medium had proven to be so beneficial that speculations about how to deliver an electronic mail message to a user on a computer outside of an internal network began to emerge.

EMAIL Program developed – 1979

By the 1980s, while the internet was still in its infancy, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were linking people all over the globe, and email “hosting” sites started to spring up, eager for a piece of the action. Electronic mail was the first practical use of this exciting new medium for many internet users.

lotus notes
Lotus Notes brought joy of email to millions more workers, although it didn’t look quite like this in 1989. Photograph: Roger Tooth/The Guardian

The accidental voice of AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail” – 1989

By 1989, Elwood Edwards’ voice had most certainly helped the public get addicted to checking email. He’s the man responsible for AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail” announcement. Edwards was working in radio at the time, and his wife worked at AOL. She instructed him to record a few words on a cassette tape in his living room, which he did.

Edwards was a driver for Uber in 2016. People sometimes identify that distinct voice.

Outlook and AOL – 1993

By 1993, the term “electronic mail” had been superseded in the general vernacular by “email,” and internet usage had grown in popularity.

The initial version of Microsoft’s Outlook was published in 1993 as part of Exchange Server 5.5, around the same time as US internet service providers AOL and Delphi joined their email systems, setting the path for today’s contemporary, overcrowded email networks.

aol cd
The iconic AOL CD that cluttered homes for years. Photograph: David Sillitoe

Hotmail launches – 1996

Before Microsoft purchased it for $400 million, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith launched one of the first successful webmail email services named HoTMaiL in 1996. It was one of the first email services that was not connected to a certain ISP and used innovative HTML-based email layout, hence the stylization of the brand name.

Microsoft purchased it in 1997, renamed it MSN Hotmail, then Windows Live Hotmail, and replaced it with in 2013.

msn hotmail
Microsoft’s Hotmail was one of the first popular, ISP-agnostic web-based email services. Photograph: Sean Smith

Yahoo Mail follows the lead – 1997

Yahoo Mail debuted a year after Hotmail, which was acquiring thousands of users, and was based on internet startup Four11’s Rocketmail, which was purchased as part of Yahoo’s acquisition of the business.

yahoo mail
Source: Really Good Emails

The fight against Spam – 1999

Internet usage has skyrocketed, rising from 55 million users in 1997 to 400 million by 1999. As the internet’s business potential became widely recognized, email spam started to proliferate dramatically, necessitating the development of email sorting software.

Gmail launches its own – 2004

Gmail, Google’s famous email service, began in 2001 as an internal mail system for Google workers designed by Paul Buchheit. It wasn’t made public until 2004, with a restricted, invite-only beta release. It was made public in 2007 and lost its “beta” designation in 2009.

Gmail, or Googlemail as it was once known in the olden days. Photograph: Dean Murray / Rex Features

Email goes mobile – 2007

In 2007, Apple produced the first iPhone, which pioneered the introduction of mobile email to the general public.

Little did Steve Jobs know that the Mail icon on the iPhone would forever show thousands unread. Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

By the turn of the 2000, having a “email address” had progressed from a luxury to a cultural expectation on par with having a phone number. Email has grown from modest origins in internal communications to now control a large chunk of our daily lives.